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From double-talk to double plays. Let's play ball!

Election 2012 is now safely written into history. We can only hope the logical members of political sides along the previously impenetrable line in the sand sweep that line away and get important things accomplished.

Impossible? Improbable? No.

Imperative. Yes.

Thank goodness it’s over. No more political commercials. Hallelujah! No more debates — one of which kept me from watching a key World Series baseball game. Anything that keeps me from a World Series game is pretty dang important. Just ask my wife.

Speaking of baseball, it’s too bad there was no election in the naming process for the new Class A team on deck in Hillsboro. The Hops? Oh well, what’s done is done and, shall we say, safely written into Hillsboro history. At least it’s a unique moniker.

Hillsboro and surrounding communities are in for a treat. Having covered baseball from high school to the professional ranks, including the Chicago Cubs, White Sox and a “single A” team in the Midwest League, the Kane County Cougars, I can offer a few insights as to what area baseball fans can expect from Class A ball.

Great family entertainment. The Class A Cougars of the Midwest League worked very hard to make games fun and affordable for families with special giveaways and contests between innings for young and old fans alike. I suspect that will be the case with the Hops.

Tasty concessions. At Cougar games they offered a pork chop sandwich I could never pass up. I’m sure the Hops’ menu will offer more than hot dogs and popcorn. See a game and eat out at the same time. As for drinks, there might be some “hops” for adults to enjoy as well as the usual assortment of soft drinks, juices and coffees.

Future major leaguers. Triple-A ball offers quality baseball performed by raw young talent just beginning to be groomed by pro instruction. A few will learn and blossom. Most won’t. All have the opportunity.

There are six steps up the ladder to the major leagues that ends with Class AAA — the final launching pad for entry to the bigs. The levels are Rookie, Class A Short Season, Class A, Class A Advanced, Class AA and Class AAA. Although Triple A is the highest minor league level, there are occasions when players have jumped to the majors from Double A and the rare individual who leaps from “single A” to join a major league roster in one year.

Nonetheless, fans will see some future stars. In covering the Kane County Cougars, a Florida Marlins affiliate at the time, I saw and interviewed a few in my two years (1998-99) of coverage. That list includes Rick Ankiel (Peoria Chiefs), A.J. Burnett and Ross Gload (Cougars), Kyle Lohse (Rockford Cubbies) and Roy Oswalt (Michigan Battle Cats, a Boston Red Sox affiliate). All were destined to play in the bigs.

I remember sitting down with Ankiel, then 19 and a high draft choice of the Cardinals. He had pitched and won the first game of a doubleheader against the Cougars in ’98. He joined me for an interview in seats behind home plate during the second game. He fielded my questions between chomps of the pork chop sandwich I recommended.

Ankiel was on a fast track to the majors, playing his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2000, winning 11 games. He later had control problems and after trying several years to regain his control, eventually switched to playing the outfield. He returned to the Cardinals on the strength of his hitting and outfield arm. I will forever remember him enjoying that pork chop sandwich. I knew he would.

The Hillsboro Hops are a Class A Short Season team, a step up from the rookie leagues. Don’t let that fool you. These kids can play. Most will come from the player draft in June and begin play right away in the short season, which is 76 games.

The real fun is watching them play and following the best of them through the ranks to reach the parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks. And watching visiting players ticketed for big paydays.

I can’t wait to hear “Play ball!” next June. Hillsboro, have some fun next summer. Support the Hops. I surely will.

Gary Stutzman can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




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