Midwest League: Cougars announce affiliation with Cubs
By Mike Knapp For Sun-Times Media September 19, 2012 6:38PM
Fans dance during a break in the action in the Midwest League All-Star Game at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in June. The Kane County Cougars announced an affiliation agreement with the Cubs on Wednesday. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 19, 2012 11:04PM
As the Midwest League season wound down in August, there was rampant speculation the Kane County Cougars would form an affiliation with the Chicago Cubs for 2013 and beyond.
That is speculation no more, as the two clubs officially announced a player development contract for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The news confirms an Aug. 21 report in the Sun-Times that the Cubs were considering a move to Kane County.
For the Cubs, it ends a partnership with the Peoria Chiefs that had been in place since 2005 — and from 1985-95 before that — while the Cougars part ways with the Kansas City Royals, Kane County’s major league affiliate for the last two seasons.
Peoria, meanwhile, announced a four-year agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday.
With the Cougars’ deal with the Royals set to expire, the team filed papers with Major League Baseball shortly after the season ended expressing their desire to explore other options. Once given approval from MLB last Friday, the Cougars and Cubs began negotiations.
“It’s awesome, a very happy day,” Cougars general manager Curtis Haug said. “We’ve been in discussions since Sunday and things progressed nicely over the last few days. We got the agreement signed at about noon (Wednesday).
“(The Cubs) are great people and the whole buzz with what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have put together as far as rebuilding the team is something that has many Chicago sports fans intrigued.”
The most important element of the move to Kane County is that it gives the Cubs an affiliate located less than an hour’s drive from Wrigley Field. That follows a trend among major league teams who have moved affiliates closer to the parent club’s home city.
In the Midwest League alone, the Cincinnati Reds (Dayton), Milwaukee Brewers (Wisconsin) and Cleveland Indians (Lake County) all had affiliates about an hour away, while Peoria (Cubs) and Quad Cities (Cardinals) were just a couple of hours from their home clubs. Many other teams around baseball have followed suit as well.
Having a team close by makes it easier for the club to scout players and keep tabs on their progress. It also gives the team the option of sending a major league player to that affiliate for rehab assignments. The Cubs have utilized the proximity of Fifth Third Bank Ballpark over the past several years, as players such as Aramis Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Carlos Silva have played there in Peoria uniforms while on rehab assignments.
“We are excited at the opportunity to work with the Kane County franchise,” Cubs Senior Vice President of Scouting/Player Development Jason McLeod said. “The benefits of having one of our minor league clubs this close to Chicago are numerous and we look forward to starting this new relationship.”
Several high-profile players acquired in Epstein’s first draft this year could be part of next year’s Kane County roster.
“Being a Cubs fan, I think it’s one of the greatest things to happen,” said Kane County board member Jim Mitchell, laughing.
Mitchell, a North Aurora Republican, said he used to be a Cougars season ticket holder and still goes to games regularly. Over the years, he’s had a chance to see plenty of future all-stars up close, in a way that that’s not possible once they reach the big leagues. Having future Cubs talent nearby can only help sell more season tickets, Mitchell said.
“Cubs fans are a little different and loyal to the bone,” he said. “I think attendance will be way up. I think it’s tremendous.”
Even Kane County Board Member Ron Ford — a Sox fan — was excited about the change.
“Just the fact that you say ‘Cubs’ brings excitement,” said the Aurora Democrat. “You can go up and down the county and see Cubs logos. It just brings the community together.”
Kane County Board Member John Hoscheit, who is also president of the Kane County Forest Preserve District, was encouraged by the news. The Cougars pay a licensing fee to the Forest Preserve, which owns Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. If being affiliated with the Cubs leads to increased attendance, it further ensures the forest preserve will be able to rely on the income from a minor league team, Hoscheit said.
“The change in affiliation is good timing because of the Cubs ownership’s increased focus on the minor leagues,” said Hoscheit, a Republican from St. Charles. “This should be something that’s exciting for everyone.”
In 2006, the Cougars signed an agreement to stay in Kane County for 20 years, while the Forest Preserve agreed to renovate the stadium.
The Cougars will welcome the Cubs as the fifth different affiliate in the team’s 21-year history, following the Baltimore Orioles (1991-92), Florida Marlins (1993-2002), Oakland A’s (2003-10) and Royals.
The Cougars went 68-72 this past season and missed the playoffs, but have appeared in the postseason 12 times and won the league championship in 2001 with a team featuring current major leaguers Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Willingham.
Matt Hanley contributed to this report