GENEVA – Author Tim Mullin of Chicago glances at the jacket of his first published book with equal parts pride and self-deprecation.
Naturally, "Baseball Road Trips: The Midwest and Great Lakes" represents the fruits of considerable labor and research. It also features the 46-year-old's name about as properly as you can use it – Timothy M. Mullin.
"My publisher thought my mother was in the room," Mullin grinned.
Just more than three months after the book's release, Mullin finds a handful of professional and independent league clubs wouldn't mind calling him by his full name for a little chat in private. Although he doesn't lambaste many ballpark cultures, Mullin still notes his work is "not exactly a chamber of commerce" in every case.
"The book's critical as well as it is complimentary," Mullin said. "Because we're going to tell people, 'Hey, if they don't do a hot dog right, then frankly, it doesn't deserve your money.' Or entertainment-wise, or whatever."
Before you start to ask just what gives Mullin the nerve, at least consider his favorable review of the Cougars and Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Mullin signed copies of his book before Wednesday's game under neutral conditions. He lauded the Cougars' cooperation when he researched the park in April 2013 and cited only one moment of averted hostility this week.
He walked into the ballpark wearing a cap of the Madison (Wisconsin) Mallards of the collegiate summer Northwoods League. Cougars general manager Curtis Haug promptly found Mullin a green Cougars cap.
As Mullin saw it, he just as easily could have been sporting the familiar blue of the parent Cubs. The player-development contract between the Cougars and Cubs looms large in his write-up of the Cougars and Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
"Sell your community with your ballpark," Mullin said. "A lot of them just aren't catching on to that, but others are just embracing it. This place embraces it. They went to the Cubs and the Cubs came to them. It was like, 'Great,' you know. One and one equals two."
In traveling with friends and his baseball-loving wife, Mia Jaganti, on various trips through the years, Mullin discovered many fans in major league cities happily settled into a comfort zone without giving other smaller locales a chance.
In this edition – he has several other regional books and separate spring training projects for Florida and Arizona stadiums ready for publication – Mullin explores parks in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. At the core is the idea of "Explorus Maximus."
Mullin offers non-baseball side trips in many major league entries, as well as notable places to enjoy food and drink and how to accentuate the gameday experience. Although his focus remains "south of the major leagues" – that's organizationally, not geographically – Mullin clearly wasn't simply happy to be there when he visited the bigs.
Mullin, for one, felt Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium should have accentuated the town's famed barbecue better. As it was, he left disappointed in one signature concession item.
"You're in the middle of some of the best pigs and best cows in the country, and you're going to give me this hot dog?" Mullin said.
After working in finance for 15 years and in public service for five more, Mullin had built the resources to open his own company, Park Walk Productions. That paved the way to a book series he hopes will sprout after a look at America's heartland.
"They say, 'Write what you know,' and I've been to so many ballparks and it's real fun for me. I see people doing the same thing I'm doing, and I go, 'I can't be alone,' you know," Mullin said. "There's other people that need to know about this stuff. They need to know a concise, compact, 'Hey, I'm in Iowa; what should I do here?' It's been just a great road, at this point."
• 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
By the Beyers Hitting coach Tom Beyers receives semi-regular updates on the Cougars' top run producers from last season, namely the ones who have been or will be immortalized by bobblehead – Dan Vogelbach and Albert Almora.
Beyers experienced highs and lows with both players last season, but is adamant that if they can navigate Advanced-A Daytona after spending most of 2013 in Kane County, they will have cleared a sizable hurdle.
"That's two pretty challenging levels. Playing here and Daytona, these are our two pitching-oriented leagues. So you get challenged offensively in these two leagues," Beyers said. "Florida State League's a grind. Big, spring training parks. So numbers, you earn. At this ballpark, you earn it."
Noteworthy This season marked the first time the Cougars did not play at home on Independence Day since 2009. … Since the start of the 2002 season, the Cougars and Chiefs have played 22 extra-inning games, including 13 in Peoria. The Cougars are 12-10. … Wednesday's 7-5 victory marked Peoria's first win at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark this season. … The parent Los Angeles Angels promoted outfielder Trevor Gretzky, a Cougar for parts of 2013, to Class-A Burlington on Thursday. The Bees visit the Cougars from Aug. 18 to 20.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com
LEADERS IN THE KANE COUNTY COUGARS CLUBHOUSE (before Friday's game)
BATTING AVERAGE Cael Brockmeyer, .318, Will Remillard, .307, Ben Carhart, .279
HOME RUNS Jacob Rogers, 8 Yasiel Balaguert, 6 Jacob Hannemann, 5
RUNS BATTED IN Yasiel Balaguert, 46 Jake Hannemann, 36, 2 tied at 34
STOLEN BASES Jake Hannemann, 28, Trey Martin, 17, Carlos Penalver, 16
EARNED-RUN AVERAGE James Pugliese, 1.37 Paul Blackburn, 2.74, Duane Underwood, 2.84
WINS Daury Torrez, 9, Paul Blackburn, 7, 2 tied at 4