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World Series radio announcers highlight Cougars banquet
By Ron Skrabacz | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/21/2009 12:02 AM

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The 2009 Kane County Cougars Winter Banquet and Silent Auction on Jan. 30 promises to be an interesting mix of old and new.

While the Cougars will be introducing their new field manager, Steve Scarsone, to the Kane County faithful, those same fans will be treated to the guest speaker tandem of former Cougars radio announcers Dave Wills and Scott Franzke.

The banquet, sponsored by Provena Mercy Medical Center, will be at Pipers Banquets, 1295 Butterfield Road, Aurora. Cocktails will be served from 5:30 to 7 p.m. with a silent auction from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Dinner lasts from 7 to 8 p.m. followed by the speakers. Tickets are $50 ($40 for season-ticket holders and $45 for ticket-package holders). Fans can order tickets by calling (630) 232-8811 or through the Web site kccougars.com.

Wills was the Cougars first radio announcer from 1991-95 while Franzke manned the booth from 1999-2001. Following his Cougars years, Wills joined the White Sox and moved to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004. Franzke went from the Cougars to the Texas Rangers and joined the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006.

Assistant General Manager Jeff Ney is encouraged at the excitement the radio duo has generated with fans. Past banquet guest speakers have included such notables as Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, and Goose Gossage, so Wills and Franzke will have some big shoes to fill.

"We liked it ourselves, but as we put word out to our fans that these are the guys, some of the older fans who've been around the ballpark for 10 years or more were loving it," Ney said. "The pressure is going to be on the two of them a little bit to put on a good show because it went over better than we imagined. There are a lot of people who look forward to seeing them."

Baseball observers will recognize the Rays and Phillies as the opposing teams in last year's World Series. Having two radio broadcast alumni reach the Major Leagues is incredible enough, but having their respective teams face each other in baseball's biggest showcase was too good to pass up.

"We like to brag about all the Cougars players that have come through," Ney said, referring to those who eventually saw big league action. "And all of a sudden we've got two radio announcers in the World Series. How about that?"

Current Cougars radio announcer Jeff Hem will make his debut as the event's emcee in keeping with the radio announcers theme. The broadcasts always have been a source of pride for the Cougars.

"We're proud in particular that we have had the good fortune of hiring good up-and-coming radio announcers, two of whom have made it to the big leagues," Ney said. "Frankly, we think Jeff Hem could be the next one."

The speaker program also will include Cougars general manager Jeff Sedivy, 2008 Cougars MVP Larry Cobb, and Scarsone, the 12th manager in Kane County history. Scarsone played seven seasons in the majors, primarily as an infielder, from 1992-99.

With a new manager and a new upper level addition to Elfstrom Stadium in 2009, the program promises to be both interesting and informative.

The auction proceeds will benefit Ozzie's Outreach. The Cougars use the proceeds primarily to help charities and organizations in the surrounding community.

For each of the past several years the auction has raised around $20,000, and Ney is hopeful that streak continues this year.

"We've got a nice auction planned and some neat stuff this year," Ney said.

Plenty of good sports memorabilia will be on hand for those wanting to bid, as well as dining gift certificates and overnight hotel packages. Sports items include an autographed jersey from Ryne Sandberg; a signed baseball from Kerry Wood; and an autographed football from Super Bowl-bound Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Signed bats and hockey sticks also will be available.

On Jan. 31 the Cougars will conduct their eighth annual Coaches Clinic from 9:30 a.m. until noon at the Fox Valley Strikers Soccer Training Facility in Geneva. The facility is located off Kirk Road just south of Elfstrom Stadium.

The clinic is free and open to the public but is intended for youth coaches and parents rather than youth players. Interested participants are asked to call ahead at (630) 232-8811 to determine an estimated head count.

Several instructors from the Cougars and the parent Oakland Athletics organization will be on hand to discuss coaching philosophy, training, on-field execution, and provide coaching tips. Participants are broken into small groups and will visit various stations throughout the morning.