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Druley: Cougars channel Wrigley experience as promotion season starts

Published: Friday, June 21, 2013 5:32 a.m. CDT
Caption
Kane County Cougars’ players warm up during media day in April.

Right-hander Pierce Johnson isn’t the first Cougars player to ascend the parent Cubs’ minor league system this season.

Considering his draft class, though, the 2012 first-round sandwich pick’s promotion to Advanced-A Daytona on Thursday served special notice to a young clubhouse.

The Road to Wrigley Field consists of more than interstate and gridlock.

Seeing Johnson, outfielder Pin-Chieh Chen (Double-A Tennessee) and others go undoubtedly prompts mixed emotions. Then again, it shows players that upward mobility is possible. All they have to do is keep working and wait their turn.

Most teammates who arrived in Geneva with Johnson when spring training broke still keep lockers at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. The heart of a potent lineup – Dan Vogelbach, Jeimer Candelario and Rock Shoulders – are there, along with 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora, who joined the club in May after a spring training injury.

Roster moves are the final step in the promotion process. Until they happen, however, many players are channeling a move that didn’t wind up on the transactions wire – an early-season trip to see the Cubs at Wrigley.

“Going to my first Wrigley game, I got an experience of what it’s like to be a Chicago Cub. And then taking that experience and coming here with all the fans coming to see us before we make it to Wrigley,” said right fielder Bijan Rademacher, who hails from California.

“And you can see that they want us to get better, and they want a winning team out there. Their soul is with Wrigley. You can just get that feeling now, the more you can be around it and the more you open your eyes to it, you get that feeling.”

Although the rest of the Cubs affiliates lack Kane County’s proximity to Chicago, the Cougars are likely to find the same outlook among fans at each of the next levels.

On Thursday, Johnson left Class-A for Advanced-A and got a head start on finding out.

Close to home, Part I: Strolling the grounds of The Wifflot near Batavia this week made it easy to whisk back to my own youth. And the recent past, for that matter.

While I’m always down for Wiffle ball, stickball is this reporter’s preferred pickup game. It’s best played on the blacktop schoolyards of my native south St. Louis, but any venue will do.

(At least that’s my rationale for keeping gear in my trunk at all times).

Wifflot brass Ryan Pawlowski and Andrew Martinez took me back to the days of organizing my own games. Buddies dubbed me “The Commish” then since I called everyone each morning – some phone numbers remain stuck in my head to this day – and kept games on through high school, college and now on visits home.

We didn’t build infrastructure, charge admission or play walk-up music (our 1996 All-Star game pregame mix tape was the closest thing) but the idea was the same.

It’s more about catching up than keeping score these days, but the bat and ball remain the backdrop.

Close to home, Part II: It’s the aim of every assignment to “capture the spirit of the thing,” as fictitious sportswriter Dickie Dunn so sagely put it in “Slap Shot.”

While I hope I accomplished that feat with Thursday’s story on the backyard Blackhawks watch parties of St. Charles residents Tom Campana and Scot Hampel, the ambiance of their arrangement might have struck me most after deadline.

Campana and Hampel’s house is on my way home, so with the pages out and Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in overtime, I made a pit stop. It was long enough to absorb the sparkling picture of their high-definition projector – easier than when I first visited the home during twilight hours – before Brent Seabrook’s game winner about midway through overtime.

Self-described “porch fanatics,” Campana and Hampel will reprise their hosting duties for Saturday’s Game 5, and say all are welcome provided guests behave respectfully.

Hawks fans likely won’t pine for the fourth overtime game of the series, but free free hockey looks even smoother on these guys’ 8x12-foot vinyl banner screen.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com.

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