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The South Bend Cubs lost, but going to a game there is still fun

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I made a trip to see the kids play.

Al Yellon

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — I had been meaning to do this ever since the Cubs’ affiliation with South Bend began in 2015, and Friday night finally made the 97-mile drive from Chicago to northern Indiana to see the Cubs’ affiliate in the Midwest League play.

The Low-A Cubs lost to the Lansing Lugnuts 5-2, oddly enough, the same score by which their big-league counterparts lost Friday night.

There are really only two players on the SB Cubs who have a chance at a big-league career. Brendon Little, one of two first-round picks the Cubs made in 2017, was the starting pitcher Friday night. And honestly: He struggled. His velocity is decent, touching 91/92, and he seems to have pretty good mound presence. But the results were middling. He allowed four hits and two walks in five innings, though as is fairly common in baseball at this level, some of the balls that got through for hits likely would have been fielded by major-league fielders. There was also a play on which two errors were committed (fielding and throwing) by second baseman Christian Donahue, leading to an unearned run.

Little has to do better if he’s going to make it to the big leagues. Remember, he’s a No. 1 draft pitcher from a college program. He’ll turn 22 next month and is struggling in Low-A ball.

Catcher Miguel Amaya, who is just 19 years old but on just about everyone’s top Cubs prospect list, appears to be the real deal. Sure, this is just a one-game sample size, but Amaya carries himself as someone who’s much more experienced, in the way he handles himself at the plate and in the field. He went 1-for-4, but that was a single that drove in both SB Cubs runs, and threw out a Lugnuts runner trying to steal. Amaya appeared in the recent All-Star Futures Game, and I think he’s going to have a good MLB career. At 19, I think Cubs management will leave him at South Bend for the rest of 2018, and he’ll begin 2019 at Myrtle Beach.

Honestly, the most impressive player in this game was Dany Jimenez, who threw the last three innings for the Lugnuts and struck out seven. He was hitting 96 with his fastball. He’s old for the Midwest League at 24, but perhaps he’s got a MLB future. With that velocity, he should. The Lugnuts are a Blue Jays affiliate, so look for him to move up that chain in the future.

Another name you might recognize from this game is Brandon Grudzielanek. Former Cub Mark Grudzielanek is Brandon’s uncle. The younger Grudzielanek is a good story, undrafted out of college last year, he signed with the Blue Jays and is hitting pretty well at Lansing.

Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs, is a gem. It was originally constructed in 1987, but extensively renovated in 2012, and there are all kinds of modern amenities in this ballpark. The top price ticket is only $14, and sightlines are good from all over the field. There’s a building visible from everywhere down the right-field line called the “South Bend Cubs Performance Center,” workout facilities for the players. There’s a kids play area down the left-field line, quite a number of different areas for groups, and you might have read about the team shop, which is located in an old synagogue building originally constructed in 1901. The building was slated for demolition, but South Bend Cubs ownership bought the building, rehabbed it and converted it into the gift shop, a terrific re-use of the property.

Food is typical ballpark fare, reasonably priced, and gameday staff was friendly, accessible and helpful. Parking and traffic were easy to handle despite an announced crowd of 7,372, which appeared to be somewhat short of capacity. As is the case for many minor-league teams on Friday nights, there was a postgame fireworks show, well handled and longer than some.

If you’re anywhere near South Bend I would recommend the trip, and even if you’re farther afield and want to see some future Cubs play, head over to Four Winds Field. It’s inexpensive family entertainment.

Here are some photos I took Friday night.