Former Cougar Willingham set to retire at season’s end

Former Kane County Cougars 3B Josh Willingham will retire after this season, Minnesota Twins beat writer Mike Berardino reported today.

Willingham, now an outfielder/designated hitter, has seen limited playing time this month due to a groin injury. If the Kansas City Royals advance to the postseason, it will be Willingham’s first trip to the playoffs during his 11-year MLB career.

In addition to the Royals and the Twins, Willingham played with the Florida Marlins, the Washington Nationals, and the Oakland Athletics.

He played with the Cougars in 2001, batting .259 with 7 HR, 36 RBI and 24 SB in 97 games. His Kane County teammates included Detroit Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Dodgers 1B Adrian Gonzalez. The Cougars were affiliated with the Marlins at that time.

Josh Willingham played for the Kane County Cougars in 2001. (Photo from The Cougars Den)

Josh Willingham played with the Kane County Cougars in 2001. (Photo from The Cougars Den)

Posted in Kane County Cougars, Midwest League | Leave a comment

South Bend changes name from Silver Hawks to Cubs

From left: Joe Hart, Andrew Berlin, Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod hold a Cubs win flag at the end of Thursday's press conference. (Photo provided by the South Bend Cubs)

From left: Joe Hart, Andrew Berlin, Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod hold a Cubs win flag at the end of Thursday’s press conference. (Photo provided by the South Bend Cubs)

South Bend’s Midwest League team will no longer be known as the Silver Hawks. Instead, it will take on the name of its new parent club, the Chicago Cubs.

The name change to South Bend Cubs wasn’t a surprise, but it was announced this morning at a press conference that included team owner Andrew Berlin, team president Joe Hart, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, and Cubs senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod.

In addition to the name change, South Bend will adopt logos and uniforms modeled after the ones used by Chicago. Although some people wanted the Silver Hawks name to stay, the team wanted to take advantage of the national recognition associated with the Cubs moniker.

“It was close to a no-brainer,” Berlin said of the name change.

Berlin said the team may have Studebaker- or Silver Hawks-themed nights as nods to its South Bend heritage. He also said mascot Swoop will still be seen at Four Winds Field.

Four Winds Field is undergoing major renovation this offseason, including training-facility upgrades and replacement of the artificial turf with natural grass.

Four Winds Field currently looks like this, after its artificial turf was removed and before natural grass is installed. (Photo tweeted by Chris Hagstrom)

Four Winds Field currently looks like this, after its artificial turf was removed and before natural grass is installed. (Photo tweeted by Chris Hagstrom)

“It is important to have first-class facilities not only at the big-league level, but also throughout our farm system,” Epstein said. “South Bend provides exactly what we were looking for both as a community and as a farm club.”

Epstein said Four Winds Field is “a wonderful ballpark to begin with” and will be “gold standard, perhaps for all Minor League Baseball” once the renovations are finished.

South Bend signed a four-year player development contract with the Cubs after being affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the past 18 seasons. The Cubs were affiliated with the Kane County Cougars the past two seasons, and the Cougars won the Midwest League championship this year.

McLeod acknowledged the Midwest League champions, saying he was impressed by the team that won 98 games this year (91 during the regular season).

“In my entire career, I’ve never seen a team win like they did,” McLeod said.

Both McLeod and Epstein said the Cubs weren’t necessarily looking to change their MWL affiliation, but they were impressed with what South Bend is doing with its ballpark facilities.

Posted in Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks | Leave a comment

A’s re-sign with Snappers, leaving Cougars for D-backs

The Beloit Snappers have signed a new two-year player development contract with the Oakland Athletics, leaving the Arizona Diamondbacks for the Kane County Cougars.

The Snappers were affiliated with the A’s the past two seasons. Their new PDC runs through the 2016 season.

Now the Kane County Cougars are the only unaffiliated team left in the Midwest League, but it’s a foregone conclusion they will hook up with the Diamondbacks because Arizona is the only MLB team left without a Class A team at the MWL’s level. [UPDATE: After I wrote this post, the Cougars made it official that they signed a PDC with the Diamondbacks. It runs through the 2016 season.] The Cougars were affiliated with the Chicago Cubs the past two seasons, but the Cubs signed a four-year PDC with South Bend last week. That displaced the Diamondbacks, who were affiliated with the Silver Hawks since 1997.

The rest of the Midwest League affiliations are: Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays), Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels), Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins), Clinton LumberKings (Seattle Mariners), Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds), Fort Wayne TinCaps (San Diego Padres), Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers), Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians), Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays), Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals), Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros), West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers).

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | 2 Comments

Longtime minor-leaguer Rodriguez collects first MLB hit, RBI

Texas Rangers INF Guilder Rodriguez follows through on his first MLB hit Monday. (Photo by Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

Rangers INF Guilder Rodriguez follows through on his first MLB hit. (Photo by Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

The best story in baseball Monday involved a former Midwest Leaguer.

By now you’ve probably heard about Guilder Rodriguez, the longtime minor-leaguer who finally got called up to the major leagues this month. After playing in 1,095 minor-league games for 10 different teams in 13 seasons, Rodriguez made his MLB debut for the Texas Rangers on September 9. He went 0-for-3 with a walk, but his story didn’t end there.

On Monday he collected his first MLB hit, a bloop single in the 3rd inning, and drove in his first MLB run on a 7th-inning single. He did it in front of his father, Guillermo, who flew in from Venezuela to watch his son play in the United States for the first time since 2004.

None of the game stories say this, but the only U.S. team Rodriguez played for in 2004 was the Beloit Snappers, which means his father probably last saw him play stateside when he was toiling away in the Midwest League.

Rodriguez played 95 games with the Snappers, hitting .265 with 27 RBI and 14 SB. At that time he was a farmhand for the Milwaukee Brewers, the only other MLB organization he has played for.

Norris to make 1st MLB start Thursday

I mentioned in my last post that former Lansing Lugnuts pitcher Daniel Norris might make his first major-league start Thursday. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said earlier today that will be the case.

Norris pitched in 23 games (22 starts) for the 2013 Lugnuts, going 1-7 with a 4.20 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 44 walks in 85.2 IP. Before his September call-up to the majors, Norris went a combined 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA, 163 strikeouts and 43 walks in 124.2 IP in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A this year.

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League | Leave a comment

Lugnuts, Blue Jays announce PDC extension

The Lansing Lugnuts and their parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays, announced a two-year extension of their player development contract, which now runs through the end of the 2016 season.

The two teams have been affiliated since the 2005 season. The Lugnuts, a 19-year-old franchise, previously were affiliated with the Kansas City Royals (1996-98) and the Chicago Cubs (1999-2004). They won Midwest League titles in 1997 and 2003, and most recently played in the MWL championship series in 2011.

Although it wasn’t announced until today, the Blue Jays had automatically renewed their PDC with the Lugnuts after the MWL postseason ended.

There are only two Midwest League teams that don’t have a PDC in place: the Beloit Snappers and the Kane County Cougars. Each will be affiliated with either the Arizona Diamondbacks (affiliated with the South Bend Silver Hawks the past 18 seasons) or the Oakland Athletics (affiliated with the Snappers the past two seasons), with a decision probable by the end of the week.

Here’s the rest of the Midwest League affiliation picture: Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays), Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels), Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins), Clinton LumberKings (Seattle Mariners), Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds), Fort Wayne TinCaps (San Diego Padres), Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers), Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians), Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals), Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros), South Bend Silver Hawks (Chicago Cubs), West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers).

South Bend has a press conference scheduled for Thursday morning, at which time the team is expected to announce its nickname will be changed from the Silver Hawks to the Cubs. (Read related posts here and here.)

Norris may make 1st MLB start Thursday

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons reportedly is considering former Lansing Lugnuts LHP Daniel Norris for a spot start Thursday against the Seattle Mariners. If he gets the nod, Norris will be making his first major-league start that day.

Norris pitched in 23 games (22 starts) for the 2013 Lugnuts, going 1-7 with a 4.20 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 44 walks in 85.2 IP. He rapidly rose through the Blue Jays organization this year, going a combined 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA, 163 strikeouts and 43 walks in 124.2 IP in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A before getting a September call-up to the big-league team.

He has made four relief appearances for the Blue Jays.

Top Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris pitched for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2013. (Photo by Scott Mapes/Lansing Lugnuts)

Top Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris pitched for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2013. (Photo by Scott Mapes/Lansing Lugnuts)

Posted in 2011 Playoffs, Beloit Snappers, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

South Bend’s artificial turf being removed today

Rolls of artificial turf removed from the playing surface of Four Winds Field today. (Photo courtesy of WNDU-TV)

Rolls of artificial turf removed from the playing surface of Four Winds Field today. (Photo courtesy of WNDU-TV)

The artificial turf at Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Silver Hawks, is being removed today. It will be replaced by natural grass.

(The next two photos were tweeted by Chris Hagstrom, the team’s senior director of creative services.)

Removal of the artificial turf began in left field.

Removal of the artificial turf began in left field.

About half the field was rolled up by 1 p.m. EST.

About half the field was rolled up by 1 p.m. EST.

It looks like the new field should be installed in time for the team’s press conference on Thursday (although the media event isn’t being held at the ballpark).

The Silver Hawks announced Thursday that they reached an affiliation agreement with the Chicago Cubs, who were aligned with the Kane County Cougars the past two years. They are going to unveil a new team name, logo and uniform at the press conference. The team is expected to be renamed the South Bend Cubs.

I’ve seen some online comments from people who don’t want to see the Silver Hawks name go away. I understand that sentiment — especially because “Silver Hawks” is a name with roots in South Bend — but it is also understandable that the team wants to capitalize on the Cubs brand.

With that in mind, I took to Twitter to make a suggestion to team owner Andrew Berlin — one that I’m going to repeat and expand upon here to help get some feedback. The team’s current alternate logo is based on the grille emblem of the Studebaker Silver Hawk automobile that was manufactured in South Bend. I’ve always liked it and suggested the team keep it as an alternate logo to be worn during Sunday home games (Silver Hawks Sundays?) or at least on a throwback day at the park.

The alternate logo of the South Bend Silver Hawks, on a cap.

The alternate logo of the South Bend Silver Hawks, on a cap.

Grille emblem from a 1964 Studebaker Silver Hawk. (Photo from eBay)

Grille emblem from a 1964 Studebaker Silver Hawk. (Photo from eBay)

As for the Silver Hawks’ main logo (the cartoonish Swoop logo), I’ve never really cared for it, so it doesn’t bother me if it disappears. On the other hand, children probably love the Swoop logo, so maybe the team should keep using it on kids apparel, especially if they plan to keep Swoop the mascot.

I’d like to know your thoughts about this topic, especially if you’re a South Bend baseball fan (but others certainly can weigh in, too). Am I on the right track here? Feel free to add your two cents’ worth in the comments section.

Posted in Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks | 1 Comment

Kershaw wins 20th game; Lopez, Pompey get 1st MLB hits

Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw won his 20th game of the season Friday at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports)

Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw won his 20th game of the season Friday. (Photo by Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports)

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw didn’t dominate, but he pitched well enough — and got plenty of run support — to win his 20th game of the season Friday at Wrigley Field.

Kershaw gave up three earned runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings, but the Dodgers scored six runs in the 1st, two runs in the 3rd, and six runs in the 6th to beat the Chicago Cubs 14-5. Kershaw struck out nine batters and improved his record to 20-3. Despite giving up three runs, his ERA is only 1.80 this season.

According to MLB.com, “Kershaw joined Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers since World War II with 20 wins in fewer than 30 starts and, having gone 21-5 in 2011, became the first Dodgers pitcher to reach the 20-win mark twice since Claude Osteen in 1969 and ’72. At 20-3 (.870), Kershaw has the best winning percentage for a Dodgers pitcher since Preacher Roe went 22-3 (.880) in 1951.”

Kershaw pitched for the Great Lakes Loons in 2007 (their inaugural season), going 7-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 97.1 IP. He made his major-league debut with the Dodgers a year later.

Also at Wrigley Field on Friday, Cubs catcher Rafael Lopez collected his first major-league hit, a single off Kershaw in the 3rd inning. He also drove in his first MLB run on a sacrifice fly in the 1st inning.

Lopez played 31 games with the 2012 Peoria Chiefs, batting .265 with 12 RBI.

At Yankee Stadium, Blue Jays OF Dalton Pompey made his first major-league start and collected his first MLB hit, a single off Yankees SP Hiroki Kuroda, in New York’s 5-3 win over Toronto.

Blue Jays SP Mark Buehrle took the loss, dropping to 1-14 in his career against the Yankees.

Pompey batted .261 with 6 HR, 40 RBI and 38 SB in 115 games with the 2013 Lansing Lugnuts. He also got five hits in five games with the Lugnuts in 2012.

Buehrle pitched for the 1999 Burlington Bees, going 7-4 with a 4.10 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 98.2 IP.

Blue Jays OF Dalton Pompey runs back to the dugout after hitting a sacrifice RBI in a game last week. (Photo by Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Blue Jays OF Dalton Pompey runs back to the dugout after hitting a sacrifice RBI in a game last week. (Photo by Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Posted in Burlington Bees, Great Lakes Loons, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs | Leave a comment