No bad guys in Cubs-Cougars breakup
The Kane County Cougars are going to be fine.
They were fine for a long time before the Cubs got there. They were fine during the Cubs' two-year stay, winning a championship this season. And they'll be just fine next year in their 25th-anniversary season, and well beyond.
Yes, Thursday was a bittersweet or even downright sad day in Geneva as the Cubs announced they were switching their Class A Midwest League affiliation from Kane County in South Bend, Indiana.
It's easy to look for "bad guys" in this scenario, something Cubs president Theo Epstein acknowledged before Thursday night's game against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
"I don't think in this industry you can avoid looking like bad guys," he said. "You just have to roll with it, stay true ... make sure you're making decisions for the right reasons. In this case, you have to come back to what's best for our prospects, what's best for the organization and move forward and try to handle matters with as much professionalism as possible."
The Cubs and the Cougars seemed a match made in heaven two years ago, when the Cubs announced they were leaving longtime Midwest League affiliate Peoria for Kane County on a two-year deal. What could be better than a hometown major-league team pairing with one of the most respected brands in minor-league baseball?
But things change fast in the business of baseball, and there are no bad guys here.
The Cubs have poured tons of resources into their player-development system, and they want the best facilities possible for them. What the South Bend Silver Hawks -- likely soon to be South Bend Cubs -- could offer was overwhelming in terms of renovating their ballpark facility.
In addition to a new grass playing field and batting cages, Cubs prospects in South Bend will get a smaller version of the "performance center" (featuring myriad fitness equipment) the Cubs have in their new spring-training facility in Mesa, Arizona.
"These decisions are tough," Epstein said. "We hate making decisions that can end up disappointing people. But we just keep coming back to the fact that we have to make good decisions in the best interests of our prospects. The South Bend renovation offers a facility we feel will make a profound difference for our prospects, and that was a key factor in that.
"One area where we don't mess around is in player development. Our success will be impacted in large part by how well we develop our young players to get them ready to play at the big-league level."
Epstein praised Dr. Bob Froehlich, the new owner of the Cougars, and general manager Curtis Haug. Earlier this month, the Cougars announced plans for a capital-improvement project that will include new climate-controlled batting cages and an enhanced weight and video rooms. Those plans will go forward with or without the Cubs and no doubt will benefit the new parent organization, possibly the Arizona Diamondbacks or Oakland Athletics. And the fans will continue having a good time, just as they did when the Cougars developed prospects for the Orioles, Marlins, A's and Royals.
"This is a unique opportunity," Epstein said of South Bend. "There wasn't anything wrong with Kane County."
Although sounding clearly disappointed, Haug was gracious.
"We had a great relationship with the Chicago Cubs the last two years," he said. "The Cougars organization can hold our heads high and be proud of what we have done for the Cubs to help develop their players. We wish the Cubs well and look forward to seeing Cougars players have success in the future."
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