The Cougars drew two of their largest crowds of the season over the weekend, including Saturday night when 11,979 fans watched their 6-0 loss to the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
That crowd, along with the 10,238 that showed up Thursday night, was the largest in all of minor league baseball.
By comparison, just 852 fans were in the stands Wednesday night when the Cougars played in Clinton. For most of the players, Saturday’s game represented the largest crowd they had ever played in front of in their lives.
“It’s awesome to go out in front of a crowd like that; it gets your adrenaline up and makes you realize how lucky you are to play the game you love for a living,” said Dan Vogelbach. “It makes you think about when we get to Wrigley Field how much better it will be because these fans are so passionate.”
Over the past several weeks, Cougars catcher Carlos Escobar has been receiving more and more playing time, and his play over that stretch has earned him even more.
The Nevada-Reno product, drafted by the Cubs in the 15th round in 2012, took the day off Sunday after catching 10 of the previous 11 games.
Over that stretch he hit .323 (10-for-31) with four multi-hit games, and drove in six runs, including a career-high four against Burlington this past Friday night.
“He’s slowly improved, and he has deserved the right to play more,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He’s coming in every day and asking the right questions and he’s learning. He’s putting good at-bats together and is calling a good game so he’ll be getting some more playing time.”
He’s also getting more comfortable working with the pitching staff and teams up with Willson Contreras to give the Cougars two solid catchers. The two have combined to hit 13 homers and drive in 59 runs this season.
Outfielder Albert Almora is still day-to-day with a groin injury, and though he is eligible to come off the disabled list it appears that it will still be a while before he sees any action.
“We are being really careful,” Johnson said.
“(The injury) is in a weird spot and they are going to take some more pictures of it in a few days and evaluate him. If it’s clear he’ll go into a progression (program) and get back into baseball shape and see where he is at to finish up the season.”
In the meantime, Almora is keeping busy by coaching first base, and Monday night took the lineup card to home plate before the game against Cedar Rapids. Since the Cougars subsequently won the game, Almora might serve in that role for a few more days.
“He’s 1-0, so he’s going to take the lineup card out until we lose,” Johnson joked.