GENEVA – Cougars first baseman Rock Shoulders strutted into the clubhouse late Monday morning with an eye-catching accessory.
Some way or another, he had secured the head of venerable mascot Ozzie T. Cougar and proceeded to dance and pose for pictures with teammates.
On a season finale many players compared to the last day of school, here was Shoulders, the de facto class clown. His shenanigans amused many, and fittingly took place in front of the lockers of three Cougars about to resume the pursuit of their degrees.
Take this down, Carlos Escobar, Michael Hamann and Michael Heesch: You’re not liable to see this in higher education.
Escobar (health sciences, Nevada), Hamann (recreational business, Toledo) and Heesch (history, South Carolina-Beaufort) faced both separate and equal finalities as their teammates while packing their belongings. No more baseball, just more books.
“It’s definitely going to be different because, I mean, it’s like this is our family all summer. It’s going to definitely be different not seeing these guys, not going to the field every single day,” Escobar said. “Going to be going to a classroom, which is going to [stink]. But, yeah, it definitely has that kind of last-day environment.”
Escobar, a catcher, and Hamann, a right-handed reliever, locker next to one another in the back left corner of the clubhouse. Heesch, a left-hander who was shut down last month after reaching his innings limit, is just a few stalls down.
They’re returning to school voluntarily, but perhaps because they’re still college-aged and playing what forever will be called a kid’s game, have been sure to table any shop talk.
No one wants to be that guy, even in young adulthood.
“We’re just kind of leaving that until we get back, you know, being with the schedule that we have. Especially just being on the road for seven days,” Hamann said. “Just get back. Get our feet under us and find our way.”
Of course, that’s a more urgent task since classes started two weeks ago in many parts of the country.
Across the room, the Cougars’ studious set enjoys the input of the dean of balancing offseason academia with workout regimens. Infielder Brad Zapenas, drafted by the parent Cubs in the 42nd round in 2011 – weeks after the end of his junior year at Boston College – spent the past two falls finishing his degree.
In the heart of Red Sox Nation, Zapenas proudly differentiated himself, which paid off one day during a sports marketing course.
“I kept wearing Cubs gear and the teacher said, ‘Hey, are you a fan?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, no. I play,’ ” Zapenas said. “It’s fun. Everything kind of changes. You kind of look at it totally different. Especially going back and not playing baseball there anymore. School is totally different.”
Ultimately, though, it’s also secondary to these players’ career paths at this point.
With spring training getting underway in March, enrolling in live spring semester courses is not feasible. Escobar and Hamann mentioned looking into taking classes online.
“I’ll definitely be focused on school,” Escobar said, “but baseball is my job. I need to hit that hard.”
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.