GENEVA – Living close to Atlanta, Blake Lalli made the phone call that carried him into the next phase of his baseball career.
It led him to becoming the 19th manager in Kane County Cougars history. Lalli and his staff was officially announced in early Dec.
"I always just saw myself kinda like a lifer in baseball," Lalli said during Tuesday's Cougars Media Day. "To be honest, it was time to do it. Baseball lets you know when you're done. It let me know I was done, and this was the next step."
"It wasn't that hard of a decision because it was something I always wanted to do."
Lalli, 34, was just released by the Atlanta Braves last May. The Pittsburgh native had some phone calls for major league opportunities playing-wise, but he knew the road he could've gone down as a player was a rollercoaster.
Having a job for two weeks and then not. Perhaps play for a month, and then not.
"Once you decide that you can hang your hat and be proud of what you did in your career...it took me a little bit to do that, but once I did, I haven't looked back," Lalli said.
Lalli's MLB career finished with stints with the Chicago Cubs (2012), Milwaukee Brewers (2013) and Atlanta Braves (2016). He played in 32 games.
His journey has fittingly come full circle. He's back in the Midwest League where he spent time grinding in the minors as a Peoria Chief for 111 games in 2006 through a brief stint in 2008. Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was hired as Chiefs manager following the 2006 season. He's just one on the list of prolific managers he's played under. Others include Jody Davis and Phil Nevin.
Those are just some of the men that played a role in his career one way or another, and due to the relationships he created, he still keeps in touch with many. It's a same sentiment he has for the 25 young men in the clubhouse adjacent to his office for the future.
The Cougars open the 2018 season against the Clinton LumberKings on Thursday, with Mack Lemieux getting the Opening Day start, but April 20 will be the first potential opportunity to see minor league baseball's newly-instated pace-of-play rules come into full-effect. The first 15 days of the season will be used as a "grace period", but on April 20, the rules will be enforced.
The pitch clock for windups with no runners on base applies to Triple-A and Double-A. Mound visits will be limited to 10 per team for Single-A teams, but the rule change that garnered the primary amount of attention on social media is the new extra innings initiative.
At all levels of minor league baseball, a runner will begin on second base to begin the 10th inning and beyond. The runner at second will be the player in the order preceding that inning's leadoff, or a substitute.
It's a move that Lalli thinks "will be fun".
"Everything I've heard about it from the people that did it last year, they loved it," Lalli said of the new extras rule. "I heard people that say when it came out, they voted it down, and after seeing it, they all vote for it."
The first tests came from some innings played in the spring. In the multitude of potential scenarios that could play out on both aspects of the game, Lalli has gone through a lot in his head.
He's tried a few. Some have worked, others haven't, but how those scenarios play out ultimately hinge on where batters are at in the lineup, who is on the mound in opposition and more will be the ultimate factors.
"I don't know if I have an answer if it'll end up in the big leagues or not," Lalli said, "but I think for minor league baseball – a lot of these kids are on innings limits anyway – I think it's good...I don't think it's a bad thing."