PEORIA — For the first time since 1994, there won't be a Vonachen running the daily operation of the Peoria Chiefs.
Longtime Chiefs president Rocky Vonachen resigned Wednesday to begin his retirement after 24 years on the job leading the class-A Midwest League team and affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jason Mott will remain Chiefs general manager, but move into the top daily management role of the team. Chiefs ownership says there are no plans to hire another team president.
"It was just time," Vonachen, 58, said. "I'm resigning from my position. I've been thinking about this for a while. I'm retiring from baseball operations. I don't really know what I'm going to do, but I'll do something. I'm not done working.
"The grind of a baseball season is so tough. You are at the ballpark every day for six months. What's a summer off? I wouldn't know. I've never had one. So I'm excited for what comes next in my life, and to spend time with my daughters, my family."
Vonachen remains one of about 50 part-owners of the team. He will, however, give up his seat on the board of directors.
"It's a sad day, a shock when he told us," Chiefs majority owner David Bielfeldt said. "You look at the Vonachen family, always running the Chiefs. You never really know when the time is to go, or if you really want to go. We were caught by surprise, but we understand running the team is such a grind and it does impact your family. We wish him the best.
"It's a testimony to Rocky that we have the best staff in place we've ever had. People will have roles adjusted, and Jason will lead the operation."
Said Vonachen: "Jason Mott is very capable, has great skill and energy, and his presence made the decision easy for me. I hope the fans and the corporate sponsors continue to give him the support they gave me.
"This move would have happened eventually."
Vonachen worked alongside his father, legendary Pete Vonachen, when the latter owned the team, and took over after the elder Vonachen retired.
He carried on Pete Vonachen's showmanship and built his own legacy while advancing his father's dreams for the franchise. On his watch, he overaw the development of Dozer Park downtown, which changed the outlook of pro baseball in Peoria.
Under Rocky Vonachen, the Chiefs reached 200,000 in attendance 14 times, hosted two Midwest League All-Star Games, and won a championship in 2002.
"If I had to pick my three proudest moments, I'd say the top thing would be the building and opening of the ballpark, to get Dozer Park downtown and a reality changed everything for baseball in Peoria," Vonachen said. "The championship we won in 2002 was huge for us. And the game we played at Wrigley Field, in front of more than 30,000 fans. What a day that was.
"Those were the highlights of my career."
The Chiefs board of directors released a statement Wednesday afternoon, following Vonachen's decision:
"The Peoria Chiefs Board would like to thank Rocky for his 25 years of leadership in the Peoria Chiefs organization.
"His leadership and direction has made the Peoria Chiefs and Dozer Park one of the best organizations in Minor League Baseball.
"While we are sad to see Rocky step away from running the organization, we can respect his decision. Rocky has a great staff assembled in the front office and we know they will not miss a beat preparing for the 2018 season.
"With Jason Mott, General Manager and 2017 Midwest League Executive of the Year, we have the utmost confidence in Jason running the organization going forward.
"We wish Rocky nothing but the best as he begins his next chapter. We are excited that Rocky will be seen around the ballpark enjoying the games in the future.”
Mott, 40, is a Chaffee, Mo., native who was hired by Vonachen to be his right-hand man. He was voted the 2017 Midwest League Executive of the Year in his first season as GM. He helps with the daily operations of the organization and ballpark, handles the corporate sponsorships and suite leases for the Chiefs and Dozer Park and oversees the daily activity of the ticket sales department, dealing with premium seating, group and season ticket opportunities. He has worked for the NHL's Nashville Predators and for the Cardinals class-AAA farm club at Memphis.
"I figured Rocky would be around another five years," Mott said. "Well that just went by in a matter of hours. I've got big shoes to fill. I'm excited for the chance to step up and grow in this job. What Rocky has done for minor league baseball, and for Peoria, is just amazing. Now he gets a chance to just come to a game and relax, have a hot dog, grab a beer."
Dave Eminian can be reached at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Check out Chiefs videos on Youtube.com/pjstarcom and news items on Twitter @icetimecleve.