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Druley: Cougars enjoy talkin’ baseball with the big guys

Published: Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 4, 2014 10:18 a.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Signing baseballs – as Cougars right-hander Daury Torrez does here before Tuesday's practice at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark– is a ballplayer's pastime whether he's suiting up in the majors or minors.

The Cubs facilitated fraternization between major and minor leaguers by consolidating cafeterias and common areas at their new spring training home in Mesa, Ariz.

Several Kane County Cougars capitalized on the lack of barriers and got busy picking big-league brains.

“The last couple years, it’s been separate,” Cougars second baseman Daniel Lockhart said, “so now that they’re together, we’re able to have conversations with them and they give us some tips. … Usually we weren’t able to do that, so that’s been nice, you know. Be able to see the guys who are there where you want to be eventually.”

“See the Future” emerged as the Cougars’ 2013 marketing slogan in the club’s first season as a Class-A Cubs affiliate, but in many ways extended to next spring.

While the Cubs feature their share of veterans, minor leaguers find the youth of lineup regulars such as shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and left fielder Junior Lake especially reassuring. All are age 24.

“It’s good to see them. You know, pick their brains a little bit,” said Cougars left-hander Nathan Dorris, who’s more high-profile than others at this level given last season’s Midwest League All-Star nod. “But on the same note, they’ve got a job to do and they’re trying to get better as well, so you try to stay out of their way.

“But they were always really open to if you had a question or something you wanted to ask them, they were always open to talking. Definitely a great opportunity.”

Groundskeeper Wasielewski: Cougars general manager Curtis Haug hailed new head groundskeeper Dave Wasielewski’s mettle in preparing the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark field for Tuesday’s home opener.

It wasn’t long ago that onlookers peered in the dugouts and tunnels and saw sheets of ice. Things were more dire on the diamond itself.

“Oh my gosh, it’s been a winter that most of us have never been through before,” Haug said. “It’s taken a lot of preparation. A couple weeks ago, we didn’t think we were going to make it.”

The Cougars employed a few measures to speed up the thawing and treating process. One tactic: renting heaters and letting them blow underneath the tarp for the bulk of the day.

Wasielewski, a Chicago native, spent nine seasons as an assistant on the Cubs grounds crew.

“That’s a nice thing to have,” Haug said. “He’s got some good resources. Good people and references with the Cubs to work with.”

Dome opener: In the worst of weather, the Cougars know they have the nearby Strikers Fox Valley indoor soccer facility as a resource for early-season practices.

Playing games at the so-called “Cougardome” is not an option, however, given the dimensions.

In Rosemont, that’s another story.

Several softball teams have squeezed in spring break games this week at the Dome in Rosemont, which houses two fields and has been open for more than a year.

“That’s the first time I’ve played there and it’s very nice,” Burlington Central coach Wade Maisto said after the Rockets split Wednesday’s indoor doubleheader against Waubonsie Valley. “I can see why teams play there now; it’s a really nice facility.”

The overhead covering is 565 feet long, 250 feet wide and 75 feet high.

“Some balls hit the roof that are dead balls,” Maisto said, “but not many.”

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

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