The Kane County Cougars held their winter banquet last Friday night, which was a welcome respite from what has become a long, cold baseball-less off season.
With a little over eight weeks to go until the season opener in Beloit on April 3 (the home opener is Apr. 7), it was good to get together with some fellow baseball fanatics and dream of the days when the snow will have melted, the grass will be green and the sun will be shining.
Manager Aaron Nieckula will be returning for his third season at the helm, while pitching coach Don Schulze and hitting coach Benny Winslow will be back for their second stints. Of course, the roster is TBA but as usual should include a mix of returning players and those who spent last season at low-A Vancouver. Since the parent Oakland Athletics begin the season against Boston Mar. 25-26 in Tokyo -- a week before the rest of the league(s) head north -- the roster may be set a little earlier than usual, perhaps giving the team some extra time together to build a little continuity.
The franchise is also looking forward to the upcoming renovation of Elfstrom Stadium. General manager Jeff Sedivy is more than relieved that the project will begin soon since the orginal plan was OK'd back in Sept. 2006 but has had several stops and starts as budget issues were being hammered out. The upgrade is long overdue -- several other Midwest League franchises have either built new ballparks or renovated old ones since any significant changes have been made at Elfstrom, and by Opening Day 2009 they should have a facility that more reflects their standing as one of the top draws and organizations in all of minor league baseball, while providing an even better experience for the more than half-million fans that will stream through the gates.
This season also represents a contract year between the Cougars and host Athletics as the agreement between the two expires after this season. It seems like the first five years of the partnership have been very beneficial to both sides, so barring anything crazy happening in the next few months I see it more than likely continuing.
It's nice to know that Opening Day is right around the corner, but at the same time it can't come soon enough.