Ten million is more than just a nice round number.
For the Kane County Cougars, it represents all those who've cheered minor league baseball in Geneva since 1991 and a milestone that early skeptics would never have imagined.
The Cougars officially celebrated fan No. 10 million Saturday night as Rich Davis of St. Charles walked through Gate 3 at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Davis, accompanied by his wife, Tammy, and sons Michael and Matthew, were greeted by General Manager Curtis Haug and awarded Cougars souvenirs and Kane County and Chicago Cubs baseball tickets.
"What a tremendous evening for the Kane County organization," Haug said. "The milestone will be remembered for years to come."
Minor League Baseball, the umbrella organization governing the sport's lower professional levels, said the Cougars are the first Class A team to attract 10 million fans. A member of he 59-year-old Midwest League, the Cougars play at professional baseball's entry level.
"It's pretty awesome, it really is," Haug said. "It's a real tribute to the whole Chicago area and the fan base we created (as well as) all of the staff that have worked here over 23 years of existence."
Building the organization has taken hard work, but the guiding principles remain simple, he said.
"I think it's providing family, G-rated entertainment at an affordable price and keeping the product fresh," Haug said. "But most of all, it's keeping the fans entertained. Always."
On the field, fans have the chance to catch baseball's stars of tomorrow. But there's also dozens of other attractions ranging from in-game entertainment to post-game fireworks and even the opportunity for children to run the bases after the game.
Performers include the Jesse White Tumblers and former White Sox organist Nancy Faust, and there are theme nights devoted to Harry Potter and family dogs. Giveaways include hats, bobble heads, rally towels, T-shirts and key chains.
Until the Cougars relocated from Wausau, Wis., in 1991, no minor league sports team had ever set up shop in a major metropolitan area. Complicating the Cougars' entry was the presence of not one but two Major League Baseball franchises — the White Sox and Cubs.
But Kane County quickly attracted a following and within a decade set a franchise attendance record of 523,222 that still holds. The Cougars are typically among the tops in attendance in the Midwest League and Class A baseball.
The stadium was originally named for Phillip B. Elfstrom, the former Kane County Forest Preserve District president and moving force in the team's relocation. Naming rights were sold to Fifth Third Bank last year.
"We took on the challenge of putting a minor league baseball team in a major metropolitan area, and we definitely proved them wrong," Haug said. "Now it's not just baseball, there's minor league hockey and soccer and all these other sports. But we were the first. We pioneered it."
The Cougars team has been the launch pad for 121 players who eventually reached the Major League level through the team's affiliations with five different big league clubs.
They're now in the first year of an agreement with the Chicago Cubs.
"Our tagline is 'See the Future,' and we have some of the top prospects in the Cubs organization that will eventually be at Wrigley Field," Haug said.
"We've cultivated a lot of new fans. A lot of Cubs fans are now Cubs and Cougars fans."