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KC Cougars

Cougars' milestone on deck

Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster

A few images stick out after nearly 18 years of watching baby-faced, no-name baseball players become all-stars.

“I remember [in 1993] when Edgar Renteria was here and he was seeing snow for the first time,” Kane County Cougars general manager Jeff Sedivy said. “He spoke very little English at the time, and he’s outside taking photos of the snow and he keeps saying, ‘I’ve got to play in that?’ He was shivering at short during the whole game.”

Four years later, the Colombia native became part of the Florida Marlins’ 1997 World Series title team and for his career is a five-time all-star.

He’s also one of 99 former Cougars who have made it to the big leagues.

“I think it’s a pretty cool thing, a pretty cool milestone,” said Sedivy, who said he hopes 2006 Midwest League MVP Jeff Baisley is No. 100. “Obviously we’ve had a tremendous run of guys that have made it to the big leagues and contributed.

“From our perspective, it continues to legitimize the affiliated product instead of independent baseball. From a sheer money-making perspective, the 100th guy is small stuff for us. We’ll sell some T-shirts and continue to put those guys on our pocket schedules and around the stadium. But just the fact that every time one of those guys hits the big leagues, it speaks to the product we’re putting on the field here.”

The Cougars were an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles for their first two years of existence, sending nine players to the majors.

But it was their 10-year affiliation with the Marlins, beginning in 1993, that proved a goldmine. Former Cougars like Renteria, Charles Johnson and Luis Castillo played on the 1997 title team, while Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera were Cougars before going on to win the 2003 World Series.

“I don’t think that’ll ever be duplicated again at the A-level,” said Sedivy, who’s been with the Cougars since their first season in 1991. “It was a different time and place. They were a new organization and didn’t have a big budget, so they had to make the most of it from a player development standpoint. That was a very cool thing for us.”

Current Cubs All-Star pitcher Ryan Dempster once was a Marlins product after coming over from Texas in a 1996 trade at age 19. After beginning his season in South Carolina with the Charleston RiverDogs, Dempster became a Cougar.

“To go there from Charleston was really great because the amount of people they have there in the stands [at Elfstrom Stadium], like 14,000 people, I was just like, ‘Whoa,’” Dempster said. “The fans were so awesome. I just remember thinking that it was amazing for a single-A team. It’s a great ballpark, a great place to play, and the community really gets behind the team. Great front office – I couldn’t have been more impressed being there.”

Current Cougar Tyson Ross, a 2008 second-round pick, sees a lot of the same things these days with the Cougars, who recently extended their player development contract with Oakland, their major league affiliate since 2003.

“We go on the road and then come back home and I’m just blown away by the crowds,” Ross said. “And then you look around the stadium and see the names of some of the big-name guys that have come through here – it’s cool. Everyone here just wants to be part of that tradition, with the A’s and Kane [County].”

- Shaw Suburban Media sportswriter Maureen Lynch contributed to this report.

COUGARS ALL-TIME LINEUP

Charles Johnson, C

A two-time MLB all-star and four-time Gold Glove winner, Johnson showed he could hit from the get-go, slugging 19 homers and 94 RBIs during an all-star 1993 season with the Cougars.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B

One of today’s more under-appreciated big league stars, Gonzalez was a hitting machine in Kane County. In 2001, he posted a .312 average with 17 homers and 103 RBIs to earn Midwest League Player of the Year honors, befitting his status as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft.

Luis Castillo, 2B

A three-time MLB all-star and Gold Glove winner, Castillo is now in his 13th season in the majors, during which time he’s swiped 338 bases. In 1995, Castillo hit .326 for the Cougars, earning all-star honors.

Miguel Cabrera, 3B

One of the most dangerous hitters in the majors, Cabrera had decent numbers with the 2001 Cougars, hitting .268 with seven homers and 66 RBIs as a slight shortstop. These days, Cabrera is a hefty first baseman in Detroit, though in his MLB career he’s logged more games at third than anywhere else.

Edgar Renteria, SS

In 1993 with the Cougars, Renteria hit just .203 with a home run and 35 RBIs in 116 games. Four years later, he was a big part of Florida’s World Series title and has since gone on to five all-star nods.

Scott Podsednik, LF

A key cog in the White Sox’ 2005 World Series title run, the speedy Podsednik’s 1997 numbers with the Cougars look a lot like his numbers in the big leagues: a .277 average with three homers, 49 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.

Mark Kotsay, CF

The ninth overall pick in the 1996 draft, Kotsay logged just 17 games with the Cougars and hit .283 before moving on to Double-A ball. By July of 1997, at age 21, Kotsay was a Marlin. Now with the Braves, Kotsay, a well-regarded defensive player, sports a .282 career average with 109 home runs and 597 RBIs. Earlier this month he hit for the cycle in a loss to the Cubs.

Randy Winn, RF

A 2002 MLB all-star, Winn has acquired a bit of power since hitting .270 with no homers and 35 RBIs for the 1996 Cougars. He has 101 career homers in the majors, but more importantly, 192 stolen bases, 762 runs scored and a .288 average.

Kevin Millar, DH

A key member of Boston’s 2004 curse-busting World Series title team, 10 years earlier Millar was a Cougars all-star with a .302 average, 19 home runs and 93 RBIs.

Josh Beckett, SP

A 2003 World Series MVP and 2007 ALCS MVP, when healthy, Beckett is one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors. The second overall pick in the 1999 draft, Beckett didn’t stay long in Kane County, posting a 2-3 record in 12 starts with a 2.12 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings.

A.J. Burnett, SP

Burnett turned in staggering numbers with the 1998 Cougars, going 10-4 with a 1.97 ERA, 186 strikeouts and 74 hits allowed in 119 innings. His major league career has been dominant at times, though injuries have slowed him.

Ryan Dempster, SP

Dempster has resurrected his career with the Cubs, earning his second all-star appearance – and first since 2000 – with a 15-5 mark and 2.85 ERA this season. His stay with the Cougars was brief, but effective. In 1996, he went 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA.

Dontrelle Willis, SP

Willis was a 2002 all-star with the Cougars, posting a 10-2 mark with a 1.83 ERA. By 2003, he was pitching for the Marlins’ World Series title team. Two years later, he was 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA. Now with the Tigers, Willis has spent much of the season in the minors – first in high-A ball and now with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

Joe Blanton, SP

Part of the first Cougars team affiliated with Oakland, Blanton, now with the Phillies, had an impressive stint with the Cougars. In 2003, he went 8-7 with a 2.57 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 133 innings.

Huston Street, RP

The 2005 AL Rookie of the Year, Street, still just 25, already has 94 saves as the Oakland closer. In 2004, Street rocketed through the Oakland system after the A’s grabbed him with the 40th overall pick that year. In nine appearances with the Cougars, he picked up four saves, posting a 1.69 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings.

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