GENEVA – Hearing "Christmas In July" channels the caroler in some and the curmudgeon in others.
No matter their stance on this most wonderful cliche, fans attending Friday's theme night series opener between the Cougars and Beloit didn't go wanting for solo home runs.
The clubs combined for six in Kane County's 6-3 win, which actually fell five round-trippers shy of the single-game Midwest League record.
As it was, the Cougars were plenty happy with their homer haul, which included two from second baseman Ben Carhart and one each from first baseman Jacob Rogers and center fielder Jake Hannemann. Hannemann and Carhart reached Beloit righty Junior Mendez – who surrendered all four homers – for back-to-back shots in the sixth.
"All year, we talked about how our team never hits home runs," Carhart said. "The pitchers all give us crap for it. Kind of say, 'Oh, you guys can do it in [batting practice], not in the game.' Yeah, that was to get them to be quiet a little bit."
Kane County entered Friday with 40 home runs in 89 games. The power surge marked the latest way for the MWL's best club – 15-5 in the second half and 60-30 overall – to hang the parent Cubs' famed "W" flag.
"I feel like today was just a home run day," Hannemann said. "I don't know what it was, maybe it was just a baseball home run day. Nothing you can do about it."
In other words, an unexpected gift. Fit right in.
Santa Claus – or someone dressed like him, depending on who's reading – fired a low strike to Cougars infielder David Bote with Friday's final ceremonial first pitch.
A few steps away, right fielder Kevin Brown prepared to trot onto the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark field for the first time.
Brown continued a recent whirlwind tour that saw him travel from Short-A Boise to Double-A Tennessee, back to Boise and then on to the Class-A Cougars within about a two-week span. He made his fourth straight start Friday in what proved to be his first MWL game without a hit.
Naturally, Brown homered Tuesday and Thursday in wins at Quad Cities.
'It's been pretty crazy. It's been fun, though, you know. Just kind of traveling all over the country," Brown said. "The one thing that stays true is you've still got to throw the ball over the plate. That's a constant. It's the same routine at every park we go to, so that's been able to keep me grounded a little bit, I think, and it's helped, definitely, a lot."
Beloit (5-15, 35-55) ultimately fell victim to the Cougars' familiarity with Mendez. Facing Kane County for the third time in 2014, Mendez wasn't as effective with his sinker as he had been in past outings.
Entering Friday, he had allowed four home runs in his past 46 innings. Armed with an aggressive approach, the Cougars doubled that total in six innings.
"He was just leaving them over the middle of the plate tonight," Carhart said.
Cougars right-hander Duane Underwood earned a victory for the third straight decision, navigating solo shots from BA Vollmuth and Luis Baez in an otherwise solid six innings.
Underwood, named the MWL Pitcher of the Week last week, spaced two runs, five hits and eight strikeouts without walking a batter.
"Just attacking the zone, mostly. Just the fastball, being dominant, trying to locate well," Underwood said. "Today, I missed two pitches and I paid for it. Other than that, I've just been trying to attack the zone."
The night also featured a caroling contest and the familiar postgame fare of fireworks and kids run the bases set to Christmas music.
Before finding himself in a makeshift North Pole for a night, Brown experienced the holiday spirit from his host family in Boise.
His travel itinerary had grown so dizzying that his luggage still was in transit by the time he made his return trip to Boise from Tennessee. Brown batted .333 in six games with the Smokies but was the odd man out after some roster shuffling associated with the Cubs' trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland last week.
By the time Brown was ready to join the Cougars, his host family had purchased a few new shirts and pairs of khaki shorts.
"It was awesome. I didn't ask them to do that, and they just went ahead and did it," Brown said. "That's the thing about this game, is there's so many good people that make it possible to have minor league baseball, you know."
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Tyler Skulina, 4-4, 2.88 ERA) vs. Beloit (LHP Matt Stalcup 1-3, 5.65 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
Lefferts turned tables on Cubs
Beloit pitching coach Craig Lefferts won three games as a Cubs left-hander in 1983.
His biggest legacy to the club that drafted him came when he pitched for the other side.
Lefferts earned the victory for the San Diego Padres against the Cubs in Games 4 and 5 of the 1984 NLCS. Five years later, he helped dispatch the Cubs in the NLCS again with the San Francisco Giants.
"That was special for me in both of those playoffs," Lefferts said.
The Cubs traded Lefferts, predominantly a reliever in his 12-year major league career, after the 1983 season. The change of scenery was nothing new to the military brat, whose father was an Air Force pilot.
Born in Germany, where he spent his first six months, Lefferts moved several times as a child and also spent three years in Japan. Still, he cultivated his love for baseball – if not his skills – stateside. Lefferts' parents did not allow him to play organized ball until he was 12 because of his asthma.
"I stuck around until I got better," Lefferts said. "I always believed that I could do it. Even though other people told me I wasn't good enough, I used that as motivation. And eventually worked my way to the big leagues and had a good career."
Make it snappy
Friday's game took 2:20 to play and marked the Cougars' fourth straight win against Beloit after six losses to open 2014.
– Kevin Druley, firstname.lastname@example.org