GENEVA – The Cougars mentioned Boise far less frequently as the first half of the season progressed.
In early April, they referenced the parent Cubs’ Short-A affiliate as a proving ground, the place where much of the Kane County roster shined in 2012.
By mid-May, Boise was a less-considered locale as the clubhouse grew acclimated to its more metropolitan home surroundings.
With the second half of the season set to open today, the capital of Idaho suddenly has resurfaced on players’ lips. No, the Cougars aren’t yearning for the Northwest League, but they would like to recapture what boosted them in the homestretch of last season after a 30-36 first half in 2013.
“Absolutely,” reliever Eddie Orozco said. “I mean, this is kind of the same group we had last year in Boise. And our first half was miserable. We were bad back in our first half, and the second half was a completely different story. So I expect nothing but the same results this year. We made a push to the championship game. We were three outs away, so you know, I’ve got a confidence in this club we have.”
That’s been the refrain throughout the first season of a two-year player development contract between the Cubs and Cougars.
This week’s Midwest League All-Star game affirmed preseason chatter surrounding the core of top prospects on the Cougars’ roster, as six players suited up for the Western Division team.
Right fielder Bijan Rademacher, a 13th-round pick of the Cubs a year ago, was one of them. While he might not have registered as prominently on the early radar as some teammates, his breakout proves the depth of talent in the clubhouse.
With 70 games to go and a pair of second-half playoff spots up for grabs, however, the Cougars know it’s time to cash in.
“Yeah, we were close in a couple games, but we didn’t get it done. The second half’s got to be a different story,” Rademacher said. “The second half has got to be all about getting it done, making sure that we get that last hit or we get that last runner to score so we do get those Ws instead of the Ls.”
In February, Cubs director of player development Brandon Hyde recalled his rocky early-season visits to Boise in 2012, describing a young group that struggled to harness its focus.
By the time the Hawks’ 77-game regular season concluded, the clubhouse fabric was completely changed. Cougars manager Mark Johnson, who also made the jump from Boise this season, saw it, too.
“Consistency overall, and all the other stuff will take care of itself,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to start by being consistent.”
Do that, and the Cougars know they’ve got the stars to make a playoff run. Maybe then, they’ll be speaking nostalgically of Geneva and the summer of 2013.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEADERS IN THE KANE COUNTY COUGARS CLUBHOUSE
Bijan Rademacher, .323
Dan Vogelbach, .265
Jeimer Candelario, .265
Rock Shoulders, 13
Dan Vogelbach, 11
Willson Contreras, 6
Dan Vogelbach, 45
Rock Shoulders, 40
Willson Contreras, 25
Marco Hernandez, 9
Oliver Zapata, 8
Gioskar Amaya, 7
Jeffry Antigua, 2.78
Nathan Dorris. 2.79
Felix Pena, 2.89
Pierce Johnson, 5
Tayler Scott, 4
3 players with 3