GENEVA – Formerly burly first baseman Dan Vogelbach wore the Cougars' smallest jersey last season, a distinction he virtually duplicated Tuesday night.
The bobblehead depicting the 2013 Midwest League All-Star reflected Vogelbach's offseason weight loss of nearly 30 pounds and then some. If adjusted to human proportions, the doll surely would float away in a figurative stiff breeze.
That's a fitting image considering Vogelbach climbed from the Class-A Cougars to Advanced-A Daytona last Aug. 12. Although he left the club nearly a year ago, thoughts of the 6-foot slugger – whether at 275 pounds or 245 – cycled around Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as the Cougars defeated Wisconsin, 9-3.
"Oh, yeah, he looked really good in spring training," Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. "So I'm sure down there in Florida he's been able to sweat a lot out and keep that weight off."
Vogelbach entered Tuesday batting .267 for defending Florida State League champion Daytona with a team-leading six home runs and 32 RBIs. His caricature sported the same black jersey selected by Tuesday's Cougars starting pitcher, Paul Blackburn, but no one in the lineup wore the doll's No. 3.
Outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr. – the number's 2014 custodian who wore 3 in high school – had the night off.
It seemed just as well. Vogelbach uses the Twitter handle "Flowbro3" but wears No. 4 at Daytona.
His social media blood brother, right-hander Pierce Johnson, uses "Flowbro33" to match the jersey he wore as a Cougar for the first half of last season. When Johnson returned to Kane County last week on a rehab assignment from Double-A Tennessee, he found 33 taken by fellow righty Tyler Bremer. If only in spirit and equipment room stock, "Flowbro36" is what Johnson became.
Sure, baseball breeds comfort in numbers, but continuity, at least in organizational ball, can be a different story.
"They didn't tell us anything, but I think the minors in general you never [get attached]," righty Zak Hermans said, "because you know there's so much roster movement, and you know just because you have a number at one level right now, you could be moving to another team at any point and get another one."
Hermans wears 15 because it was the closest number available to his high school jersey, 12, selected for the noted Green Pay Packers fan's fondness for Aaron Rodgers. A similarly named reliever, Zack Godley, wore 15 for the Cougars before the parent Cubs promoted him to Daytona in early May.
The No. 5 also has seen different Cougars' backs in the past few weeks. Infielder David Bote had it from opening day until he was transferred to Short-A Daytona on June 10. By the time he returned to Kane County on Friday, Cubs first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber already had been promoted after five prolific games with Boise and selected No. 5.
"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Bote, who since has slipped into No. 2. "It's all good."
A relaxed demeanor only helps when it comes to jersey selection, especially for those who join the Cougars after the beginning of the season. Streamlining its stock from recent years, the club keeps jerseys in each number from 1 to 45, excluding the Cubs' retired numbers of 10, 14, 23, 26, 31 and 42.
Hitting coach Tom Beyers, a longtime coach in the Dodgers organization, wore 10 for as long as he could remember, but was forced to switch upon joining the Cubs, who retired 10 for Ron Santo in 2003.
Usually, the smaller the number, the smaller the size, Cougars clubhouse manager Scotty Anderson says. That axiom partially illustrates why, in May, 6-foot-5, 235-pound lefty Michael Heesch selected 43 instead of the 18 he wore in 2013.
A conflict with since-promoted third baseman Jordan Hankins was another culprit.
"Hankins was 18 when I got here, and I mean, I didn't want 18. Kind of change it up," Heesch said. "And then I was like, 'Well, what's the biggest one we have left?' And that was the biggest one, for a guy my size, they had left."
Vogelbach wore 43 at Boise in 2012, when his stock as a second-round draft pick the year before began growing. He batted .322 with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in 37 games, easily earning a promotion to Class-A the following season.
Anderson said Vogelbach's No. 3 Cougars jersey was a size 46. Player and staff jerseys range to size 50, with mascot Ozzie T. Cougar believed to wear a 52.
On Aug. 12, the Cougars plan to distribute Albert Almora bobbleheads for the popular 2013 outfielder and 2012 first-round pick. While the club hopes the shipment arrives more promptly – the Vogelbach models weren't ready for distribution until about 90 minutes after gates opened – they can be assured of this:
Stories always help pass the time at baseball games, and bobbleheads seldom are spot-on.
Cougars (RHP Tyler Skulina, 4-3, 2.70 ERA) vs. Wisconsin (LHP Anthony Banda (3-5, 4.47), noon today, AM-1280
Away he goes
Right fielder Trey Martin set a single-game club record with five steals, increasing his season total to 16. Martin credited his jumps to the Wisconsin pitching staff and catcher Clint Coulter, who seldom tried to pick him off after his first time on base.
“As soon as you get a bigger lead and they don’t pick off, just go,” Martin said. “You’ve got a lot of space taken up with that big lead, so make sure to run.”
Michael Richard held the previous Cougars record of four steals in a single game in 2008. The league record is six.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod were among executives from the parent Cubs organization watching the game. They witnessed a familiar sight, as the Cougars won for the 32nd time in 40 home games to improve to a Midwest League-best 49-26.
“They take great at-bats. The defense, the baserunning. Just a team that has really jelled, and obviously it shows up in the record and some of the individual performances,” McLeod said.
McLeod and Hoyer both met with new Cougars majority owner Dr. Bob Froehlich for the first time, and McLeod said the Cubs and Cougars were “definitely having conversations” about extending the two-year player-development contract that expires at season’s end.
McLeod also said the plan for first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber was “still to be determined.” Schwarber earned a promotion to Kane County from Short-A Boise after just five games.
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson was a Cougars infielder when the club was aligned with the Florida Marlins, batting .324 with four home runs, 17 steals and 64 RBIs in 124 games in 1998.