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Druley: Cougars recall 'roadies' down stretch

Published: Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 10:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 10:43 p.m. CDT

Assessing the short turnaround between Saturday’s home win against Clinton and a looming bus ride to Burlington, Iowa, Cougars right-hander Ben Wells paused and grinned.

“Grab a shower, get something to eat and head to the hotel,” he said.

The Cougars’ 2014 success at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark matches that matter-of-factness. With three regular season home games remaining before the Midwest League playoffs begin next week, the club can finish with no worse than a .746 home winning percentage.

On the flip side, the possibility still exists for a sub-.500 record on the road.

Everything resets in the postseason, but maintaining a far from grim mindset about road games can only benefit the team with the best record in affiliated baseball.

“It’s kind of fun to be on the road a little bit,” first baseman Jacob Rogers said. “We enjoy getting to spend some more time with the guys and stuff like that.”

The Cougars are in the middle of their final lengthy road trip of the season, six games in Burlington and Cedar Rapids.

If necessary, they will play two of three games at home in their opening postseason series, and would be on the road for no more than two consecutive games after that.

Each of the three tiers of the playoffs are best-of-3.

Manager Mark Johnson and a few players are completing their second summer of MWL “roadies,” but the league’s 15 other outposts make varying impressions no matter which player is polled.

Johnson said, “I love Wisconsin.” when addressing his preferred spot in the more oft-traveled Western Division. Of the Eastern Division, which each West club visits every other season, he said: “You can’t beat Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne’s by far the best.”

Righty James Pugliese stumps for Dayton, another East team, as his favorite destination. The Dragons, an affiliate of the in-state Cincinnati Reds, have sold out more than 1,000 consecutive games, extending a record streak encompassing all American professional sports.

“It’s a privilege to play in this league,” Pugliese said. “It’s all good areas, good locations and nice fields and stuff.”

Infielder Chesny Young, the lone 2014 draft pick of the parent Cubs on the team, agrees.

Still, Young admits his perspective is skewed considering his shadow might have seen the Cougars’ team bus least. For that reason – plus the fact he began this season playing for Mercy University – he doesn’t sense the same finality.

“Maybe to the guys,” Young said. “I’ve only been here for three weeks, so it hasn’t really sunk into me yet, but I’m sure the guys are happy. … We’re just going to push through this last little stretch and be strong for the playoffs.”

The Cougars, who won the first-half Western Division title, still aren’t certain of their first-round opponent, but will open the playoffs on the road Sept. 3.

“Who knows where we’re going to be,” Pugliese said, “but we’re going to be there.”

Six degrees of JRW: The Cougars broadcast the final outs of Saturday’s Little League World Series U.S. championship over the video board as early-arriving fans filed in.

Supporters for Las Vegas’ Mountain Ridge, the opponent of Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West, were few and far between, but one played for the Cougars.

Right-hander Michael Wagner grew up in Las Vegas, living about 10 minutes away from where Mountain Ridge is based.

“It’s as close as you’re going to get,” Wagner said.

Although Wagner opposed Mountain Ridge during his youth, the former college teammate of fellow Cubs prospect and Las Vegas product Kris Bryant was pulling for the team.

“Yeah, I was reppin’ it hard until the last out,” Wagner said. “What are you going to do? It’s baseball, right?”

• 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.

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