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Thought of Cubs minor league move a total bummer

Updated: September 23, 2012 6:26AM



Peoria is a unique place — a small city midway between Chicago and St. Louis that is its own universe, its own vortex.

Largely uninfluenced by the big metropolises to the north and south — or Indianapolis to the east or Kansas City to the west — Peoria is on the road to nowhere.

You don’t just happen to be in Peoria. You’re there for a reason. One of the big ones: You were born there.

I loved growing up in Peoria. So did every kid I knew. You could play in the woods or cornfields, mess around by the Illinois River, play sports till you dropped. There were eight high schools in Peoria, Caterpillar Tractor Co., miniature traffic jams and minor league baseball.

The only childhood issue of concern was caused by an intrusion from the big cities. To whom do you swear allegiance — Cubs or Cardinals? For some reason, almost nobody was a big White Sox fan. It might have had to do with the American League being seen as less interesting than the National League. I don’t know.

But news that the Cubs are in the process of changing their Class A affiliation from the Midwest League Peoria Chiefs to the Kane County Cougars after decades of a wonderful relationship is a bummer.

‘‘It’s really a shame,’’ said Pete Vonachen, the former owner of the Chiefs and the spiritual leader of baseball in Peoria. ‘‘It’s a good city, a great stadium, a good Cubs fan base. In all our years, there’s never been anybody who didn’t say we treated everybody well and do everything first class.’’

This is true. Vonachen himself, 87, dear friend of Jack Brickhouse, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and current Cubs galore, is an oversized personality, full of jokes, handshakes, promotions and love of the game. But he’s not tight with the new Theo Epstein regime.

His son Rocky, president of the Chiefs now, is as disappointed as pop.

‘‘It meant a lot to us to be affiliated with the Cubs,’’ Rocky said Tuesday night. ‘‘Fans here liked to see the top prospects, the next great Cub on his way to Wrigley Field. We’ve got Javie Baez and Jorge Soler here now. We had Darwin Barney, Tony Campana, Jeff Samardzija, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson. On and on. Mark Grace, Joe Girardi, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg managed here.’’

The point of the move, it appears, is simply to get the Class A team closer to Chicago. Peoria’s about 160 miles away. The Cougars, with their stadium hard by the Fox River in Geneva, are about 40 miles west of Wrigley Field.

Cubs players can rehab with the Cougars, throw a couple innings with them, get in a few at bats, and nobody has to make the trip down Interstate 55 to I-74 to that lovely spot known as Paris in the Heart of Illinois. Indulge us Peorians, please.

While with the Red Sox, Epstein had two of the club’s minor league teams within a short drive of Fenway Park, with the closest being the Class AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. The Cubs are doing it the Red Sox way, as we know. Anything to break the chains of 103 years of World Series losing.

So goodbye, Peoria.

And maybe, dear Peorians, it’s hello, Cardinals?



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