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Cubs Leaving Kane County For South Bend

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The rumors are true, and the Cubs made it official with a press release Thursday morning.

Sue Skowronski

The Cubs opted to not renew their Player Development Contract with the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League, and this started speculation on where they might wind up.

According to Bruce Miles in the Daily Herald, the Cubs are going to affiliate with South Bend:

Sources tell the Daily Herald an announcement of the change will come today and that a news conference will take place next Thursday in South Bend. It's also possible the South Bend team will change its name from Silver Hawks to Cubs.

The move is not unexpected. The Cubs' Player Development Contract with the Cougars recently expired, and the Cubs did not renew as they sought upgraded facilities.

There were reports that the Cougars were upgrading their facilities "to the Cubs' specifications," but apparently that wasn't enough:

South Bend recently ended its affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and changes are planned for its ballpark. Those plans likely are to include a smaller version of the "performance center" the Cubs built at their new spring-training facility in Mesa, Ariz.

Having seen that "performance center," I can tell you it's mighty impressive; if the Cubs get the folks in South Bend to build a similar facility, it'll mean top-notch workout facilities for Cubs prospects.

As a practical measure, it means a somewhat longer drive for Cubs executives if they want to see Midwest League prospects, though South Bend isn't that far. For Cubs fans who enjoyed seeing their team's prospects play in the local market, it'll mean a longer trip, and east instead of west. With only one major-league team without an affiliation now in the Midwest League, it means the Diamondbacks will have to affiliate with Kane County. In reality, this won't make a huge difference to the Cougars, as they have a strong brand in the western suburbs and have always drawn well no matter who they were affiliated with.

UPDATE: I've posted this in the comments, but here is the complete text of the press release from the Cubs announcing the move:

The Chicago Cubs today agreed with South Bend (Ind.) on a new Player Development Contract to move the club’s Single-A Midwest League affiliate. The contract runs through the 2018 season.

“We are excited to partner with South Bend and look forward to a productive relationship with the team, as well as the entire South Bend community,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President, Scouting and Player Development. “Making the decision to switch minor league affiliates is never an easy one, but we are confident that this agreement will further strengthen our farm system.”

"The Cubs are fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in Kane County the past two years and we thank Dr. Bob Froehlich, the entire front office, and all of the Cougars fans for their support," added McLeod. "We are proud that our relationship culminated with a Midwest League title this past season."

The South Bend Silver Hawks have won five Midwest League titles in 26 seasons, most recently in 2005, and have captured 12 division titles. The club had been an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks starting in 1997. South Bend broke into the league in 1988 as a Chicago White Sox affiliate, a partnership that would run through 1996.

“Today is a turning point,” said South Bend Silver Hawks Owner Andrew Berlin. “I made a promise to the thousands of people and local government officials who welcomed me with open arms three years ago. I promised that I would return the team to its former glory days. And I promised that I’d do everything I could to bring people back downtown and prove that this is a wonderful place to invest in.”

“Now, one of the best and most beloved brands in the history of Major League Baseball is making a bold statement about this place, too,” added Berlin. “The Chicago Cubs are giving this region a big vote of confidence.”

The South Bend franchise will unveil a new name, logo and uniform, Thursday, September 25, during a press conference beginning at 9 a.m. ET at the local St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce. Officials from both South Bend and the Cubs will be on hand.