For three of the Cubs' minor league affiliates, their seasons ended over the Labor Day weekend. Iowa closed out the year 76-68, tied atop the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division with Nashville. Since the Cubs lost the season series to the Sounds seven games to nine, Nashville was awarded the division following their win against Round Rock on Sunday.
Iowa did everything in their remaining power to best the Sounds by one game, which included a four-game sweep of Omaha in their final series and going 5-1 over their last six games.
West Tenn wrapped up their season on Monday with a 4-1 win at home over Chattanooga, their third straight to close out the year. The Jaxx were 75-65 overall despite missing the post-season.
Daytona also finished with a winning record overall. The Cubs were 71-66 between both halves of the Florida State League season and said goodbye to '06 on Sunday with a doubleheader split at Brevard County.
Upon arriving back to Des Moines around 8 p.m. CDT Monday evening, the Iowa Cubs players began to go their separate ways after congratulating each other on their 2006 seasons.
"It was a lot different than in years past," said Iowa starter Randy Wells. "These past couple of years, I've been with guys I was pretty familiar with – guys that have always been in this organization. This time was a little different. It was kind of weird and a little somber."
Wells' season ended on Sunday with six innings of one-run, five-hit ball in Iowa's 7-4 win over Omaha. The right-hander was an All-Star at Double-A, but was promoted to Triple-A in June.
"You've got guys that are a little older and more mature, and guys with families and a little big league experience. You tell guys, ‘Hopefully I'll see you,' but you never know," Wells said.
Further south in Double-A, West Tenn players knew their fate with regards to when their season finale would be played days in advance. The Jaxx finished only one game back of first-half Southern League Northern Division champion Chattanooga, but were 11.5 back of Huntsville in the second half after losing 10 straight games at the end of August through Sept. 1.
Both the Diamond Jaxx and I-Cubs had their fair share of players promoted this year, including third baseman Scott Moore, who left the Double-A team on Saturday for Triple-A and eventually Chicago.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword," said All-Star catcher Jake Fox, who spent a good portion of 2006 at West Tenn. "Some of these guys, they're excited to go home because it's been a long season. But there's also a lot of question marks because of guys who are eligible for the Rule Five Draft and guys who may decide to hang ‘em up.
"You really want to make sure you get your goodbyes in and tell them all you really enjoyed playing with them," Fox said.
In Fox's case, his season isn't over. Often considered the Cubs' top catching prospect, he will be making his second trip to the Arizona Fall League beginning just over a month from now.
"It's really emotional for me because I've built relationships and spent time with many of these guys," Fox said. "From year to year, it's always a different team you're on. It's part of the understanding that things change, but at the same time, it's sad to leave."
Soon after Monday's West Tenn finale, hitting coach Tom Beyers was busy typing out his final progress reports on this year's Jaxx hitters and packing up for a peaceful five-month vacation ahead.
From a coach's perspective, Beyers and company stress the importance of staying in shape over the course of the off-season as a final warning to players before everyone takes off.
"There are tons of things that go through your mind," Beyers said. "You have to make sure these guys take some time off baseball-wise, but stay in shape. You make sure they stick with their off-season programs. The number one thing is to make sure everyone stays in shape physically."