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Druley: Cougars count gains amid losses

Cougars manager Mark Johnson reluctantly cleared his office after Monday’s season finale.

“Even though I’ve got family at home, and kids, it’s still not easy to pack up and leave,” he said.

Johnson hopes to return to his Fifth Third Bank Ballpark digs in 2014, but he won’t know his destination until the parent Cubs announce their minor league assignments this winter.

In the meantime, his offseason agenda includes neither stewing nor sulking. The Cougars may have lost a single-season franchise record 80 games in 2013, but the better times and moments aren’t lost on “MJ,” who finds he doesn’t have to pry to remember.

“They got better in a lot of areas,” Johnson said. “The team changed quite a bit over the past month and a half personnel-wise. The guys that have stayed throughout the year, they’ve made some changes emotionally and physically. They’ve done some things and they’ve matured a little bit. They have some serious growing pains the first two months of the season and they got better. I think as a team we changed some and we didn’t play as well as we did in the first half, but there’s some good things that happened in there.”

Six players in the Cougars’ Opening Day lineup started the finale, too: Gioskar Amaya (second base), Marco Hernandez (designated hitter), Jeimer Candelario (third base), Rock Shoulders (first base), Willson Contreras (catcher) and Oliver Zapata (center field).

Candelario – one of the Midwest League’s youngest players at 19 – tied for third in the league with 35 doubles and also made tremendous strides with his command of English. Johnson and club officials, not just media types, noticed the latter improvement, too.

Amaya, 20, showed his durability by playing in 117 of the team’s 135 games, while Contreras, a converted third baseman, grew increasingly comfortable with his share of pitchers.

The Cougars used 33 of them to complete 1,1741/3 innings.

A handful of Cougars will get more innings and exposure during fall leagues either in Arizona or Latin America.

Thinking of that dispersion affected Johnson, too.

“Even when everybody’s gone, it’s just a weird feeling,” he said. “It gets weirder every year. Just bittersweet. It’s tough.”

Radio days: Today’s Kaneland/IC Catholic football game is set to be broadcast live on WSPY-107.1 FM, the latest in the station’s slate of regular-season games involving Chronicle-area teams.

Other games include: Rochelle at Kaneland, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 (tape delay); Montini at Marmion, 10 a.m. Sept. 28; Aurora Central Catholic at Walther Lutheran, 1 p.m Oct. 5 and Marmion at Walther Lutheran, 1 p.m. Oct. 26.

Longtime WSPY voice Jim Teckenbrock also called last week’s season opener between visiting Geneva and Oswego.

Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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