GENEVA – By his namesake’s estimation, Cougars left fielder Shawon Dunston Jr. produced four quality plate appearances in five tries Monday night.
The last one, which should live for some time in the family’s baseball narrative, was a game-ending single in the 10th inning.
That a sequence two innings earlier topped the elder Dunston’s postgame agenda captured the essence of his past and present. A former Cubs All-Star infielder now working with the San Francisco Giants, Dunston watched his son ground out to shortstop and prepared the same level of feedback. As usual.
“[Monday], he got the game-winning hit, but we’re going to talk about the fourth AB, when he grounded out,” Dunston said. “What you have to do to be successful. But we talk about the good things and the things that he didn’t do right.”
Dunston works as the Giants’ instant replay reviewer, and boy if he didn’t witness some sequences worth reliving Monday night. In town with his wife and one of three daughters before the Giants began a series at Wrigley Field this week, Dunston swung into the suburbs to see his son play affiliated ball for the first time since the Cubs drafted him in 2011
He also watched the first few innings of Wednesday’s matinee before traveling to Wrigley for a Cubs-Giants night game.
Monday’s 10th-inning single, humbly downplayed by both Dunstons, clearly marked a watershed moment to be commemorated in the postgame photo the men took on the field. Another memory banked came in the top of the first, when, with Burlington threatening, Dunston Jr. uncorked a perfect throw to nab the Bees’ Bo Way at the plate for the final out.
A proud papa saw the feat from just a few rows away, seated behind the screen near the Cougars’ dugout on the first-base side. Finally, some eyewitness data. The Dunstons speak nearly every day, but have not met on a field in person since the Giants and Cubs organizations met in Arizona in spring training.
“He just tells me pretty much keep working. The entire time, keep working, from April until now,” Dunston Jr. said. “Finish strong and stay mentally strong. You’re not finished yet and don’t let up.”
Dunston, Jr. entered Friday’s game against Clinton batting .279 in 294 at-bats over 87 games. That includes a .327 mark in July and August, when he has seen increased time in the leadoff spot after a series of roster moves.
He figures to stay in that role as next month’s Midwest League playoffs approach, and perhaps this week’s family powwow will provide an intangible edge.
Lefty Michael Heesch, who kept the Cougars afloat with 21⁄3 innings of scoreless relief Monday, attests to such an internal boost. A Prairie Ridge product whose family relocated to Bartlett before retiring to Florida this year, Heesch welcomed his parents every time he pitched at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in 2013. The Heesches also unleashed their support on the road a few times last season.
“I mean, it’s nice when your whole family comes and watches you play and gets to see what you’re doing and stuff, because it’s a huge part of your life and this team’s your family,” Heesch said. “So it’s nice to share those kinds of things with them.”
Ideally, Dunston Jr. would climb to Advanced-A Daytona for the 2015 season, but that wouldn’t exactly elevate any in-person encounters with dad. Neither of Florida’s major league cities, Tampa and Miami, are as accessible to Daytona as Geneva is to Chicago.
That’s why Monday, an active night for both Dunston men, promises to have a long shelf life. The elder Dunston, 51, happily accommodated autograph and photo seekers young and old at the end of seemingly each half-inning.
“No problem at all,” he said. “I’m supposed to sign.”
His son apparently sensed a similar duty from his first-inning single to his 10th-inning single – plus the hit-by-pitch, walk and groundout in between.
“Yeah, it’s the first time he’s seen me play as an affiliate,” Dunston Jr. said. “Guess I did pretty good.”
• 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
The name game
Although the parent Cubs released him earlier this month, former Cougars infielder Giuseppe Papaccio remains in the running for minor league baseball’s “Moniker Madness” title, a best-name contest awarded after rounds of online fan voting at milb.com.
Another former Cougar, burly left-hander Brooks Pounders of the Kansas City Royals organization, led the race as of Friday afternoon.
If the results hold, Pounders would join fellow Kane County alumni Rock Shoulders and Dusty Napoleon as past contest winners.
Burlington center fielder Bo Way, in town earlier this week for the Bees’ three-game series against the Cougars, is 10th. He’s also really named “James,” but his nickname stuck.
“It’s pretty cool, I think,” Way said. “I think my parents didn’t know what they were getting into when they named me that. But it’s just a name, and I haven’t really thought anything of it.”
The winner will be announced Thursday.
Dunston looks in
Former Cubs All-Star infielder Shawon Dunston, the father of Cougars left fielder Shawon Dunston Jr., is in his first season as the San Francisco Giants instant replay reviewer.
He travels with the Giants for each game, watching from a video room when the team is on the road and the clubhouse when it is away.
If not a keener eye, the position has given Dunston a greater appreciation for the men in blue. He’s adamant about that.
“What I’ve got to say is that the umpires are very good. The fans don’t really appreciate the umpires. The umpires are very good. They’re very good at what they do,” Dunston said. “Not because I’m just talking. They are very good at what they do. We all make mistakes, but they are very good at what they do.”
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com
LEADERS IN THE KANE COUNTY COUGARS’ CLUBHOUSE (entering Friday)
Cael Brockmeyer, .299
Will Remillard, .286
Danny Lockhart, .282
Jacob Rogers, 15
Cael Brockmeyer, 6
Yasiel Balaguert, 6
Jacob Rogers, 62
Yasiel Balaguert, 46
Cael Brockmeyer, 38
Trey Martin, 27
Shawon Dunston Jr., 25
Carlos Penalver, 18
James Pugliese, 1.85
Jen-Ho Tseng, 2.45
Duane Underwood, 2.55
Daury Torrez, 11
Jonathan Martinez, 10
Paul Blackburn, 9