Short-A Boise manager Gary Van Tol beams at the end of most Hawks' road trips, provided he's still awake.
It's not so much the relief of seven- to 10-hour bus rides ending as it is spotting picturesque Pacific Northwest landscapes at dawn.
Van Tol learned to look around early in his baseball career, although he didn't let that derail him from being as diligent as they come.
Even from many miles away, one of his passions is charting the Cougars. Van Tol worked with many of the club's current players as they prepared to climb to the parent Cubs' Class-A affiliate, and is especially close with the field staff of manager Mark Johnson, pitching coach David Rosario and hitting coach Tom Beyers.
"All the players there are in good hands with those three guys," Van Tol said. "I'm proud of all of them for the first half and what they've accomplished, and it's going to be an exciting year to watch from outside of the area and see how they're doing there in Kane County."
Van Tol was Johnson's bench coach for two seasons with the Hawks, worked with Rosario for four seasons and considers Beyers one of his mentors.
He recently opened his second season as Hawks manager and texted Johnson Tuesday upon learning Cubs first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber had been promoted from Boise to Kane County.
Van Tol sent another message when the Cougars clinched the Midwest League's first-half Western Division title two weeks ago. Of course, the congratulatory correspondences go both ways. Now in his seventh season with the club and second as manager, he and the Hawks are bidding for their first Northwest League title since 2004.
The team advanced to the league championship series the past two Septembers but lost to Vancouver. Van Tol finds reloading to be a smooth process as the Hawks comprise players from extended spring training or full-season affiliates with the Cubs' recent collection of high draft picks.
"There's a lot of core guys that understand the language and have been in the system a little bit. Coming out of extended, of course, they're all fired up to get out of Arizona and get up here and play in front of somebody, and so there's no motivational speeches whatsoever," Van Tol said.
"Everybody's pretty fired up and ready to go, and as the new players come in, it helps with that transition, because it can be a long one for these guys, especially the new players."
Van Tol's wife, Chrissy, serves as a senior associate athletic director at Boise State. The couple has four children, and considering the names of their two sons – Gehrig and Gibson – Gary Van Tol's appetite for baseball is evident.
The family has resided in Boise since 2008, but Van Tol certainly allows his interests to travel elsewhere.
"It's a good set-up for him. He's right there at home. He does a great job, you know," Johnson said. "He gets these guys prepared to go to the next level just like we try to get these guys prepared to go to [Advanced-A] Daytona. It's a crucial level. That first short season, it's the first time a lot of these guys are playing affiliated ball. That's not easy. He definitely does a good job."
• 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.
This one's elementary. Catcher/left fielder Kyle Schwarber, the parent Cubs' first-round draft pick earlier this month, batted .600 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in five games at Short-A Boise. He was 1 for 3 with an RBI single in his Cougars debut Thursday.
Right fielder Yasiel Balaguert was hitting .226 (12 for 53) in 14 June games through Thursday.
Cedar Rapids catcher Mitch Garver and third baseman Bryan Haar both entered Friday's game against the Cougars with appearances in 66 of the Kernels' 71 games. Garver, a ninth-round pick of the parent Minnesota Twins in 2013, ranks 10th in the Midwest League with a .308 batting average.
The Cougars have scored seven runs in an inning three times this season, most recently on Thursday night. … Caribbean rockers Mr. Meyers Band are set to kick off the Cougars' summer concert series with a performance from 4 to 5:30 p.m. today, playing ahead of a 6:30 first pitch on Jimmy Buffett Night. … Fans can play catch on the field from noon to 12:20 p.m. Sunday before the 1 p.m. series finale against Cedar Rapids.