The Kane County Cougars, in conjunction with the Oakland Athletics, have announced the squadâ€™s official 2009 Opening Day roster. The 19th season of Major League-affiliated Cougars baseball kicks off this Thursday, April 9 when the team opens in Peoria to start a three-game series before returning home on Monday, April 13 for the Elfstrom Stadium opener at 3 p.m. against the Burlington Bees.
The Cougars christen the â€™09 campaign with two former Chicago-area prep stars, a 2nd round pick who hit for the Triple Crown as a collegian, and the Northwest Leagueâ€™s leader in saves last season â€“ all under the leadership of a former Major Leaguer who continues his coaching career after a six-year hiatus.
From a local perspective, the arrival of two players in Kenny Smalley and Dusty Napoleon will generate a buzz around the Chicagoland region. Smalley (24th Rd, 2008), who played at nearby Batavia High School before transferring to St. Charles North, has already worn a baseball uniform at Elfstrom Stadium as a prep athlete and becomes the first â€œTri-Citiesâ€ Cougar in franchise history. At Short-A Vancouver last season, Smalley worked relief in 20 games and posted a 5-1 record and 3.07 ERA. The announcement of Napoleon (19th Rd, 2007) adds another touch of local flavor to this yearâ€™s Opening Day roster. Napoleon, an All-State quarterback at New Trier High School in Wilmette, played collegiately at the University of Iowa before beginning his professional career in the Aâ€™s system. Napoleon got a brief taste of Kane County last season, appearing in 16 games before ending the season with Vancouver.
Smalley and the rest of the Cougarsâ€™ bullpen might very well be setting the stage in tight games for righty Jose Guzman (Non-drafted FA, 2005), who is the lead candidate for Kane Countyâ€™s closer position. Guzman led the Northwest League in saves (15-for-18) and appearances (30) for the Canadians in â€™08, yielding one run or fewer in 28 of his 30 appearances.
New faces to Kane County include pitcher Shawn Haviland (33rd Rd, 2008), who was drafted by the Aâ€™s after a four-year career at Harvard, and outfielder Grant Desme (2nd Rd, 2007), who hit for the Triple Crown in 2007 for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. A total of 13 players on the Cougarsâ€™ active roster return to Geneva, including pitcher Jamie Richmond. Richmond spent all of â€™08 in a Cougars uniform, leading Midwest League hurlers in innings pitched (163.1) and started for the Cougars at Wrigley Field against the Peoria Chiefs last July. After missing all of â€™08 with an injury, infielder Steve Kleen comes back to Kane County. Cougars fans will remember Kleen as being a key component of the â€™06 Cougars team that advanced to the League Championship Series that fall.
As the 12th field general in Cougars franchise history, Steve Scarsone moves into a managerial role for the first time since the 2002 season when he managed the Lancaster JetHawks of the California League. Scarsone played in 350 games over seven seasons in the Major Leagues as an infielder before retiring after the â€™99 season. Scarsone takes over for former Cougars skipper Aaron Nieckula (2006-08), who assumes the managerial post with the Stockton Ports in â€˜09.
Scarsoneâ€™s field staff includes newcomer Jimmy Escalante as pitching coach and returnees Haas Pratt (hitting coach) and Nate Brooks (athletic trainer). Strength and conditioning coordinator Rob Shooks completes the Cougarsâ€™ field staff.
In addition to the 25-player active roster, a 26th player â€” catcher Petey Paramore â€” breaks camp with the Cougars but will open the â€™09 season on the teamâ€™s disabled list.
The 2009 campaign will be the Cougarsâ€™ 19th season of Major League affiliated baseball in the Chicagoland area. More than 100 former Cougars have played at or are currently playing at the Major League level, including notable Cougars alumni such as Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera.
The 2009 Kane County Cougars make their Elfstrom Stadium debut next Monday, April 13 at 3 p.m. as the team hosts the defending Midwest League champion Burlington Bees. The first 2,000 fans through the gates receive a limited-edition Opening Day cap, courtesy of Provena Mercy Medical Center. Fans, who will be able to view the newly-renovated Elfstrom Stadium for the first time that day, are also invited to run the bases following the game â€“ a long-standing Cougars tradition that takes place after every home game this season. Fans can order tickets for Opening Day by calling the Cougars at (630) 232-8811 or visiting www.kccougars.com.