Minor league ball is back: Dogs beat Cougars 6-4 in Geneva
Mark Karaviotis, no matter what happens with his baseball career moving forward, will always have a unique place in Kane County Cougars history.
Karaviotis, a 2016 draft choice of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was one of the first player signings for the Cougars organization in March 2021. Karaviotis and the other 23 members of the Cougars are now ushering in the organization's inaugural season in the American Association of Professional Baseball.
Tuesday's home opener against the Chicago Dogs served as the Cougars' first game played since Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019 -- 621 days -- due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which canceled the 2020 minor league season.
"A lot of guys are itching to get out here," said Karaviotis, a left fielder, hours prior to first pitch. "Obviously, the circumstances of last year, it's far bigger than baseball. But, at the end of the day, pretty much everybody in that clubhouse and across the world baseball-wise has trained their entire lives to reach one goal."
"When you have a setback like that -- shout out to all the front-line workers for keeping the entire world safe and what not -- [a] lot of guys are coming into this in the best shape of our lives [and] excited to hit the ground running again. Control what we can control and hopefully come out with a [win] and get this thing off to a good start."
Dogs outfielder Michael Crouse hit an RBI single in the second inning, but the Cougars tied it in the fifth on Mitch Reeves' RBI single. The Cougars loaded the bases in the sixth and took the 2-1 lead after Galli Cribbs Jr. was hit by a pitch to walk in a run. Reeves later hit an RBI sacrifice fly out to go up 3-1.
In the eighth, Dogs shortstop Harrison Smith hit a game-tying two run double before Brennan Metzger hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Grant Kay for the 4-3 Dogs lead heading into the ninth inning.
Dogs third baseman Johnny Adams hit a 2-run home run for a 6-3 lead. The Dogs would add one more.
Karaviotis, a Kihei, Hawaii, native, split time in 2019 between Double-A and High Single-A. In 95 combined games, Karaviotis hit .245, with four home runs and 49 RBIs.
Karaviotis, 25, played in 57 games in Kane County in 2017. This season serves as his second stint with the organization. He's living again with the same host family he had before.
"I knew I was coming here ... being able to have that kind of clarity and know no matter what, I was going to be able to have a place to play this year was definitely relieving," Karaviotis said. "I was able really kind of work towards a goal and [having] a report date was exciting, especially after the uncertainty of last year."
"This American Association, it's a money league," Karaviotis continued. "It's really good competition, especially with over 1,000 guys getting released because of COVID last year. A lot of guys [are] filtering into this league [and] it's going to be some really good competition and I'm excited to get going."
Cougars infielder Nick Zammarelli reached Double-A in the Seattle Mariners organization in 2019.
"The last six months and even push it back to last spring training, It's been tough -- not for me but basically everybody in the clubhouse. Baseball was put on hold and the uncertainty of our careers was really something that weighed heavy on us," said the 26-year-old Zammarelli, 26. "Coming up to this point, we're all here."
"It's kind of a relief. Doesn't matter where we are," Zammarelli continued. "We get to play baseball again and that's what we're all excited about."
Seeing a level of competition similar to Double-A and Triple-A was a key factor in Zammarelli's next steps into his baseball chapter.
"That's really one thing that I emphasized to my agent. I didn't care where I went. I just wanted to go somewhere where the competition was that Double-A, Triple-A level," Zammarelli continued. "I didn't want to feel like I took any steps backwards and could affect me in the future ... I'm really happy where I am. I'm happy with this team. We have a ton of talent on this team. I think we're going to win a ton of games. I'm just really excited for this year."
Dogs pitcher Kevin Marnon is just weeks into his new career in Chicago.
Marnon, a Ball State alum, was released by the Fort Myers Miracle, a low Single-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins in March 2019.
"And, ended up blowing out my arm shortly after," Marnon said.
Marnon, who underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery in December 2019, rehabbed all of 2020.
"For me, Tommy John was a chance to build myself from the ground up so-to-speak," Marnon said. "Mold myself into the pitcher that I want to be. For me, coming back from injury was sort of my time to catch up."
"I feel great physically," Marnon continued. "Once I had Tommy John, [I] trained a little bit differently than I had in the past. I feel as athletic, strong, powerful as I've ever been."