3rd of Jun | Story

At home with the Cougars


GENEVA, Illinois | Michael Giovenco is 24 now, more than two years out of college, more than two years into his professional career, and he still lives with his parents. His is a story more common every year, professional development coupled with personal comfort, a regular paycheck without the stress of regular bills. Move out after high school or college? Why bother when a childhood bedroom still beckons from the end of the hall?

There is nothing at all common about it, though, in minor league baseball, a world filled with host families and roommates and often uncomfortable quarters, where Giovenco is an anomaly.




Though he plays in the Kansas City organization now, Giovenco still cheers for his Chicago teams. Here are his favorite sports memories of his childhood.

1998 NBA Finals, Game 6 — Michael Jordan scores 45 points and hits the game-winner with 5.2 second remaining to lead the Bulls to their sixth championship in eight seasons.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6 — Patrick Kane shoots and scores 4 minutes, 6 seconds into overtime to wrap up the Blackhawks’ march to their first Stanley Cup in 48 years.

2003 NLDS, Game 5 — Flamethrower Kerry Wood limits the Atlanta Braves to a run over eight innings to carry the Cubs to their first postseason series win since 1908.

Cubs 2, Astros 0, May 6, 1998 — Wood again, this time a 20-year-old phenom in his fifth Major League start, strikes out 20 batters to tie the alltime single-game record and comes within a controversial infield single of firing a no-hitter.

A towering righty reliever for the Kane County Cougars, Giovenco works 70 nights a season at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva and lives less than an hour away with his parents, Joe and Karen. He wakes up on the same queen mattress, walks down the same carpeted steps, eats breakfast in the same comfortable kitchen. The spoons are still the same. “My parents make it out to almost all of the games,” he says, “and every one I’ve pitched. My mom comes straight from work.”

Giovenco is hardly the only player in the minors to live at home, at least for a season or two, but he is one of a small number to wake up under the same roof as his parents during high school (at Fenwick High School in Oak Park), college (at North Park University on the north side of Chicago) and as a professional (with the Cougars). The middle son of Joe, who owns a door and window frame company, and Karen, who works at a hospital business office, Giovenco is the only one at home now. He is also the only one who plays sports professionally.

Now in his third season in the Kansas City Royals organization, Giovenco is 2-2 with a pair of saves and a 4.34 ERA for the Cougars. His numbers and his performance have improved every month. More strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer hits, fewer runners across home plate. He was almost a hockey player — a stumble in a Chicago park outfield during middle school, followed by a broken ankle, surgery, months in a wheelchair and months more on crutches — stunted all that. He has played baseball almost exclusively since high school. He is a pitcher who doesn’t even golf.

If he continues to sharpen his four-seam fastball, slider and changeup, he will likely receive a call some time to the Wilmington Blue Rocks. His address will change from somewhere in Illinois to somewhere else in Delaware. He will move on and move out. “It won’t be as ideal, mainly because you can’t walk in, kick your feet up, eat whatever you want,” he says. “Even after I leave, though, I’ll still come back here.”


♦          ♦          ♦


Time for minor league trivia. The Kane County Cougars played their first game in 1991 as a Baltimore Orioles affiliate. What future Chicago Cub pitched the bulk of that season as the first closer in team history? (Keep reading for the answer.)

Kane County second baseman Daniel Mateo tripled to right with two outs in the bottom of the 10th and, two batters later, centerfielder Lane Adams singled him home for a rapid rally, a 6-5 win for the Cougars over the Peoria Chiefs. The Cougars had jumped out to a 4-1 lead after four innings, then the Chiefs scrapped back with a run in the fifth, another in the sixth and two in the eighth to tie the game. Kane County designated hitter Justin Trapp homered in the third and righty Kellen Moen pitched seven quality innings.

Two weeks after our visit to Kane County, the Cougars opened Fifth Third Bank Ballpark for the annual Midwest League All-Star Game and, along with the rest of the Western Division, served as gracious hosts on their way to an 18-2 loss. The East scored five runs in the first inning and eight more in the second to roll to the big win. A trio of Cougars — Mateo, Bonifacio and Lane Adams — combined to bat 0-for-8. At least Kane County righty Matt Ridings struck out the only batter he faced. The Cougars are scheduled to have the all-star game again in ... 2028. (The game rotates every year, so every team plays host once every 16 years.)

Want the answer? Joe Borowski landed at the back end of the bullpen for the inaugural Kane County Cougars, racking up a 7-2 record, 13 saves, 76 strikeouts and a 2.56 ERA as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League. Borowski pitched parts of 12 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Orioles, Braves, Yankees, Cubs, Devil Rays, Marlins and Indians, retiring after the 2008 season with a 22-34 record, a 4.18 ERA and 131 saves — including 87 his last three seasons.

And in random statistical news, the game started on time, the first pitch was a ball, the first batter flied to left and the Thomas Middle School band played the national anthem in 1 minute and 8.9 seconds. We spent the bulk of the game with my cousin Brad and his family, and my old neighbor Casey, who was my best friend when we were kids. Casey is a White Sox fan and talked about listening to Nancy Faust again on the organ. Brad is a Cubs fan and talked about how fast the game seemed to play without those long commercial breaks (just 2 hours, 45 minutes for a 10-inning game). I skipped food at the park in anticipation of a stop at Aurelio’s after the game, but I might have stolen some fries from my cousin Gavin.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.