The Kane County Cougars have consistently been one of the Midwest League leaders in attendance, and a county official and a business owner agree the Cubs making them their Class A minor league affiliate would only boost those figures.
And it would boost surrounding suburban businesses, too.
Although the Kane County Cougars organization has refused to comment, a report published Tuesday has the Chicago Cubs' Class A team headed to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. Anonymous sources told the Chicago Sun-Times the Cubs “are in the process of working out a player development agreement with the Kane County Cougars in an effort to move their Midwest League affiliate from Peoria — putting those Class A players 120 miles closer to Chicago.”
While Kane County officials were unaware of the possible move until Tuesday's report, John Hoscheit, president of the Kane County Forest Preserve District, which owns the land, and also a Kane County Board member, said the move is “something that would theoretically be a positive.”
The boost in attendance would likely include many Chicagoans making the short trek west and in turn bringing their business to local establishments.
“From an economic and development standpoint, it would benefit everybody in the area,” Hoscheit said. “Anything that would drive attendance there would be a positive.”
A nearby business owner reached Tuesday night agreed, for the most part.
“We've had a great relationship with (the Cougars) since we opening in '96. I think the Cubs coming in might make it more fun,” said Jim Thorson, general manager of The Country House Restaurant in Geneva. “You would think it would be pretty positive, a bit of an increase in customers. I would just hope the Cubs don't bring their curse to the Kane County Cougars.”
Since their birth in 1991, the Cougars have been the affiliate for four ball clubs, but Thorson said the fans who frequent the restaurant before games haven't been swayed by which major league affiliate is represented.
“I get the impression that they are all just Cougars fans,” he said. “The people that I know and the people I know that are season ticket holders are Cougars fans. Nothing's changed.”
The forest preserve district and the Kane County Board are working on a redevelopment plan that would bring a slew of new amenities to the 700-acre campus the Cougars' stadium sits on. There is already an ice arena, restaurant and golf course on the campus.
The new plan would bring a cross country track, a concert venue and potentially a hotel/conference center among other draws. The idea is to make the campus a recreational destination center for the entire region.
Hoscheit said he believes that promise of major foot traffic may be something that really could draw the attention of the Cubs.
“The Cubs coming would be one of the indirect benefits of the redevelopment plan that don't really get discussed,” Hoscheit said. “But it's something you think about. It's why we put the emphasis on keeping the ice rink open when we bought that place. The more things we've got there, the more it becomes attractive to other business.”
As for Cubs fans in Kane County, the difference between a drive to Peoria versus a drive to a Cougars game is a no-brainer, he said.
“There's something to be said for spending five or 10 minutes to get somewhere, have a good time, then being able to be back home in five or 10 minutes,” Hoscheit said.
Scott Sharp, the Kansas City Royals director of minor league operations, said it is against Major League Baseball policy for teams to talk with potential new affiliates right now and wouldn't comment on the situation.
The rule stipulates that a major-league club cannot notify any party of its intent to cut ties with a minor league club until the end of the minor league season, and cannot begin negotiations with a new club until Sept. 16.
A violation of the rule would result in a $500,000 fine for major league teams and a $100,000 fine for minor league teams.
A report by the Peoria Journal Star says the Chiefs organization was unaware of any talks between the Cubs and Kane County.
“It definitely caught us off guard,” Chiefs President Rocky Vonachen told pjstar.com. “It's the first we've heard anything like that.”
A statement released by the Cougars cited the Major League Baseball rules in denying comment on the report.
If the report is true and the Cubs affiliate now playing in Peoria heads to Kane County, the move will not only allow fans access to see prospects such as Jorge Soler and Albert Almora next spring, but it will allow the team to send players down for rehab starts much more easily.
Both affiliates in Kane County and Peoria reach the end of their player development agreements at the end of this season. The Cougars became affiliated with the Kansas City Royals after ending an eight-year run with the Oakland Athletics, and the Peoria Chiefs have spent the last eight seasons with the Cubs. The Cubs' relationship with Peoria, however, began in the 1980s.
If the Cubs' Class A affiliate does make the move north from Peoria's stadium, the team will play in a similarly sized stadium but will undoubtedly play in front of nearly twice the number of fans if attendance records for the two remain constant.
The Cubs' speculated move to Kane County would be convenient for fans and player movement through the farm system — but that notion didn't sway the White Sox. A source there said the South Side organization decided years ago to group their teams in the southeast region of the country because of weather and proximity to the rest of their minor league affiliates to allow the development staff, scouts and executives to see several teams easily.
Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Scot Gregor contributed to this report.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.