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Mount Mercy grad Tony Cougoule getting his shot at professional baseball
Is in first season as pitching coach for South Bend Cubs
CEDAR RAPIDS – That Tony Cougoule is in professional baseball is a story in and of itself.
There aren’t many Mount Mercy graduates that have ascended to the level. Can you remember one?
Then you take into account none of this, being a first-year pitching coach for the High-A Central League South Bend Cubs, ever would have happened had he decided back in the early 2000s to discontinue playing the game he loves. He was THAT close to doing so.
“One hundred percent,” said Cougoule, whose team played last week against the Cedar Rapids Kernels at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “Whatever it was that led me back to the game, I always loved the game and tried to be a part of it in some capacity. But it probably (wouldn’t have happened) to this extent had I not had the experiences I’ve had.”
The quick back story here. Cougoule is a Bay Area native who pitched at Division III Pomona College in California for a year, only to blow out his elbow and shoulder.
That’s a ton to try and come back from, and Cougoule seriously contemplated giving up baseball. But he rehabbed and found he had the desire to play again, pitching a year at junior college in California, getting recruited by Coach Justin Schulte (now head coach at Southeastern Community College in Burlington), visiting, liking the school and thus beginning an odyssey that now has him getting a paycheck from the Chicago Cubs.
He graduated from Mount Mercy in 2004 with a degree in administrative management.
“I had dinner last night with Justin and his family,” Cougoule said last week. “We were talking about how it was, I think, 19 years around this time (of year) that I came and visited Mount Mercy from California. We actually came to a Kernels game.
“Fast forward almost 20 years later, and to be on the field in professional baseball here is surreal. Especially with the journey I had.”
Cougoule began his coaching career for Schulte at Mount Mercy, went to Division II Azusa Pacific, then reunited with Schulte at Southeastern, before settling at Westmont. There he helped develop multiple pros, including former Kernels pitcher Andrew Vasquez, who has had time in the big leagues.
The Cubs were aware of and impressed by what he was doing enough to seek him out and ask him to interview for a position in their minor-league system. He was hired around Thanksgiving of 2019.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 minor-league season, but Cougoule was able to get his pro coaching feet wet last fall in instructional league.
“Probably four or five years ago, you started to see college coaches get opportunities. That was mostly bigger-name, higher-profile programs,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, it started to come around where junior college coaches were getting an opportunity, maybe some small-college coaches.
“I don’t know if it was ever a goal for me to get here. My goal was to develop my players, and through that, with the game having such a tight-knit community, being two to three degrees of separation from a lot of people, my name got tossed around when the Cubs decided to reorganize their development (model) on the pitching side. They reached out to me, I went through the interview process and realized that this organization could be a good fit for me and my family. I was never seeking it.”
He is responsible for mentoring and developing power arms like 2019 first-round draft pick Ryan Jensen and 2020 second-rounder Burl Carraway. Reliever Eury Ramos hit triple digits with his fastball in games against the Kernels last week.
“It’s been rewarding,” Cougoule said. “I think one thing I’ve been appreciative of the Cubs about is they put a premium on having good people in the organization and treating our guys right. I think you tend to hear that happening more in the college game, but it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to have that in the pro game. I think we have guys who are committed to being coached. I think the opportunity to coach and not just handing down directives … there is faith in our coaching staff, and that is why we are here.”
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