GENEVA – Just as the Cougars’ sold-out “Meet the Cubs” party at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark Friday overflowed with fans, this reporter’s notebook teemed with tidbits from the baseball brain trust on hand.
Here’s a look at more from Cougars manager Mark Johnson, Cubs vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod and Cubs director of player development Brandon Hyde.
First pitch of the first season of the two-year player-development contract between the Cougars and Cubs is set for April 4.
Kids’ game: McLeod joked that the only potential downside to having Cubs’ prospects so close to Chicago was the pull of nearby nightlife and “tearing up the town” on off-days.
Johnson, who managed many of the prospective 2013 Cougars at Short-A Boise (Idaho) last season, assured it wouldn’t be an issue.
“They’re not going to be old enough,” Johnson said. “It’ll be all right.”
Indeed, a number of top prospects who played at Boise last season are young, namely outfielder Albert Almora (18) and first baseman Dan Vogelbach (20).
One reason the Cubs value Johnson in the role of guiding emerging talent is his big league experience. A former catcher, he made his MLB debut with the White Sox in 1998 and turned to managing in 2011.
“You play part-time babysitter, you’re part-time shrink, you’re part-time disciplinarian,” McLeod said. “You’re developing guys.”
Thanks, Trader Jack: Delving into “the office thing for the first time ever” after an earlier career as a player and coach, Hyde, 38, was named to his role in August. He served as Miami Marlins bench coach in 2010-11 but moved on to the Cubs organization when then-Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, formerly of the White Sox, brought Joey Cora in as bench coach before last season.
Hyde says he can’t overstate the importance of former Marlins manager Jack McKeon’s influence on his career. The two shared an office when McKeon, then 80, came out of retirement to manage the Marlins for the final 90 games of 2011.
Hyde hasn’t caught much razzing for being so close to a man who helped bring great misery to Cubs fans. In 2003, McKeon guided the Marlins past the Cubs in the National League Championship Series en route to a World Series title.
In Game 6 of the NLCS, the Cubs were five outs away from winning the series when fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball coming his way. The Marlins staged a rally immediately thereafter, and what became known to many as “The Bartman Game” was part of ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentary series.
McKeon caught an especially close view the program in the clubhouse one afternoon, Hyde recalls.
“I turn the channel and I tell Jack it’s on,” Hyde said. “He got his chair and he went about this far [Hyde spreads his hands about 18 inches apart] and was late for his media thing because he wanted to watch it.
“It was really interesting listening to him talk through that the whole time. Like, I was late for what I had to do because I wanted to hear Jack talk about it. It was so interesting. He’s just an incredible person.”
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.