It was a near-perfect Opening Night for the Kane County Cougars on Thursday.
All except for the final score — a 7-2 loss to the Quad Cities River Bandits in the 2013 Midwest League season opener.
A crowd of 4,962 — more than double last year’s total for the opener — was in attendance at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark to watch a piece of history as the Cougars began their first season as the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
The importance of the season-opening defeat seemed secondary to most fans, including Wheaton’s Pam Rasmussen, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“I’ve been a (Cougars) season ticket holder since 1992,” said Rasmussen, who once housed former Cougars catcher Charles Johnson. “It’s definitely an honor because it’s a new season, it’s the first game and it’s the Cubs. You can’t ask for anything better.”
St. Charles resident Mike Burnett, kicking off his ninth year as a Cougars season ticket holder, is looking forward to watching potential future Cubs in action.
“I love it,” said Burnett. “The house is going to be packed and it’s going to be awesome. They’re going to have a good team. They’re building from the bottom up and I really like that.
“They’re projecting 700,000 people — that’s fun,” added Burnett. “You can kind of sense it now. It’s Opening Night, but look at all the Cubs fans around and all the attire.”
It’s not just the fans who are looking forward to a successful 2013 campaign.
“This just makes so much sense geographically,” said St. Charles resident Dave Liking, who is beginning his 16th season as a Cougars usher. “I’m thinking it will be opening up a whole new fan base. When the Cubs are on the road, the people will come here. It should be a tremendous year.”
“There’s a whole new buzz around here,” said Dan Klinkhamer, Cougars director of security for the past 22 seasons. “We’re expecting bigger crowds. I want it to return to the days of 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. Those were fun seasons.”
As for the play on the field, Quad Cities seized control with a 5-run second, capped by a 2-run double by Carlos Correa off of Cougars starting pitcher Pierce Johnson.
“I didn’t give my team the best chance of winning tonight,” said Johnson, who also was the victim of shaky defensive support as the Cougars committed 3 errors.
“It’s Day One and a lot of guys’ first full seasons with a lot of jitters,” said Cougars first-year manager Mark Johnson. “It’s something to build off of — we’ve got a lot of things to work on.
“Pierce struggled there in the second inning and the defense kind of let him down,” added Johnson. “But other than that, the bullpen did great.”
Relievers Justin Amlung, Brian Smith, and Stephen Perakslis allowed just 1 run over the final 5-plus innings.
Designated hitter Rock Shoulders provided the offense for the Cougars with his towering 2-run home run in the fourth, while first baseman Dan Vogelbach added 2 of the team’s 5 basehits.
Johnson came away impressed with the Opening Night pageantry.
“It was exactly what I was expecting and even a little bit better,” said Johnson. “I thought the crowd would be a little less with the cold but it turned out to be a pretty decent evening and they were into it. We just had one of those nights.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.