Thrillville Thrillbillies open inaugural season, players and manager share connection

MARION, Ill. (KBSI) – The inaugural season for the Thrillville Thrillbillies is here, and the personal connections between the members of the team and each other, Southern Illinois and this ballpark are now on full display. 

For manager Ralph Santana, he is returning to the ballpark he called home for more than a decade as a player and coach for the Southern Illinois Miners. 

“I love this park,” Santana said. “I set a standard, I set a bar as a player and as a coach, and just to be able to be able to come back and have it be called my own, it’s surreal, it’s fun, it’s great, and I love it.” 

Thrillbillies catcher Ashton Smith grew up in Duquoin and watched Santana play during the Miners’ inaugural season in 2007. 

“Now he’s our head coach, so it’s exciting to be able to play in front of a big crowd like this and to give back to the little kids watching that idolize you, so it’s very exciting to come back home,” Smith said.

And infielder Josh Griffin from Marion did the same. 

“Watching Ralph play as a kid, he was awesome, and then being around him, being from Southern Illinois, just knowing how he does things is really cool, and it’s been exciting,” Griffin said.

And 16 years later, this results in quite a full circle moment for Santana and the players he is now coaching. 

“Never in a million years would you think a 5-year-old would come out and watch you, and then you’re a grown man, they’re a grown man, and they have great things to say about you, so it’s definitely personal for me,” Santana said. “I love it.” 

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