Thumbing through the past

I had a friend of mine present me with a little piece of Cougars history Tuesday night. While doing some housecleaning, he came across a pair of 1991 Cougars game programs – our inaugural season.

The advertisements were interesting – many of which were outdated, as you’d expect to be the case more than 20 years later. Some of my favorites:

An ad for Smith Copy Systems, Inc. promoting copiers.

“Plain Paper Copies”

“Automatic Document Feeding”

AND…”Color…FULL COLOR!”

I can only speculate that full color copies, around 1991, was a pretty modern advancement in the copy machine industry.

This ad is for a men’s clothier. Any chance I can get those pants on the left, rush-ordered in time for Christmas?

Ever wonder what people will say about the clothes we wear in 20 years?

An ad for East Side Video in Geneva, advertised the following:

VHS Movies
Nintendo Games
and introducing Laser Discs!

A welcome letter from Midwest League President George Spelius welcomes “Kane County, Illinois to their first year in the league.”

Another welcome letter in the program, this one from former Cougars General Manager Bill Larsen, offers the following wish: “Here’s hoping that ‘Grassroots Baseball’ in Kane County becomes a long standing and successful tradition.”

Page 49 had some interesting information on the stadium’s construction. Markur Contractors, Inc. makes mention of the following:

“Phase I of the construction began in November of 1989 and when the entire project was complete, a total of 7,000 tons of concrete were used…the playing field, built to major league specifications, contains 2 miles of drainage pipe, over 2 acres of sod and 4,500 tons of special grade sand transported from Indiana…if you are wondering how much electricity is used for lighting the field at night, just turn on 3,155 100-watt bulbs…”

Thumbing through the player pages, it’s interesting to note that many of the players, who were in the 20-24 year old range at the time, are now over the hill and knocking on the door of 50. The coaching staff that season included a familiar name to Cubs fans – Oneri Fleita. Fleita was the hitting coach that season and according to his bio on page 36, played two seasons of minor league ball for the Orioles.  Fleita was a coach the previous season in Wausau (WI), before the franchise re-located to Kane County that fall.

On page 39, the program recaps the ’90 season at Wausau, which certainly didn’t go as planned. The Timbers’ record of 49-87 was the worst in the Midwest League in 1990. Pitcher Brad Pennington, who returned in 1991 as a Class-A Baltimore player in Kane County, led the league in walks with 121. Things must have turned around for Brad, though. He made his big league debut in 1993, and will be remembered as the first-ever Cougar to make the major leagues.

Then there’s this excerpt, also from the season recap:

“The Timbers were also involved in the league’s most bizarre incident. On August 12, after a game between Wausau and South Bend was postponed by rain, five players illegally entered South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium and removed the tarp from the field during a downpour. South Bend police were prepared to make arrests before South Bend Manager Rick Patterson intervened. After the players…admitted their guilt, no charges were filed.”

Now, that’s a pretty good story. The only drama I’ve seen involving our team and the tarp was in 2009. Following a rain-out, the team took aim on the field for a giant slip n’ slide.

Here’s the stadium map from the ’91 program. “Advanced” tickets could be purchased at the Cougars box office, but also at various locations, including Carson Pirie Scott, Rose Records, Bergner’s, and select West Coast Video locations. Tickets at these locations were available on a cash-only basis.

The Cougars front office staff list makes reference to a “Yukon Jack”, who was the PA announcer that season. It also mentions Dave Wills, current broadcaster for the Tampa Bay Rays and one of our featured speakers at the 2009 Winter Banquet. Wills was the first radio broadcaster in our history. That year, games were broadcast on WAUR 930 AM. According to page 11, it was “The Fox Valley’s GREAT ‘AM'”.

Towns in the league that year who have since left the Midwest League include the following:

Madison Muskies
Rockford Expos
Springfield Cardinals
Waterloo Diamonds
Kenosha Twins

The South Bend franchise was a White Sox affiliate at the time.

Last month while we were in Reno for the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, a front office staff member of the Visalia Rawhide gave an insightful presentation, that talked about how the history of your minor league team means more than what you might give it credit for.

There’s some interesting history with the Cougars that goes back 20+ years now. Fans who came here as 6-year olds with their parents, are now a Mom or Dad bringing their children to a game. It’s important to remember the history. I’m curious to learn more about the anticipation people in this area felt as this new team emerged in 1991. It must have been exciting and had some people guessing what minor league baseball was all about, and how it could possibly survive in the shadow of two major league teams.

To paraphrase Bill Larsen’s hope that “grassroots baseball would become a successful tradition”, I think we can safely say that it has.

Thanks for reading!

-ST

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About Kane County Cougars

The Kane County Cougars are the Class-A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
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3 Responses to Thumbing through the past

  1. djmcq7575@comcast.net says:

    Shawn:

    This is great stuff. I started coming to the games in 1991 and have held full season tickets since 1992. I have this program and many other items from the early days of the Cougars right up to the present. I have always thought that some kind of permanent display of Cougar and Midwest League history would be a great addition to the ballpark. Any possibility of that happening? I’ll bet there are a lot of people like me who have items that would be of interest that we would be willing to loan or donate to a Cougars history museum.

    Dan McQuade

    • Thanks for the kind words, Dan. As a Cougars fan who has seen us evolve over the years, I’m sure the blog post was interesting to see and I enjoyed putting it together. I agree and have always thought a display at the stadium would be a great way to archive some of these neat items, and show some of our newer fans our history. It’s quite a story and at the time, I’d be curious to know how many fans truly thought the Cougars would become what they presently are. Do you think they could have envisioned that we’d be knocking on the door of welcoming our 10 millionth fan in franchise history?

  2. Dale & LuAnn Klein says:

    Great post Shawn !

    We were at the first game in ’91 and have the giveaway–a metal replica key chain of a ticket from that date. Like Dan, We thought a Cougars museum or historic display would be appropriate. Especially in the hallways of the suite level, which are shielded from weather and have lots of room. Some Cougars staff should visit the fabulous historic displays at Cedar Rapids next season on their suite level.They truly are museum quality.
    Dale & LuAnn

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