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Into the Cougars Den: Minor league president focuses on big picture

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 11:24 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 11:38 p.m. CDT
(Photo provided by Danny Wild/MiLB.com)
Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, a longtime executive, praised the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva during a visit this week.

GENEVA – Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner scans a vast bank of observation over the years and recalls seeing many of today’s top major leaguers excel as prospects.

Talking at length about what they’ve accomplished since is another story.

“I am probably not a real good barometer of individual players because I’ve got the spectrum of 4 to 5,000,” O’Conner said Monday during a visit to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. “The fan in me will follow the trade papers to see who’s doing well. [ESPN] ‘SportsCenter’ and MLB [Network] and those kind of [shows] keep me plugged in.

“But … so much of what we do is not about the players that my focus tends to be about helping the [minor league owners] of the world be able to do what they need to do.”

This week, that entailed supporting an endeavor between the Cougars and parent Cubs that saw Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts visit the Cougars’ stadium for the first time.

Addressing The Executives Club of Chicago as part of the organization’s luncheon speakers series, Ricketts spoke extensively about the Cubs’ long-term strategy of building a successful farm system as the major league product absorbs some lumps.

“Player development” was a notion oft-used. O’Conner, elected the MiLB president in December 2007 after an extensive career as a baseball executive, certainly can relate.

“On any given night or any given day or game [in the minors], you’re going to see major league plays,” he said. “What I don’t have the benefit of, is watching that player for a week or 10 days to see if he makes that same play. And that’s part of what our process is, is to take that player who’s a prospect, who’s got great athleticism, who’s got a high upside, just make sure he gets a chance to go on to the next level.”

O’Conner estimates he has visited Fifth Third Bank Ballpark a handful of times through the years, but just twice since the venue added a number of renovations before the 2009 season, including a covered concourse and an expanded suite level.

Although Ricketts or Cougars owner Dr. Bob Froehlich did not announce this week that the sides were extending the player-development contract that expires at season’s end, O’Conner sees a mutual benefit.

“There’s no question a geographic proximity sure helps,” he said. “It’s a win-win. … It helps the Cubs for rehab assignments, for their staff to be able to come in and see the players, visit with the players. So yeah, it’s a big plus.”

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

Drought season

The Cougars entered Friday’s series opener against Quad Cities with seven runs in their past five games as part of a season-high six-game losing streak. Wednesday’s loss at Wisconsin marked the seventh time the team was shut out this season. It also was the second straight night the Cougars stranded the tying run in scoring position to end the game.

Rolling on the River (Bandits)

Defending Midwest League champion Quad Cities has won six league titles, including two in the past three seasons. The River Bandits, now a Houston Astros affiliate, have been in the MWL for 55 seasons.


Right-hander Tyler Skulina on Thursday became the 10th Cougar promoted to Advanced-A Daytona this season. ... Tonight’s “Country Music Night” promotion includes a pregame concert by Suburban Cowboys from 4 to 5:30 p.m. First pitch against Quad Cities is set for 6:30. ... Elite Martial Arts will give a pregame performance ahead of Sunday’s 1 p.m. first pitch, which doubles as Sunday Funday of music from former longtime White Sox organist Nancy Faust. Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” on the organ, anyone? ... Mascot Ozzie T. Cougar is scheduled to appear from 1 to 2 p.m. Aug. 15, at the Elk Grove Park District.

– Kevin Druley, kdruley@shawmedia.com

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