Cubs leaving Kane County Cougars for South Bend
The Cubs are changing Midwest League affiliations, leaving the Kane County Cougars after two seasons for South Bend, Indiana.
A news conference will take place next Thursday in South Bend, and sources tell the Daily Herald it's possible the South Bend team will change its name from Silver Hawks to Cubs.
The move was not unexpected, and the Daily Herald was the first to report the Cubs were leaving Kane County. The Cubs' Player Development Contract with the Cougars recently expired, and the Cubs did not renew as they sought upgraded facilities. Earlier this week, the Cubs left Class A Daytona of the Florida State League for Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League. They're also shopping for a new short-season Class A team after not renewing with Boise, Idaho.
The Cougars, also a Class A minor league team, won the Midwest League title last Saturday, sweeping Lake County (Ohio) in the championship series. It was their second title in 24 seasons, and attendance was 415,571 for 69 games.
"The No. 1 selling point was the Cubs' faith in our organization and leadership," Silver Hawks owner Andrew Berlin told the South Bend Tribune. "We've had an extraordinary record for player development. It goes beyond the field, into the community."
Another selling point was the construction of new and improvement of existing facilities in and around Four Winds Field, Berlin told the South Bend Tribune. A baseball-centric facility being constructed next to the ballpark is a scaled-down version of the training center the Cubs have in Mesa, Ariz.
Locker rooms, weight rooms and offices inside the stadium are being gutted and renovated, and natural grass will be installed to replace the artificial surface.
South Bend, which has won five Midwest League titles in 26 seasons, started with the White Sox (1988-96) before switching to the Diamondbacks (1997-2014). The franchise set an attendance record this season at 258,836.
The Cubs moved their Midwest League affiliation from Peoria to Kane County in 2013, citing the convenience of having a team nearby in the Western suburbs. They cited the ability to see prospects up close and to have major-league players make a relatively short drive if they needed to play in games on minor league injury-rehab assignments.
However, the Cubs also wanted improved facilities for their minor league players at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. On Sept. 2, the Cougars announced a capital-improvement for the ballpark, including covered and climate-controlled batting cages along with improved weight and video rooms.
"We are excited to partner with South Bend and look forward to a productive relationship with the team, as well as the entire South Bend community," Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of Scouting and Player Development said in a statement. "Making the decision to switch minor league affiliates is never an easy one, but we are confident that this agreement will further strengthen our farm system.
In thanking the Cougars ownership for their two-year relationship, McLeod also said the Cubs were "proud that our relationship culminated with a Midwest League title this past season."
According to ballparkdigest.com, only two Midwest League clubs -- Kane County and Beloit (Athletics) -- are unattached to MLB teams.
Stadium availableWith their two-year partnership with the Cubs now over, the Kane County Cougars will be looking for their sixth Class A affiliate for Fifth Third Ballpark in Geneva as they begin their 25th season in 2015. According to sources, the Cubs will play in South Bend next season at Four Winds Field.
Cougars' affiliates:2015-16: ???
2012-14: Chicago Cubs
2011-12: Kansas City Royals
2003-10: Oakland Athletics
1993-2002: Florida Marlins
1991-92: Baltimore Orioles
Under construction:Earlier this month, Cougars ownership announced several improvements would be made to the ballpark before next season:
• A new batting cage
• Two new hitting tunnels in a climate-controlled area
• Expanded weight room
• State-of-the-art video room
• High-definition videoboard for in-game replays
• A premium seating area in the lower bowl with wait service for individuals or groups
• A permanent music pavilion for a Ballpark Concert Series
Source: Kane County Cougars