Players and coaches receive most of the praise when a team wins a championship, but it takes a wealth of folks behind the scenes to reach the pinnacle of baseball success.
Jason Cooper is one of those unsung heroes for the Chicago Cubs, and this week he was rewarded with a top prize — a World Series ring.
Cubs president Theo Epstein presented it to Cooper on Monday.
The Richland native who graduated from Moses Lake High School is in his fourth season as a special assignment scout for the Cubs.
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In addition to his duties of evaluating the organization’s major and minor league players, and scouting potential prospects in the Asian leagues, Cooper lends a hand in helping the Cubs gather information on upcoming opponents.
Last season, he helped get the team ready to play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
“I’m on the road, I don’t know, 280 days a year, seeing games and bouncing around the country,” he told the Herald. “It’s a pretty busy experience, but it’s good. There’s a lot of versatility to it, a lot of variety.”
When the Cubs beat the Indians in last year’s wild, seven-game series, it snapped a 107-year championship drought for the team — one of the longest and most storied streaks in American sports.
I’m on the road, I don’t know, 280 days a year, seeing games and bouncing around the country. It’s a pretty busy experience, but it’s good. There’s a lot of versatility to it, a lot of variety.
Jason Cooper, Chicago Cubs scout
After helping break the curse, Cooper now gets to wear a piece of history on his finger.
“Historically, it’s such an amazing time to be apart of this organization, for all that they’ve gone through,” Cooper said. “In my world, I don’t get back to Chicago a lot, but when I do get back, you see the fans and the city, how they’ve embraced that team for such a long time. You start to understand, like really take in what it meant to wait that long and then to pull through and break that curse.
“It’s definitely the crowning achievement of my baseball career is to be apart of that, and I’m not sure that it gets any better. It still hasn’t really set in yet.”
That’s saying something, considering he had a fairly successful playing career.
In 1999, the Moses Lake trio of Cooper, Ryan Doumit and B.J. Garbe became the first three players from the same school to be taken in the first two rounds of an MLB draft.
Cooper, a big left-handed batter who played first base and outfield, was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round, but opted to attend Stanford before pursuing a major-league career.
It’s definitely the crowning achievement of my baseball career is to be apart of that, and I’m not sure that it gets any better. It still hasn’t really set in yet.
Jason Cooper, Chicago Cubs scout
He was re-drafted by the Indians in the third round of the 2002 draft, which kicked off a 10-year career in which he played parts of six seasons at the AAA level, the highest minor-league classification.
After retiring in 2011, Cooper took a job in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ front office, then eventually made his way to Chicago.
“I think as a player, if you love a game, then you try to learn about the game and understand it better,” he said. “I think when you’re done playing, you still have those desires to use your experiences to contribute in other ways. ... It’s been incredibly humbling, and it’s one of those things where I wish I had the knowledge I have now as a scout, what to look for and things that stand out as a player, because I think it would have helped me as a player make adjustments more quickly and just be more consistent.”
With baseball season in full swing, Cooper once again has his nose to the grindstone.
This month he will visit two of the Cubs’ and one of the Colorado Rockies’ minor-league affiliates before beginning a two-week scouting trip in Japan.