GENEVA – Cougars general manager Curtis Haug sauntered into the home clubhouse at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, looked around and uttered a favorite phrase of late.
“First-place Cougars,” Haug said.
Yup, that description keeps lasting after Wednesday’s 5-4, 10-inning victory against Clinton to open a six-game homestand. But, at least for one night, a club that can safely start calculating its magic number to clinch the Midwest League’s first-half Western Division title shared the spotlight with some sidebars.
Oh, and a bunch of dogs joined their owners for “Bark In the Park” night, too.
A few hours ahead of first pitch, the Cougars announced a haul of four players to the June 17 MWL All-Star game at West Michigan as well as some shuffling in their ownership group.
Right-handers Paul Blackburn and Jose Arias, catcher Will Remillard and infielder Jordan Hankins figure to remain in the Cougars’ public eye more than former Wall Street executive Dr. Bob Froehlich and his wife, Cheryl, who now are the organization’s largest shareholders.
Mike Murtaugh and Mike Woleben, majority co-owners for the past 24 years, will stay on as minority co-owners and members of the Froehlichs' newly formed board of directors.
“I don’t think it’s going to have much effect,” Haug said. “Obviously, it’s something that happens and the business end of sports. Dr. Bob, he’s very enthusiastic, he’s very energetic, he’s a positive thinker. We’re looking forward to it.
“We’re still going to provide the same fun, family entertainment and continue to think of creative ways and new ways to service the fans and make the fans happy. I think it’s all the same.”
That sounded an awful lot like Hankins’ send-up of the All-Star selections for the 39-20 Cougars.
Players learned of the accolades – as well as Blackburn’s nod as the parent Cubs’ minor league pitcher for May – in a team meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Some players sensed less suspense; they had seen the news on Twitter before manager Mark Johnson convened the group.
“It really could have been anybody, you know what I mean?” said Hankins, who entered the game batting .288 with 21 RBIs. “We’ve had all of our starters, all of our pitching has been so dominant. It really could have been anybody, so it was a surprise to see. It will be cool to be a part of and to go up there.”
Remillard, the parent Cubs’ minor league player of the month for April, is hitting .319 with 25 RBIs, his season-opening 2 for 19 stretch all but forgotten. Blackburn may want to pick his brain on best practices for having a short memory.
Blackburn struggled through ⅔ of an inning against Clinton (29-28) Wednesday and was pulled after exceeding his first-inning pitch count, allowing two runs, one hit and walking three.
Baseball’s law of averages simply flagged Blackburn down.
In his two starts before Wednesday, he limited the LumberKings to one run in 11⅔ innings, striking out 10 and walking two.
Remillard contends the Cougars “probably should have had seven, eight guys” representing the club in the All-Star game. Arias has elevated his profile since one of those likely All-Stars, righty Zack Godley, was promoted to Advanced-A Daytona after collecting seven saves in the season’s first month.
Arias had a 1.69 ERA in May after rallying to finish April with a 3.00 mark.
“Start of the season, I think everybody knows he wasn’t at his best by any means,” Remillard said. “But this last month has been unbelievable. He’s been able to throw his fastball consistently over and get strikeouts with a great breaking ball.”
Haug stressed that such baseballspeak isn’t foreign to Froehlich, a former minority shareholder in the team who played semipro ball in Pittsburgh.
Of course, neither is money. Froehlich is a veteran economy analyst who’s appeared on CNBC, Fox News, CNN and Bloomberg TV.
Wednesday’s result notwithstanding, the Cougars like their chances of keeping “Dr. Bob” and the fans invested and entertained.
And win or lose, the dogs will be back for “Bark In the Park” reduxes on July 23 and Aug. 13.
Cougars (RHP Tyler Skulina, 3-2, 2.92 ERA) vs. Clinton (RHP Lars Huijer, 2-4, 3.78 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
The Cougars improved to 5-5 after off days with Wednesday’s 5-4 win in 10 innings. Right fielder Yasiel Balaguert drove in the winning run, grounding into a fielder’s choice that scored Jake Hannemann with the bases loaded.
The Cougars trailed Clinton, 4-0, after three innings.
Amlung stays patient
ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” won’t devote any airtime to Midwest League All-Star snubs after the MWL announced rosters Wednesday for the June 17 game at West Michigan.
Cougars right-hander Justin Amlung sports a case either way after entering Wednesday 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 46⅔ innings.
Improved after a solid 2013 with Kane County – 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA in 72 innings – Amlung remains focused after a pair of fellow relievers, Zack Godley and 2013 MWL All-Star Nathan Dorris, earned promotions to Advanced-A Daytona earlier this season.
“That’s all I can do. Just wait for something to happen,” Amlung said. “Out of my control. The only thing I can control is what I do on the field.”
Ranger, Will Remillard
Catcher Will Remillard waved the flag – albeit meekly – for the New York Rangers as they opened the Stanley Cup Final against the host Los Angeles Kings Wednesday.
A native of Cohoes, N.Y., northeast of Albany, Remillard admits he isn’t a hockey die-hard, but still senses the chance at some bragging rights in a clubhouse with four Californians.
“I can’t say I’m a fan,” Remillard said. “I follow it a little bit, but I’m rooting for the Rangers in the Stanley Cup.”