GENEVA – Three years, nine months and 16 days before Wrigley Field celebrated its 100th birthday Wednesday, former Cougars reliever Bo Schultz delivered his own timeless tribute.
“Wrigley’s great,” Schultz said. “You don’t know who the person is next to you, but you’re high-fiving anyway.”
A Texan, Schultz spoke from field level at The Friendly Confines as an Oakland A’s prospect preparing for the July 2010 “Road To Wrigley” game against then-Cubs affiliate Peoria.
For current Cougars, the first two of Schultz’s words certainly apply. Now that the organization is aligned with the Cubs, though, the venue assumes an added aura because players trek the road to Wrigley together every day.
“We know it’s a stepping stone. Everybody has to step one step at a time. Not many guys just jump straight up there,” first baseman Jacob Rogers said. “We look forward to just making it there one time. It’s the goal. Everybody’s goal.”
It’s an internalized goal, to be sure.
Exhibit A: Players said they hardly have talked about any centennial celebration matters this week or before.
Exhibit B: Players said they didn’t notice when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein endured the occasional “SpongeBob Square Pants” and “Who Let the Dogs Out” sound clips to watch most of Tuesday’s kids’ day matinee from behind home plate.
Still, several Cougars have ventured to Wrigley with either teammates or family members this spring.
With his mom in town transporting his truck during the club’s first homestand two weeks ago, reliever Zack Godley took her to a night game on the North Side after his Midwest League matinee.
Color Godley impressed after his Wrigley debut.
“It’s just got that old-school feel. It’s got the big scoreboard in center field with all the hand[-operated] stuff on it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. I really enjoyed it.”
Three years, nine months and 16 days before Wrigley Field hit the century mark, the 2010 Cougars sounded a similar refrain. The minor leagues’ law of averages since has whittled the group, if not its enthusiasm.
Five members of the Road to Wrigley starting lineup are out of organized baseball. First baseman Anthony Aliotti plays with Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate, while catcher Max Stassi, who batted .286 in three big league games with Houston last season, does the same.
Righty Dan Straily holds a spot in Oakland’s starting rotation, and former Cougars teammate Ian Krol, a lefty from Neuqua Valley, pitches in the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen. Texas Rangers center fielder Michael Choice also played with the 2010 Cougars, joining the team late in the season after being drafted in the first round.
Schultz made his big league debut with Arizona when MLB opened its season in Australia in March.
At this juncture in the Cougars’ careers, pondering who will advance and who won’t is as sobering as of-age spectators waiting through extra innings after last call. Manager Mark Johnson, a Wrigley visitor as a White Sox catcher before joining three other teams, gracefully steers things in the other direction – in this case toward Clark and Addison.
“It’s a special time. It’s incredible, the history of that place, and it’s a cool time to be part of it, be part of the organization,” Johnson said. “To endure 100 years of baseball is pretty cool. It’s a great place to watch a game, play a game.”
As Rogers indicated, the Cougars know they can’t get there before embracing and excelling at 24-year-old Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. And as many as three more minor league rungs after that.
Until then, their parent club’s home isn’t going anywhere.
“Everybody that plays baseball or knows baseball, watches baseball, hears about Wrigley,” Rogers said.
• 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.
INSIDE THE COUGARS DEN
Shortstop Carlos Penalver batted .333 (4 for 12) with two RBIs to help the Cougars take three of four from Beloit this week.
Left-handers are hitting .412 against reliever Jose Arias, who has walked at least one batter in each of his six appearances.
Baseball America touts Wisconsin catcher Clint Coulter – in town with the Timber Rattlers through Sunday – as the No. 11 prospect in the parent Milwaukee Brewers system. A first-round pick out of high school in 2012, Coulter was off to an encouraging start (.316 average, four home runs, 15 RBIs) entering Friday's series opener after batting .207 in 33 Midwest League games in 2013.
Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, who became the 26th major leaguer to reach 500 career home runs Tuesday, made his minor league debut in Geneva on April 6, 2000. A longtime St. Louis Cardinal, Pujols went 2 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs against the Cougars for Cardinals affiliate Peoria. … Recently-activated Cael Brockmeyer is eager to return from a season-opening stint on the disabled list and give the Cougars further depth at catcher. He said he did "everything with the team except pretty much play in the games" in recent weeks. … The Cougars scored 25 runs in their past three games entering Friday. ... Wisconsin was 152-150 against the Cougars all-time before Friday. ... The first 1,500 fans attending 1 p.m. games today and Sunday will receive free magnetic schedules.