Kane County Cougars kick off 25th season in Geneva

Jack McCarthy
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Curtis Haug, Kane County Cougars general manager, has helped provide family-friendly entertainment since joining the organization in 1993. (Suburban Chronicle photo)

The Kane County Cougars never seem to rest on their laurels.

Even after a 98-win season and a 2014 Midwest League championship, executives of the Geneva-based minor league baseball organization keep tinkering and improving as they celebrate a quarter-century in Kane County.

“It’s a great thing for us — the 25th season,” said Curtis Haug, a longtime Cougars executive who became general manager in 2011. “We have all sorts of capital improvements, a new affiliation, lot of fun things that we are doing for the anniversary.”

Most notable is a new affiliation with the National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks. It replaces a two-year association with the Chicago Cubs, which switched a minor league link from Kane County to South Bend, Ind. late last fall.


Class A is the lowest level of organized baseball, the place where future stars get their first taste as they start a their journey up the professional ranks.

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A new 60-by-20-foot video board in center field greets fans at FifthThird Bank ballpark. (Suburban Chronicle photo)

The dream is the big leagues and realistically, few make it. But the Cougars still boast an extensive roster of players who have.

Nearly 130 ex-Cougars — including names like Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Dempster and Adrian Gonzalez — have reached the big time.

There will be more, including some from a 2014 team that went 98-49 and completed an unbeaten post-season on the way to the franchise’s second Midwest League title.

The Diamondbacks supply players, coaches and are responsible for all on-field operations.
All other activities — including tickets, marketing, facility main tenance and the entire non-baseball game-day experience is run by a Cougars staff that has remarkable longevity.

Haug joined the Cougars in 1993 and other top officials have also had long runs.
They’ll oversee a wide-range of activities that include concerts, 22 different theme nights, post-game fireworks shows and other events.

The popular Harry Potter Night, two dog-friendly Bark in the Park events, a pair of Star Wars events and a Halfway to Halloween night return. New theme nights will include a used car giveaway, a “Frozen” theme night plus salutes to professional wrestling and martial arts.

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The Cougars are managed by Mark Grudzielanek, a retired Major League second baseman and shortstop who played for six different teams during his 15-season career. (Suburban Chronicle photo)

Last season, the Cougars drew 421,971 fans and became the first Class-A minor league team to reach 10 million fans in the history of Minor League Baseball.

Offering a family-friendly environment is the key to success.

“It’s providing family, G-rated on a consistent basis,” Haug said. “It’s a place where families can come as a unit and have fun. There’s good food, it’s convenient, it’s affordable and we keep it fresh. We keep coming up with the promotions and new things to entice people to come to the ballpark.”
The Cougars had a busy offseason making a series of facility enhancements.

A new 60-by-20-foot video board — three-times larger than the old signage — greets fans this season. There’s also a concert venue adjacent to FifthThird Bank Ballpark is in the works and Cougars players will be able to use an indoor batting and training facility when construction is finished next month.

They’ve also tinkered with the menu.

The newest food item — a “Heart Attack Burger” — has received local and even national notice in outlets like USA Today and Sports Illustrated.

The tasty half-pound burger is features grilled onions, a fried egg, melted cheddar cheese, chipolte bacon mayo, two strips of bacon and a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches serving as a bun.
It can washed down with a new specialty Raging Cougar Ale, created by Aurora’s Two Brothers Brewing Co. and believed to be the first branded beer in Minor League Baseball.

The Cougars opened the season last week and host Clinton through Friday before a short road trip to the Quad Cities. Clinton returns on April 21 to open another three-game series.