GENEVA – Brian Loconsole celebrated several birthdays at Cougars games growing up, but circumstances beyond his control eventually affected his allegiance.
In college, shortly after his family moved from Carol Stream to Geneva, Loconsole worked as a bouncer and barback at Flagstone Pub & Grill, a few miles from the Cougars’ well-known Geneva haunt, the Country House Restaurant.
If that was incidental, things reached a baseball parallel in June 2013, when the Los Angeles Angels selected Loconsole in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
A right-handed reliever enjoying the best stretch of his brief pro career, Loconsole is expected to pitch today as the Cougars continue their series against Burlington. He welcomed a few familiar faces in the stands Monday, as well, the Cougars’ 2-1 win in 10 innings notwithstanding.
“Any time you have a good crowd when they’re cheering for you at an opponent’s stadium, it’s pretty fun,” Loconsole said.
Loconsole did not play baseball at Glenbard North, getting cut three times but still helping the Panthers’ Class 8A state runner-up football team in his senior season of 2007.
Armed with perseverance and a fastball ranging from 90 to 94 mph, he made Western Illinois’ baseball team as a walk-on before encountering skepticism about his long-term future with the program. That led Loconsole to Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, where he settled several doubts by compiling a 3.06 ERA in 78 innings in 2009.
Returning to Western Illinois, Loconsole redshirted in 2010 but took on an increased workload in each ensuing season. His career culminated as a senior in 2013, as he finished with a 3-2 record and 2.86 ERA with a program-record nine saves in a team-high 22 appearances.
“Just never take no for an answer. Never give up,” Loconsole said. “I was raised to be a hard-worker, and I’ve just never come off of that.”
Loconsole’s mother, Sue Garesche – who since has relocated to Palatine – estimates she has traveled to 20 of her son’s games this season.
Not every visit coincided with Loconsole pitching, a risk indigenous to following a reliever.
“Oh, that’s fine,” Garesche said. “Sometimes the stress level is lowered a lot when I know he’s not pitching.”
Loconsole lobbied Bees manager Bill Richardson and pitching coach Ethan Katz to pitch tonight rather than during Wednesday’s 1 p.m. matinee to allow more friends and family the chance to attend.
In 29 appearances over 61⅓ innings with the Bees through Monday, he was 5-4 with a 1.76 ERA and 46 strikeouts. Loconsole is confident his initial struggles at Rookie League Orem (Utah) in 2013 – including a 9.11 ERA in 26⅔ innings – are behind him.
He opened this season in extended spring training before joining the Bees near midseason.
“College, I was always a thrower. I was able to put it by people and whatnot,” Loconsole said. “As I found out last year, everybody’s seeing 90 at this level. So my biggest transition was in becoming a pitcher. … I had to stay within myself, not do too much and take criticism in the best way I can.”
Legacy land: A parenthetical phrase, (Yes, that Gretzky), appeared next to Bees left fielder Trevor Gretzky’s name on the lineups written behind home plate.
If only someone had his or her Shawon-O-Meter on hand.
Yes, that Dunston – the former Cubs All-Star infielder and father of Cougars left fielder Shawon Dunston Jr. – attended the game with his family, sitting a few rows from the Cougars’ dugout on the first-base side.
The pinnacle of the night was easy: Shawon Dunston Jr. singled home Trey Martin with the winning run in the 10th. Father and son hugged and took a photo a few moments later.
The elder Dunston, the San Francisco Giants’ instant replay liaison, is in town as the Giants prepare to face the Cubs for a three-game series beginning today. He signed numerous autographs and posed for several pictures nearly every half-inning.
Dunston also watched his son throw out a runner at home plate to end the top of the first.
Gretzky, a Cougar for part of 2013, was traded to the Angels organization in spring training for Matt Scioscia, the son of Angels manager Mike.
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Paul Blackburn, 9-4, 3.34 ERA) vs. Burlington (RHP Daniel Hurtado, 2-2, 1.96 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
Rakkar keeps rockin'
Right-hander Jasvir Rakkar entered Monday on a streak of six straight scoreless appearances since joining the Cougars from Short-A Boise July 28.
The run includes five hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings.
"He's looked pretty good," Cougars pitching coach David Rosario said. "Had a couple good outings at the end [of games], so he might be a big factor right now. I'm looking for somebody that can pitch late in the game and he looks like he wants to take over."
Recent roster move roulette has especially affected the Cougars' bullpen, but Rakkar, a native Canadian of Punjabi Indian descent, has relied on a simple approach against familiar hitters.
"A lot of them are from last year, as well. Basically, they've been moving up, progressing," Rakkar said. "But it's a tough league to pitch. You just consistently have to pound the zone and hopefully things will work out OK."
Cougars honor scribe
The Cougars held a moment of silence for late former Burlington (Iowa) Hawk Eye sports reporter
before Monday's first pitch.
Denk, 39, suffered a heart attack early Monday while visiting her sister in Chicago. Cougars officials said she was expected to be at Monday's Cougars-Bees game.
Denk covered the Bees and University of Iowa football among other beats during 15 years at the newspaper.