A Cold Catch-up with the Kane County Cougars

Ever wonder where you could fly to for $132 round trip? Not too many places these days. A few weeks ago, though, I bought a cheap ticket on a discount airline (rhymes with Mirit), and flew to Chicago for the day. Sure, it didn’t include any carryon luggage, just a personal item (no problem, all I had was my camera bag), or drinks, even coffee or soda, were $3. Snack? Fugetabouitt! Oh, and the flight left BWI (just south of Baltimore), which is about an hour from me, and the flight departed at 6:05 am. And the return trip? Departed Chicago at 9:50, and landed back at BWI at 12:53 am. But I’m telling you, it was a great price! So what to do in Chicago for a day….. Miracle Mile shopping? Museums? Navy Pier? Billy Goat Tavern? Cubs? White Sox? Nope, none of those. I was on a trek. A trek to see the Kane County Cougars, Single A affliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who play in the Midwest League.

Background

As many readers know, I am a big Tampa Bay Rays fan. Nearly every night, I am streaming the game with an overlay of the radio broadcast team of Dave Wills and Andy Freed. Love these guys. They’ve been doing Rays games since 2005. On many occasions, Dave would harken back to his broadcast days with the Kane County Cougars, his first professional play by play gig. Since I seem to take one big road trip every year, I decided that the Cougars had to be the one for this year.

Although I WILL tell you that I was disappointed that the Cougars haven’t renamed the radio booth the “Dave Wills Broadcast Center.”

 

The Cougars play at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva, IL. It’s a cozy ballpark well away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago, and very deceivingly seats 10,923. I’ve been in smaller MiLB parks (seating wise) that actually look bigger, so I was surprised at the capacity. It definetely has a small ballpark feel, which I really enjoy.
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Speaking of a small ballpark feel, I really liked the bulletin boards and dry earase boards they had about the team and comings and goings. Added even more to the flavor of the stadium and team.

 

Cold and wet day

It was pretty damp and cold the day I went. By cold, I meant it was 47, so I am glad I wore a sweatshirt. Isn’t baseball a warm weather sport?? Also, I made a major faux pas. Most games I check which MLB the team is affiliated with. This time I didn’t. I thought, hey, going to Chicago, wear my Cubs cap! Much to my chagrin, they are the Diamondbacks affiliate. And dangit, I have a Diamondbacks cap. Lesson learned! Oh well, situation solved, just buy a Cougars cap!

 

Fans

It’s really a shame that it was a cold and rainy day. Did I mention it was cold? Sadly, nearly every shot of the stadium shows empty seats, which is a shame because the Cougars generally draw very well. In fact, in 2001, they set a league attendance record of 523,222.
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Everyone I ran into, staff and fans, were super friendly, and after I gave them the 30 second spiel about me going to various games, they were eagar to chat and ask about other stadiums I’ve been to.

Most of the fans knew how to dress for the game, and families made the most of it on the concourse during the game. The few that braved the elements hunkered down under their umbrellas.IMG_2326IMG_2328IMG_2950

Food

To be honest, the fare at Northwestern Medicine Field was just average. But don’t take that the wrong way! Sometimes all you want is something from the grill, or a an ice cream in a helmet cup, or a giant polish sausage! Full disclosure, the grill was actually closed, and while they were serving the ice cream helmets, it was a little chilly to get one. So I opted for a giant polish sausage. It really hit the spot!
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They also have their Craft Beer Cave, a walk in fridge that keeps the beer VERY cold. You just walk in, pick out your favorite craft beer, and you are good to go. I mentioned to the attendent that I didn’t want to go back outside as it seemed warmer in there than outside!

 

Later in the game, I did opt for a hot chocolate. I can’t remember the last time I went for a hot chocolate at a baseball game. It was a little chilly that day.
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Souvenir Shop

Random: EVERY time I type souvenir, I need to ask Siri how to spell it. You’d think I would learn by know! The Cougars have a very well stocked suv… um, gift shop. I’ve found with A level teams, the size and quality of the shops can vary greatly, and this one was definetely above average. I was looking for just a t-shirt, but sadly, all they had was long sleeved gear. Hm… might be good on a cold day, no? But I thought, winter isn’t going to last forever, so I went with the aforementioned cap. Although some things looked pretty tempting!

 

Game action and fun and games

I didn’t get too many game shots for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t want my camera to get too wet. Also, while I think the extended netting is a great idea for safety reasons, it doesn’t do anything for taking pictures. That said, I was able to get a few action shots, as well as a couple of the between inning games.

I always like to meet new friends. This is Ozzie and me on the concourse.
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I thought Ozzie was pretty cool, until….. he tried to cheat a fan on a race around the bases. Lulled into a false sense of security by playing rock, paper, scissors, he quickly realized he was outmatched in speed, so he tried to cheat! Let’s just say, cheaters never prosper!
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Here are a few action shots.
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Here’s both ends of a strike em out, throw em out double play:
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With the playing conditions, the umps needed extra baseballs.
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Wrap up

As much as I complained about the weather (not sure if I mentioned it was cold and damp), this was one of the best road trips I’ve taken. The fans and staff were awesome, and I loved the feel for the ballpark. And shockingly, I shared the experience with 5,268 other baseball fans. And that’s all that matters. I would put this on the list of any ballparks to visit for any travelers. And in the mean time, I will keep listening to Dave Wills of the Rays, who motivated me to visit the Kane County Cougars!

Dave and me at a Rays game
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Post game

On the way back to the airport, I did indulge in some Chicago pizza. I found a little joint not far from the airport. Mama Maria’s Pizza, in Elmhurst, IL. It was a little hole in the wall place, but wonderful! Basic cheese and pepperoni, and the service was awesome. Just added to the trip!
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