The American Association is a league of 12 independent baseball teams, not affiliated with any major-league organization, including clubs in the major markets of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Kansas City, Milwaukee... and Chicago, where the Chicago Dogs (named after the edible variety, the hot dog, not the canine version) began play in 2018.
I’d been meaning to get out to a Dogs game in Rosemont since the team was created and Wednesday seemed the perfect time. Not only were the Cubs and MLB continuing the All-Star break, so there was no big-league ball to follow, but the Dogs were playing a scheduled, single-admission doubleheader against the Gary Southshore Railcats. Two seven-inning games for the price of one? Dogs vs. Cats? Sign me up!
There had been dire forecasts of severe weather in the Chicago area Wednesday, but all that passed by the area to the east and the doubleheader began at 5:05 p.m. under clear skies, though with very warm temperatures (93 degrees at game time) and a strong wind blowing out toward left field.
The first game began as if it were going to take six hours to complete. Both teams scored four runs in the first inning, including a pair of homers by the Dogs. The Railcats took a 7-4 lead in with a three-run second and the Dogs plated one, so after an hour, it was 7-5.
And that’s where the score stayed until the bottom of the seventh. Felix Carvallo, who played five years in the Rangers organization and who one of the Dogs gameday workers told me was one of the better pitchers in the league, entered to close for Gary.
Carvallo had a bad day. He allowed a single and a double leading off the inning, and a wild pitch and a groundout scored the tying runs. Another double put the winning run in scoring position. After an intentional walk and a fly to center, this happened:
David Olmedo-Barrera, a 12th-round pick of the Rays in 2015, was the hitter. He beat the throw to first and Jordan Dean, the runner on second, never stopped running and his head-first slide scored the winning run for a walkoff 8-7 victory for the Dogs, an exciting ending.
In the second game, no one scored through two innings and then the Dogs broke through for a five-run third, which included a three-run homer by Trey Vavra and a solo shot by Keon Barnum (once a first-round supplemental pick of the White Sox, chosen two selections after Eddie Butler). Here’s Barnum crossing the plate:
The Dogs wear yellow jerseys on Wednesdays, as they brand themselves the “Chicago Wieners” those nights and have a $2 hot dog special. (Hey, it’s the minor leagues. They live on those sorts of promotions.)
The Dogs scored three more in the fourth and cruised to an 8-2 victory behind Jake Dahlberg (a 21st-round selection of the Cardinals in 2017 out of UIC). Dahlberg, a lefthander, threw a complete game, allowing four hits and two runs, with two walks and five strikeouts. Like most of the pitchers in this game, he survived on location and breaking stuff. No pitcher in either game threw faster than 91 miles per hour, a clue as to why they’re throwing in indy ball. There was, though, a scout sitting behind the plate, with a radar gun, charting pitches and making notes. Guys do get signed by MLB organizations out of leagues like this. Evan Marzilli, who was in the Diamondbacks organization from 2012-18 and who went 3-for-18 for the Cubs in spring training this year, was on the Gary roster until early this week when the D-backs re-signed him.
Here’s a look at the video board and left field at Impact Field:
Impact Field, completed last year, seats 6,300, and you can see the traffic on the Tri-State Tollway beyond the left-field wall. Also, see that “G” on the building under the video board? That’s actually the Big Ten logo — that building is their headquarters in Rosemont.
Attendance Wednesday was announced as 2,974, though it appeared somewhat lower as people came and left at various times during the doubleheader. That figure didn’t include a couple hundred actual canine dogs on “Bark in the Park” night, where people could bring their dogs to the ballpark. The dogs were well-behaved, for the most part, and sat quietly with their owners.
I had kind of hoped to see Carlos Zambrano throw in one of these games, but he spent both of them in the bullpen, often signing autographs for kids and at one point dancing to some of the between-inning music. Big Z has a 3.50 ERA and 1.304 WHIP in 17 appearances covering 23 innings, with 15 strikeouts. That isn’t bad, but where he goes from here is anyone’s guess.
As far as the ballpark, Impact Field is on the precise location that was once proposed by Rosemont officials in 2013 as a possible spot for a new Cubs stadium, before the Wrigley 1060 Project commenced. I wrote back then about what a terrible idea that would have been — I cannot imagine trying to get 40,000 people in and out of that location 81 times a year. What I wrote in that 2013 article is exactly what came to pass for Wrigley Field:
The Wrigley renovation project will be approved, likely begin this October, and get done. When it is, the Cubs will have the best of both worlds: top-notch facilities for players, modern amenities for fans, and the best location in the major leagues for atmosphere.
But for an independent-league team with smaller crowds, the location of Impact Field in Rosemont is a perfect spot. Parking is right next door (there’s a parking garage where that big “Impact Field” sign is in the photo at the top of this post) and it was easy to get in and out. Food selections are typical ballpark fare, hot dogs, burgers, chicken tenders and pizza, and prices, despite the park being in a major market, were considerably lower than for similar items at Wrigley Field. Staff was friendly, helpful and efficient and they line up near exits to give fans high-fives as you depart the ballpark. Most tickets range from $9 to $16 (the “Wintrust Home Plate Club” seats are $25), so it’s affordable family entertainment. And, Impact Field was recently voted “Best Independent League Ballpark” in a survey of readers of Ballpark Digest, winning this honor for the second straight year.
Lastly, as you can see in the photo of Barnum crossing the plate, Impact Field has nets similar to most current big-league parks, from the outfield end of the third-base dugout to the outfield end of the first-base dugout. Sitting behind third base (as you can see from the location of the photos, and you can see the end of the third-base side net in the left-field photo above), watching the game from behind these nets did not bother me at all.
All in all, a pleasant way to spend an evening watching baseball when the big leagues are taking their midsummer break. Highly recommended, and I’ll likely go back.