No Packing It In

Not everyone is thinking ahead to call-up's and greener major league pastures this time of year. The Cubs' Triple-A affiliate remains within two games of first place in the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division, but time is running out.

The I-Cubs' playoff hopes took a slight turn for the better on Friday night when the team opened their final regular season series with a 3-2 win in Omaha. Meanwhile, first-place Nashville lost at home to Southern Division champion Round Rock.

Iowa enters play Saturday trailing Nashville by two games.

"We could have packed it in a long time ago because we've been trailing [Nashville] all year, but we've been playing good ball of late," Iowa catcher Casey Kopitzke said. "Everyone's thought here is of beating Omaha. We don't control our own destiny, but everybody is shooting for the playoffs."

The 28-year-old Kopitzke is in his eighth minor league season since being drafted in 1999. He isn't known for his bat, but for defense behind the plate and leadership skills that may one day lead to a career in coaching.

During the team's last scheduled home game against New Orleans on Aug. 27 at Principal Park, Kopitzke was given the award for Iowa Cubs "Man of the Year." The award recognizes various contributions to the community and charities from players throughout the season.

It was the first time Kopitzke had received an award centered around sportsmanship, he said.

"I take it as a real honor because I play with a lot of great guys," said Kopitzke. "I know what great people they are and to be nominated ahead of some of these players was an honor. I'm proud that the organization and the Iowa Cubs think of me that way."

Iowa manager Mike Quade said back in June that Kopitzke had agreed to take on select coaching roles with the team. If the backstop eventually does go into coaching, Quade knows a big reason why will be due to character.

"We've kind of asked him to assume a coaching role, especially with two young catchers here," Quade said. "He's really been active with it and done a nice job. He's a guy that can stay in this game because of who he is and the knowledge he has."

OF Michael Restovich, who has 26 home runs in 117 games, was named the I-Cubs' team MVP also on the 27th. Left-hander Les Walrond, who has since been brought up to Chicago, was named Iowa Pitcher of the Year after amassing 10 wins and posting a 3.98 ERA in 133 innings.

"[Restovich] and Les are experienced at this level and did exactly what they needed to do to put themselves in the picture at the big league level," Quade said. "They also did exactly what we needed them to do here. We were thrilled with both of their numbers."

"‘Resto,' unlike a lot of power guys, shows some real consistency throughout the year," Quade said. "He's provided us with power the entire year, and other than a little blip ERA-wise for Les when we sent him to the bullpen, his numbers were excellent."

When Iowa's season is over, Quade will be heading back to Chicago for his annual September stint with the big league team as a coach and assistant on manager Dusty Baker's staff.

Until then, he's hoping for a little help from outside of his team's control. With three games remaining in the season, Nashville's magic number to clinch the division is still one game. They went 9-7 against the Cubs this season.

"It's a heck of a task," Quade said, "but stranger things have happened."

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