The 23rd season of Kane County Cougars baseball is officially in the books. The team walked off with an exciting win in yesterday’s Labor Day matinee against Peoria (who used the same bat for the entire game…quite impressive). And within an hour of the on-field celebration in front of nearly 7,000 fans, there was absolute silence on the stadium concourse and empty lockers in the clubhouse as fans, players and coaches all departed for home.
It’s always a weird dynamic when people ask me about how that final day of the season goes. With this year’s team knowing for more than a week that there would be no postseason, some advance plans could be made with packing up equipment and making travel arrangements. But inevitably, there are some certain steps that can’t take place until the final pitch is thrown.
Immediately after the game, players begin the process of checking in their equipment and cleaning out their lockers. Catcher’s gear, helmets, game jerseys, BP tops, pants, belts and much more are organized carefully and inventoried. Paperwork is completed by each player and travel money is issued, regardless if a player is driving home or flying home. Several of the guys flew out last night with a majority of the team leaving early Tuesday morning, particularly the international players.
Where was everyone heading? For Mark Johnson, home is in Georgia so his flight was Atlanta-bound Monday night. Reggie Golden had the challenge of waking up at 3 AM to catch his 5:45 AM flight to Alabama this morning. Other flight destinations included Boston (Brad Zapenas), Santiago, Dominican Republic (Jose Arias) and Trenton, NJ (James Pugliese).
It amazes me how a player such as Gioskar Amaya can wake up this morning in the western suburbs of Chicago, and when he calls it a night less than 24 hours later, he’s back home in Venezuela after landing at Caracas Simon Bolivar Airport.
Who had the easiest travel plans? That would be pitcher Michael Heesch, who made the 15-minute drive back home to Bartlett.
Pitching coach Ron Villone and athletic trainer Shane Nelson were out the door this morning and other than that, it’s fairly quiet in the clubhouse. A truck bound for Mesa, AZ stopped by this afternoon to pick up some items that will be making their way west for the fall instructional league.
I think for those of us in the Cougars front office, the final game of the season and the days that follow give all of us a chance to reflect, and then decompress a little bit after a busy, yet incredibly rewarding season.
So, what did we see this season? We saw a total of 406,152 fans who attended Cougars games, with tremendous support from Opening Night all the way through Labor Day weekend.
As we do each season, we saw many first-time Cougars fans who are now lifelong Cougars fans. We also saw the same loyal fans who have enthusiastically supported Cougars Baseball since Day 1.
We saw a steady flow of Cubs prospects that Cougars fans can now follow intently in the years to come as the Cubs continue to stockpile their farm system. That list would have to include the following: pitcher Pierce Johnson, who just this afternoon was named Cubs Organizational Pitcher of the Month for August. First baseman Dan Vogelbach who like Johnson, received a promotion to Class-A Advanced Daytona from Kane County. Nineteen-year old Jeimer Candelario was the Cougars’ everyday third baseman this season and in his first full season of professional baseball, Candy belted 35 doubles to put him in the Cougars’ Top 10 list for most doubles in a season. And having the chance to watch Albert Almora, the Cubs’ first round pick last season, was enjoyed by numerous fans this summer. I caught up on the phone with Albert last night when driving back from the ballpark, and he says he’s feeling great after a groin injury ended his season prematurely. You’ll be hearing more about these former Cougars in the years ahead as they continue to pursue their dreams of playing at Wrigley Field.
We saw fans who had fun, who participated in the fun and had smiles on their faces throughout the season. Kids Eat Free Days, special theme games such as Star Wars Night and the in-between promotions kept family-friendly fun at the forefront of the Cougars experience.
We saw Ronnie Woo Woo make an appearance this season. Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was here. Moises Alou stopped by for a game. We saw Cougars outfielder Trevor Gretzky’s dad, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky this weekend at the ballpark.
It certainly was a fast season, too. I think the below photo sums up the pace of the season for me. To the left of the clipboard is an Opening Day roster I held onto since April. Stopping short of putting together flash cards, the start of the season is a little tricky to put names with faces when a fresh roster of 25 players lands in Geneva from spring training. With all apologies to former Cougars David Bote and Chadd Krist, it took me a good week or so to tell the two of them apart back in April. On the clipboard is the end-of-the-season departure times for the players and coaches. The time in between those two endpoints just seemed to fly by this season.
It’s never too early to start thinking about 2014. Our ’14 season schedule is out now and on our website by clicking HERE. Many of your favorite promotions – fireworks nights, the Jesse White Tumblers and Nancy Faust will be back. We’ll have some more great theme nights, giveaways and fan entertainment to announce in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned.
But I think it’s also important to take a breath and appreciate 2013. Soak up the scents, sounds and visuals from this season at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. It could be a long and cold off-season, folks. We’re thankful for everyone who made a Cougars game part of their spring or summer plans this season. We’ll be talking about pitchers and catchers reporting before you know it. In the meantime, we’ll also be doing some blogging right here throughout the off-season as well, keeping you updated on news with former Cougars players and news here at the ballpark.
And as always, thanks for reading!