GENEVA – New Cougars right-hander Michael Wagner arrived at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark early Tuesday afternoon and quickly surveyed the equipment room.
A jersey with his longtime number hung there for the taking, so Wagner scooped it up.
Wagner chose 30 as a child, shortly after Ken Griffey Jr. did upon joining the Cincinnati Reds in 2000. Griffey’s popularity then transcended geography, allowing the number to quickly sprout its own memories and mystique for the Las Vegas youth.
“When I picked that No. 30,” Wagner said, “my first game was against Bryant.”
Kris Bryant, the heralded third baseman the parent Cubs drafted second overall last June – 14 rounds ahead of Wagner – opposed Wagner in travel ball and high school before the two were college teammates at the University of San Diego.
Bryant wore No. 23 in those days, but the big league future many predict for him will have to be in different digits thanks to Ryne Sandberg.
Until that happens, Wagner prefers focusing on another number where Bryant is concerned, one that also stems to last June.
“I was kind of [ticked],” Wagner said. “I thought he should have gone first [overall], to tell the truth. Growing up playing with the kid and seeing how well he did last year is pretty unreal. And, you know, he’s still doing it.”
Promoted from extended spring training Monday after closer Zack Godley was elevated to Advanced-A Daytona, Wagner plans to keep charting Bryant, who entered Tuesday batting .297 in 31 games for Double-A Tennessee.
Cougars center fielder Jake Hannemann, a third-round pick in 2013, had a pulse on both Wagner and Bryant as a West Coast Conference opponent at Brigham Young.
“Going in, we knew he was going to be one of the top picks,” Hannemann said. “He showed that when we played against them last year. He hit, I think, three walk-offs against us, so he definitely showed it.”
A Tennessee product, Godley has provided early returns, too, excelling behind his fastball and cutter to save seven of the Cougars’ first 22 wins, including Monday’s series opener against Wisconsin. He struck out 25 batters in 15 innings, and was decompressing from his latest outing when manager Mark Johnson called him into his office.
“I mean, it [stinks] to have to leave these guys with us playing as well as we are,” Godley said Monday. “But, I mean, all in all, it’s a step to where I want to go, which is as high as I can get. The overall goal for anyone in this whole organization is to be in the big leagues, and going to Daytona is one step to there.”
Wagner was golfing in Mesa, Ariz., Monday when Cubs minor league coach Jimmy Gonzalez called him with the news of his own promotion. Wagner struck out 27 in 24 2/3 innings between Rookie League Mesa and Short-A Boise last season, compiling a 3.77 ERA.
“You never really know,” Wagner said. “I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat with my phone. I just happened to get a phone call. It was like, ‘All right, you’re going to Kane [County].’ So I was like, ‘All right. That works for me.’ “
Cougars (RHP Juan Paniagua, 0-1, 5.31 ERA) vs. Timber Rattlers (RHP Taylor Williams, 1-0, 3.57 ERA), 11 a.m. today, kccougars.com
Sure lock, home
Tuesday's 8-2 victory against Wisconsin marked the Cougars' 11th consecutive home win. Kane County, leading the Midwest League at 23-9, is 16-2 at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
"I mean, wherever we go, we think we're better than everybody," said catcher Will Remillard, who was 3 for 3 with four RBIs, including a bases-clearing double in the seventh. "I mean, we play like we're better than everybody. I think that the only reason that we might be a little better here is we know the field."
Wisconsin (13-18) became the sixth straight visitor to take a lead in the top of the first. Again, it didn't matter.
"You never know who it's going to be," manager Mark Johnson said, "they just play really well together. Really pull for each other, and you know, that's what it takes to be on a winning team. They've got a really good feel and vibe."
Cut down to size
Third baseman Jordan Hankins helped the Cougars escape a would-be jam unscathed in the fifth. With one out and Wisconsin's Johnny Davis at third after reaching on a leadoff infield single and two-base error, Hankins scooped Omar Garcia's hard grounder and nabbed Davis at the plate.
"Just kind of a bang-bang play and just kind of grabbed it and went home," Hankins said.
Remillard caught Garcia stealing one batter later to end the inning.
The video board in left-center field was functioning again after a three-game hiatus due to wiring issues.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com