GENEVA – Young fans chanted for venerable mascot Ozzie T. Cougar more than they did Cubs president Theo Epstein on Wednesday afternoon.
With apologies to The Cubs Way, it’s conceivable the schoolchildren assembled glanced to the seats behind home plate and considered Epstein just another man in a polo taking notes.
Cougars players lacked the same innocence and luxury. It might have taken a few innings, but word soon spread that the boss of their parent club was on hand for a 4-0 victory against Peoria. Fine by them.
“It’s going to help us out in the long run, because that pressure – when you make it to the big leagues – it’s got to be 10, 20 times heavier, more a burden on your shoulders there than it is now,” right fielder Bijan Rademacher said. “So we might as well get the microscope and all eyes on us so we prepare ourselves for once we get up there.”
Epstein picked a good time to make his regular season debut at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, watching quick-working right-hander Tayler Scott pitch 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball on a picturesque day.
Scott only heard of Epstein’s presence when he headed to the dugout after his final hitter. He called it a pleasant surprise after continuing a solid May in which he has allowed three runs in 181/3 innings over three starts.
“It’s just getting comfortable out here,” Scott said. “I’m starting the season earlier than I’m used to, the weather is warming up, so I’m pitching more loose and comfortable out there. So that’s been working for me.”
Epstein was not available for comment. He declined an interview request while leaving the stadium.
Asked when he might return, Epstein said, “Whenever I can. Probably be a lot of day games before [Cubs] night games.”
The Cubs hosted Colorado at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday.
Before the game, Cougars manager Mark Johnson said he hadn’t heard the rumor Epstein might be headed to Geneva. Just as he did afterward, Johnson called the club’s proximity to Chicago a great player development tool.
Johnson managed several current Cougars at Short-A Boise last season, and found many “were petrified when somebody would come in town.”
Assistant general manager Randy Bush (May 6) and coordinator of pro scouting Andrew Bassett (April 9) are among the Cubs officials who have been in attendance through 20 home games this season, the Cougars’ first in a two-year player-development contract with the Cubs.
“We were let know from early on that those people could be popping in and out at any moment, so we always just try to take care of our business and not let things like that bother us,” said lefty Nathan Dorris, who earned his third save with 1 2/3 innings of one-hit relief.
The Chiefs knew the drill when they were aligned with the Cubs from 2005-2012. Ten Cougars on the active Opening Day roster played with Peoria last season.
Each Cubs minor leaguer meets with Epstein and a group of other officials to discuss individualized player plans during spring training in Mesa, Ariz.
The Cougars (18-18) are set to host Peoria (18-18) in a split doubleheader today, with games beginning at 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Kids in their seats for the final out.
With Tayler Scott and Nathan Dorris combining on a three-hitter, the schoolchildren among a crowd of 7,972 on Ozzie’s Reading Club Day played the best kind of organized hooky.
They might actually have had time for a brief study hall after the two-hour, 26-minute affair.
Cubs celebrity watch
Unless Ronnie Woo-Woo treks to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, this one’s the Holy Grail.
Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the game from section 110, behind home plate, the latest in a string of appearances from Cubs brass.
Epstein saw a group of comfortable Cougars get back to .500. They hope to entertain future guests just as well.
“People actually get to see what they’re getting out of us,” right fielder Bijan Rademacher said. “And it kind of makes us work harder.”