Rick Renteria’s recent hip surgery prevented him from traveling to Chicago on Thursday, the day he was named the Cubs’ new manager.
The Renteria Curtis Haug remembers rarely took any opportunity to associate himself with baseball sitting down.
Yes, the Renteria who will guide the North Siders is the same Renteria who managed the Cougars in Geneva in 1999. Haug, the Cougars’ general manager, was an assistant GM for the then-Florida Marlins affiliate, but he hasn’t forgotten the man who seldom made like his initials and got some R&R.
“He had a great rapport with the fans. He had a great rapport with the front office, the seasonal staff. Pretty much everyone at the ballpark,” Haug said. “He was just a good people person. It’s not often that a manager has all that positive interaction with the entire ballpark, which was good.”
Renteria earned Midwest League Manager of the Year honors in his lone season with the Cougars. The club finished 78-59 and advanced to the second round of the Western Division playoffs, where it fell to eventual league champion Burlington.
The Bees were a White Sox affiliate then, and Cubs director of player development Brandon Hyde played in 65 games.
The White Sox no longer have a farm team in the Midwest League and the Marlins have since switched their nameplate to Miami, but the Cougars’ current two-year player-development contract with the Cubs now ties everything together like a tightly stitched Rawlings.
“I think this strengthens our connection between the Cougars and the Cubs moving forward,” Haug said. “It’s just a great connection.”
Renteria, 51, had five winning seasons while managing in the Marlins’ and San Diego Padres’ systems from 1998 to 2001 and 2004 to 2007. He joined the Padres’ major league staff in 2008 and spent the past three seasons as manager Bud Black’s bench coach.
The Renteria hiring especially resonated east of San Diego. Steve Scarsone, who makes his offseason home in Arizona, has ascended the Oakland A’s system since managing the Class-A Cougars in 2009, landing with Triple-A Sacramento (Calif.) last season.
In an age of baseball where first-time managers are enjoying unprecedented success – World Series skippers John Farrell (Red Sox) and Mike Matheny (Cardinals) had no previous managing experience at any level – it’s heartening for Scarsone to watch a fellow dues-payer cash in.
“Obviously, it’s good news,” Scarsone said. “Anytime that you’ve got a chance to see someone else doing pretty much the same plan you’re on, it gives you the reassurance it’s still possible. With anything, as long as we know we’ve got an opportunity, that’s sometimes enough to keep you working.”
Before Renteria, Carlos Tosca blazed the Midwest League-to-Major Leagues path when he managed the Toronto Blue Jays from 2002 to 2004, nine years after guiding the 1993 Cougars.
One of Tosca’s players on that club was catcher Mike Redmond, who joined the Marlins as manager in 2013.
The Cougars rightly promote the players who have graduated from Country House burgers and host family stays to four-star restaurants and hotels. With Renteria and the emerging Scarsone, the club is building bragging rights along the other side of the foul lines.
Like Renteria, Scarsone climbed through the minors as a player to reach the majors. Now, he’s hoping to do the same as a manager.
“Kind of floating in that no-man’s land between Triple-A and the Major Leagues gave me a foundation to talk to my players with real life examples and not just blowing smoke up on them,” Scarsone said. “The Triple-A level seems like it’s fit me pretty well. Now it’s just a matter of an opportunity presenting itself.”
• 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.