Kane County Cougars 'super excited' about joining American Association
For the Kane County Cougars, it's been one challenge after another since COVID-19 halted spring training last March 12.
Like every other minor-league team, they could only stand by as the entire 2020 season was wiped out.
Two months ago, the Cougars learned they were one of 40-plus teams that were not extended invitations to remain affiliates of major-league teams.
Since 1991, Kane County has been a low Class-A team partnered with the Diamondbacks (2015-20), Cubs (2013-14), Royals (2011-12), Athletics (2003-10), Marlins (1993-2002) and Orioles (1991-92).
In 2013, the Cougars became the first Class-A team to reach 10 million in total attendance, and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Beckett and Nelson Cruz highlight the more than 170 former players that made it to the major leagues after passing through Kane County.
"I think we had some idea it was coming, so it wasn't that big of a surprise to us," VP/general manager Curtis Haug said in early December when the Cougars were left in limbo. "But at the same time, it is something that the organization hasn't been through."
Haug was confident the Cougars would find a new home in a new Major League Baseball Partner League, and they landed in the American Association on Thursday after a 29-year run in the Midwest League.
"Everybody that we've talked to, whether it's season-ticket holders or sponsors or anybody that's close to the Cougars, they're excited," Haug said Thursday. "We're excited as an organization. It's a new beginning for us, for sure."
The American League Association now has 11 teams with the addition of Kane County, including the Chicago Dogs (in Rosemont), the Milwaukee Milkmen and the Gary SouthShore RailCats.
A 100-game regular season is set to open on May 18, and Haug anticipates having a schedule in two weeks or sooner. He also hopes to have crowds at 50% capacity or higher when it's finally time to play ball again at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva.
"Just the whole last 10 or 11 months have been crazy," Haug said. "But we're super excited about the way things turned out. We think we're going to have a great season because it's still Cougars baseball. We're still going to do all fun things we've always done. We still have a great place to watch a game in a very fun, safe, clean, secure environment. Nothing's going to change. We're going to bring a lot of new stuff and we're looking forward to 2021.
"I think a lot of people are in general. I think they're dying to get out and get to a ballpark and watch a game."
The Cougars' roster was stocked by their major-league affiliate in the past, but that's changed.
Haug said Kane County's new manager, who should be in place by March 1, will have a big say on player additions. The level of play is expected to be better, more at a Class AA standard.
"I'm assuming it's going to be a pool of players that come from all different backgrounds," Haug said.
Kane County expects to have a short spring training-type camp at its facility in late April or early May before moving into the season.