GENEVA – The Kane County Cougars are off to a dismal 1-7 start to the second half of the Midwest League season and not even the presence of star outfielder Albert Almora’s parents this week could bring them enough luck to avoid dropping a series with Beloit.
The Snappers (6-1) shut out the Cougars, 2-0, Friday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark to take three of the four games in the series. Almora, who came into the contest hitting a sizzling .366, was 0-for-4 at the plate, but he was hardly the only Cougar to struggle against Beloit right-hander Dakota Bacus (7-2). Bacus allowed only three hits, all singles, in eight innings of work.
“He was just throwing strikes and making it difficult for us to be in a hitter’s count and get a good pitch to drive,” said Almora, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2012, who was born Reinaldo Albert Almora in 1994.
Almora’s parents were making their first trip to Kane County from their home in Florida. His father, Albert Almora, does not speak English, but his mother, Ana Almora, said they were enjoying their stay.
“The area’s so nice,” she said. “The park is beautiful and the fans – a lot of people come to support them. [Our son] loves it. He’s not used to all the fans because down in Arizona in rookie ball, you don’t get them. In Boise, there were fans, but not like this.”
Almora’s parents were both born in Cuba and lived there during the regime of Communist dictator Fidel Castro.
“His father had to leave for the same reason we all had to leave,” Ana said. “We had to leave for freedom. I was blessed that my parents were able to get me out at an early age, so I grew up here in the United States.”
The elder Albert Almora, however, spent the early years of his adult life under Castro’s rule. A mechanical draftsman, he was able to leave Cuba during the economic downturn in that country during the early 1980s that sparked the Mariel boatlift. He was allowed to emigrate first to Spain, where he worked for several years before coming to the United States.
“We met in ’92 and Albert was born in ’94,” Ana said. “He changed our lives. We knew he was special since he was a little kid.”
The younger Albert Almora said his father played baseball growing up in Cuba and passed down his love of the game to his only son.
“It was like God gave him a gift because he had three daughters [from a previous marriage],” Almora said. “I was the only boy. All my life he’s been there and pushed me. … He’s the reason why I’m where I am today, that’s for sure.”
The elder Almora, 62, is retired, which gives the couple time to travel to see their son play, a fact much appreciated by the younger Almora.
“They say they don’t know when they’re going to go back and I said that’s fine with me,” he said. “It’s always good to have them here and my dad is like my mentor. We talk after every game. I’m glad they’re here.”
Cougar notes: Left-hander Michael Heesch (3-6) was nearly as impressive as Bacus on Friday night, giving up just one run over seven innings. He yielded five hits, but three of them were doubles, including one to Daniel Robertson leading off the fourth inning. Robertson eventually scored on a sacrifice fly to centerfield Matt Olson. ... The Cougars announced Friday that outfielder Bijan Rademacher has been promoted to Class-A Advanced Daytona. The Cougars received outfielder Kevin Encarnacion from Short-A Boise. A switch-hitter Encarnacion was hitting .298 in 13 games this season at Boise. Last season with the Cubs’ Dominican team, he batted .308 with 5 home runs and 31 RBI. ... After the game, the Cougars announced another roster move as relief pitcher Jeffrey Antigua was promoted to Double-A Tennessee.