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Signs apparent for new Cougars era

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:34 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6:41 a.m. CDT

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The Cougars' 23rd season in Geneva dovetails with the club's first season as a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

That's not the only reason things are looking up for fans around Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

Earlier this month, City of Geneva employees affixed 40 Cougars lamppost banners around town in anticipation of the April 4 season opener against Quad Cities. The Cougars' 2013 marketing slogan, "SEE THE FUTURE," is emblazoned down the right side of the banners, but there's still something to be said about the past.

Cougars General Manager Curtis Haug and Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns believe the decorations are the first of their kind since the franchise moved from Wausau, Wis., in 1991.

"We thought it would be something good this year with a new affiliation and kind of welcoming the Cubs to Geneva," Haug said. "It's something that's new and exciting and we really appreciated Mayor Burns giving us the opportunity."

Cougars graphic designer Emmet Broderick developed the banner specifics shortly after Burns approved Haug's idea in early February.

Haug knows it sounds crazy, but he figures there still may be fans in the region unaware of the two-year player-development contract the Cougars and Cubs signed in September. The small Cubs insignia next to the large Cougars logo atop the banners figures to help inform them.

Burns called the Cougars' brand "unquestionable entertainment" and was glad to help his friend, Haug, get a head start on celebrating the upcoming season. The banners will remain up through the end of May before giving way to decorations trumpeting Swedish Days.

"We've got a lot of baseball loving fans here in town, and whether you're a [White] Sox fan or a Cubs fan it doesn't matter," Burns said. "This is a chance to see rising Major League stars here in our own backyard."

Here are a few more notes as opening day nears:

• Led by president Theo Epstein, Cubs officials have unveiled the notion of "The Cubs Way," the organization's direction and strategy for player development and every element of baseball.

In addressing an unspecificed spike in sales of season tickets and suites compared to last season, Haug used the words, "The Cubs Bump." Time will tell whether the phrase catches on with the same frequency. At any rate, its results are palpable.

"There's more of an urgency when it comes to buying tickets. There's more of an urgency when it comes to booking a group outing," Haug said. "It's just a different atmosphere right now around the ballpark and from the public and how they're reacting, and that's a good thing."

• This spring marks the first time the Cougars have opened the season at home since 2006, when Quad Cities also was the opponent. The Cougars were an Oakland A's farmhand then, while the River Bandits – now aligned with the Houston Astros – were an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

From 2007-12, the Cougars started the season at Wisconsin twice, while traveling once each to Burlington, Beloit, Peoria and Quad Cities.

Beginning this season, the Midwest League will initiate an alernating season-opener format, meaning the Cougars will begin on the road in 2014 and in subsequent even-numbered years.

"That rule is in place moving forward," Haug said. "Which is fair, you know."

• Cougars players will wear Cubs jackets and batting practice tops during the season but keep the traditional green, gold, black and white color scheme for game uniforms.

Still, Cubbie blue will predominantly be featured in a sign on the right field wall.

"A, AA, AAA, MLB" appears in red lettering above the message "IT STARTS HERE" in white lettering. A Cubs logo is on the right side of the words.

• In anticipation of increased media coverage, the Cougars expanded their press box, using the lower third-base suite to the left of the pre-existing box. Doorways were constructed to connect the rooms.

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