GENEVA – Rich Davis suspected a hoax.
The St. Charles man arrived at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark with his family about an hour before Saturday night's Cougars game but was stopped before entering the park by Cougars personnel.
Davis was told he was the 10 millionth fan in Cougars history and, as such, was entitled to some royal treatment.
"We actually have our company picnic here today, and I actually thought it was them putting on a spoof relative to that," said Davis, who was unaware that the team was closing in on the milestone. "But as more people came and cameras came, then it started settling in that this was really real."
Davis, a St. Charles Bank & Trust executive out of the bank's Elgin location, has lived in St. Charles for 14 years, and said he and his wife, Tammy, have gone to a handful of Cougars games most years since their sons – 11-year-old Michael and 8-year-old Matthew –áhave been in the picture.
Word of his lucky designation spread fast. Just a few minutes later, one of his son's former travel baseball coaches sent a congratulatory text message.
"It said 'Really, 10 millionth fan?' So obviously I think the Cougars posted it to Facebook really fast, and that's how he found out," Davis said. "I thought he was at the game and he heard the announcement."
Davis, who was greeted on his way into the park by Cougars general manager Curtis Haug and mascot Ozzie T. Cougar, sat in the right field patio area as part of the St. Charles Bank & Trust contingent for the Cougars' 8-4, rain-shortened win against the Lansing Lugnuts.
Davis threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the game and was whisked to a team office just before the storm hit to be presented an extensive gift package that included 10 $100 bills, 10 Cubs tickets and a 10-game ticket package for the Cougars' 2014 season.
But it was some of the more lasting touches that Davis said will resonate deepest, including a Cougars jersey and banner that both read "10 Millionth Fan."
"I love having three-dimensional things that remind me of important things in our lives so things like the bat and the jersey are really cool because we have a basement and wherever we go, if we go to a special game, we typically get a baseball or a jersey and then we memorialize it," Davis said. "So we don't have a lot of artwork in our house but we have a lot of things of where we went."
The Cougars are the first Class A team to hit the 10 million attendance mark, according to the team's news release, in which Haug said "this evening's milestone will be remembered for years to come, and we can't begin to express our gratitude to each and every fan who has attended a Cougars game since our first season in 1991."
As for the game, the Cougars won for only the sixth time in 27 tries during what has been a brutal second half of the season. First baseman Dan Vogelbach helped the Cougars dig out of an early 3-0 hole by going 2 for 2 with an RBI double and a walk.
"We could easily come to the park every day and just be 'We're here, and let's get this over with,' but I think we have a bunch of guys in the locker room and in the dugout that want to win so bad that we're not going to cash it in until the final game," Vogelbach said.
Cougars manager Mark Johnson said the final six weeks of the season will be about "weeding the guys out" who don't have the mental toughness to play through adversity and fatigue.
"Definitely a character tester for everybody, staff included," Johnson said. "We may never have another season like this again. I've only probably been through one like this in the last 20 years, as a player. It doesn't happen very often."
An announced crowd of 10,587 easily surpassed the 2,000-plus fans needed to reach the 10-million mark since the team set up shop in Geneva in 1991. Many of those fans scurried for the exits as a ferocious rainstorm arrived in the sixth inning, leading to a half-hour delay before the game was called.