On the Road: Tent Pitchers and Catchers in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Long-time readers of this long-time blogging concern might remember that, yes, I have visited the Kane County Cougars before. It was on Labor Day, 2010, a speedily played afternoon game on the last day of the season. There was a melancholy vibe at the ballpark that day; summer was giving way to autumn and thus it was time to say goodbye to Minor League Baseball.

My most recent visit, which kicked off my May 2015 Midwest-based road trip, was the yin to that yang. It was May 23, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and the ballpark vibe was lighthearted and celebratory. Spring was giving way to summer and thus it was time to welcome Minor League Baseball with open arms.

Hello, Kane County! Time to take a crooked photo.

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The Cougars have played in the same ballpark since their 1991 inception. The last time I visited it was known as “Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium,” but these days it carries the moniker of “Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.” (There are a lot of Fifth Third Bank ballparks around the Minors these days. It’s getting kind of annoying.)

The ballpark is located on the grounds of the Kane County Forest Preserve, in the town of Geneva, Illinois. The parking lot is spacious.

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“Camp Local,” says one of the brochures on this Forest Preserve bulletin board.

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How’s this for camping local? The Cougars were hosting a scout camp out that evening, with the scouts pitching their tents in a field located, literally, across the pond. (This field, accessible via bridge, was located just beyond the right field berm seating area.)

IMG_1166Most fans in attendance would be leaving the ballpark after the game. For those wondering what to do when leaving the ballpark…

004My ballpark wanderings began here, in Fifth Third Bank Ballpark’s spacious front lobby.

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Shawn Touney, the Cougars director of public relations and a very helpful and proactive guy, met me here and began showing me around. This is the new Strike Zone seating area: $69 for a four-top ($89 on fireworks nights).

007 The picture above shows the view from the radio booth. I was in said booth for a pre-game interview with Cougars announcer Joe Brand.

008Brand, in his second year in Kane County, is seeking to become the latest Cougars broadcaster to make it to the Major Leagues. If he accomplishes this goal, he’d join the meritorious likes of Scott Franzke (Phillies), Wayne Randazzo (Mets) and Dave Wills (Rays).

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark (which, henceforth, I will refer to as “FTTB”) covers a lot of acreage. This is the view beyond right field.

010 Beyond the flag and beyond the inflatables, there were the aforementioned tents.

013 As game-time approached, this legion of future tent-sleepers took part in a pre-game parade.

016I needed to head plate-ward myself. Realizing that I had thrown out more than my share of ceremonial first pitches, the Cougars asked me to instead be the “ceremonial first pitch catcher.”

032Cougars reliever Cody Geyer, a frequent first pitch catcher, was psyched to have the day off. Here he shares some of the tricks of the ceremonial first pitch-catching trade.

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Geyer warned me that balls bouncing in the dirt were an occupational hazard, but both of the pitches that I caught came in high and true. (Even better, no one complained that some weirdo writer was catching the balls instead of a Cougars player.)

I quickly swapped out one pair of balls for another.

IMG_1169It was time for a softee toss. I was to be a softee tosser.

“Look for energetic kids, and get some height on the throws because it’s fun to watch [the fans] jump for it,” said Logan, a member of the promo team.

I did my best. And, as usual, my best ends up looking weird and awkward.

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042The softee ball toss got the fans all Francis Scott Keyed up. It was time for the National Anthem .

044The National Anthem featured “bombs bursting in air” fireworks courtesy of Cougars pyrotechnic expert Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan, who I’ve written about before and will write about again. Certainly, this was not an atmosphere lacking in patriotic flourish.

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With the game underway, my promo team cohorts and I retreated to a tunnel alongside the visitor’s dugout.

046I had already caught balls and tossed balls, but even more balls were in my Kane County future.

Battle Balls, to be specific.

049Stay tuned…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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