Sunday, September 5, 2010

September: Kane County

We're squeezing in what we can here, as the seasons wind down. Labor Day weekend marks the end of the regular minor-league season (coincident with the expansion of major-league rosters to 40 men), so Watson and I took advantage of suddenly mild weather to drive the hour-plus out to Geneva, Illinois, and the Kane County Cougars / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game. We'd been saying since moving to Chicago two-plus years ago that this would be an easy one to check off the list of minor-league parks, and indeed it was—though it did require puttering through rather too much of the sprawl that locals insist on calling "Chicagoland." The more I see of that nonsense, the less inclined I am to leave the city, retarculous gas prices or not.

The Cougars are the rather far-flung single-A affiliate of the Oakland A's—all the other teams in the A's system are on Pacific Time. In recent years, teams have been tightening their minor-league networks, which keeps down some travel costs but also deepens a team's presence in a region. Few teams are perfectly rigorous about it—the Cubs are about halfway there, with teams in Des Moines, Peoria, Tennessee, and, well, Boise, but the White Sox are an odd case, with teams that are more or less near one another (Charlotte, Birmingham, Kannapolis, Winston-Salem) but not near Chicago. There was plenty of Cubs and White Sox gear on the Kane County fans—one doesn't need a nuanced understanding of central place theory to wonder if this isn't sort of an obvious place for a Chicago-affiliated team. Don't tell me Oakland execs look forward to their annual getways to the Aurora-Geneva metroplex.

We didn't plan this trip far enough in advance to take advantage of any of the oddball sights in the general vicinity, like the statues of the Cat in the Hat and Dick Tracy in Naperville. With those, the Superman shrine that is Metropolis, and the Ronald Reagan tilt-a-whirl in Dixon, it seems like Illinois is on a quiet crusade to claim all of America's great fictional heroes. Personally, I wish it had been the Cat in the Hat trusting-and-verifying with the Soviets, but you can't have everything. (Or can you?)

Speaking of irritating cartoon characters, the antics of Birdzerk were inflicted upon us again. This was "his" fourth trip to Kane County this year, and the act seems to have worn a little thin. The dancing-with-the-ump routine did seem to feature the actual ump, not a ringer, though, and the Timber Rattlers' Cutter Dykstra was a good sport about "losing his glove." Whatever.

Cutter, of course, is the son of financial genius and deposed car-wash magnate Leonard Kyle Dykstra, who when last heard from was living like an animal. Whether Leonard and Cutter are still on good terms isn't any of my business, but I would like to know how many other former major-league players have named their sons after lesser pitches in the professional repertoire. I don't seem to recall ever hearing about Change-up Boone, Spitter DiMaggio, or Eephus Yastrzemski, but I'm open to correction and amplification.

Anyway, Kane County's a pretty nice joint for single-A. In style and layout it's fairly similar to the Timber Rattlers' stadium in Appleton, but it scores better points on food (Bobak sausages and roasted corn), beer (Two Brothers, from nearby Warrenville), and parking engineering (pervious pavement!).

The Cougar pitchers had trouble with the top of the Wisconsin order—Dykstra and Khristopher Davis were both 2-for-4, with Davis smacking his 22nd home run of the year over the scoreboard in left center—but not the rest of it. After a four-run fourth put the Cougars up 6–4, they never looked back, en route to a 9–4 final. There's but one game left in the season, which is almost impossible to believe. It seems like only yesterday we were at the season opener in Montgomery, but obviously it wasn't.

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