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Midwest League: Mark Johnson named Cougars manager

Former White Sox catcher Mark Johns(left) show here during 2002 game was named Kane County Cougars manager last week. |

Former White Sox catcher Mark Johnson (left), show here during a 2002 game, was named the Kane County Cougars manager last week. | Ed Zurga~AP

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Updated: January 19, 2013 6:17AM

It’s been a while since Mark Johnson has spent a lot of time in the Chicago area, but he’s excited about the prospect of coming back.

The 37-year-old Johnson, who played for the White Sox from 1998-2002, was named the manager of the Kane County Cougars last week as the franchise announced its field staff for 2013. The 15th manager in the team’s history, he will be joined by Ron Villone and Tom Beyers — who will serve as pitching and hitting coaches, respectively.

With the Cougars acting as a Cubs affiliate for the first time, there is a lot of attention and excitement from the media and fans. That excitement extends to Johnson, who for the last two seasons has managed the Cubs’ short-season affiliate in Boise, Idaho.

This won’t be the first go-around with Kane County or the Midwest League for Johnson, who played at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark while with South Bend in 1996.

“It’s going to be fun,” Johnson said from his offseason home in Perry, Ga. “It’s a nice area and I remember Kane County being a great place to play. You can’t beat Chicago in the summertime, especially if you are playing baseball. This will be great for the kids and for me, too.”

Despite being in the shadows of Wrigley Field, Johnson doesn’t see things being all that different from a baseball perspective. He thinks it will be good for the players to play in front of members of the Cubs management more often, and the large crowds they will most likely draw at home.

The biggest challenge might be getting used to the off-field demands in terms of media and other commitments. He feels like the faster his players get into a routine the easier the rest of the job will become.

“It will be tough early on, but it is a great stepping stone to play near Chicago and get a taste of what it is like in this environment,” Johnson said. “This was a great move for the Cubs, the players don’t really know what they are getting into but it will be good for them.

“It will be a load for some of them in the beginning, but I’m going to preach to them about working with the media and managing their time.”

Having managed just a wrung below the Midwest League last season, Johnson should bring a lot of fellow Hawks with him. Notable prospects who may see the field for the Cougars include Albert Almora, the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2012, Dan Vogelbach, Gioskar Amaya, Marco Hernandez and Jeimer Candelario.

The Cougars will open the season Apr. 4 against Quad Cities at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

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