Chicago Dogs

2018 Inaugural Season for the Chicago Dogs of the American Association of Professional Baseball (AAPB), an independent professional baseball league (founded 2005). Lincoln Saltdogs were in town to visit the new Impact Field, home of the Chicago Dogs, to play the last three games of the season. Impact Field is a $60 million 6300 seat stadium. O’Hare International Airport is also located just west of the ballpark. If you’re a fan of aviation, you may be easily distracted from the game. There is a constant flow of planes flying over rightfield and landing at the “world’s busiest airport” every 5 minutes. It can be hypnotizing. For the most part, seats have great views to the field. The downside is a lack of shade from the hot summer days. Installing canopies at the park would help, something that becomes part of a punch-list for a new park.

This last game was scheduled for an early Monday afternoon. The day started with a sunny 76 degrees but play ended early in the game with a thunderstorm that swept through Chicagoland, bringing flooding and damage. A tornado was spotted moving across the west side of Chicago at 75 mph. It traveled for 1.7 miles. Needless to say, very little baseball was played, comes with the territory in a day at the ballpark. This would be the finale to a historic year for the Chicago Dogs franchise, worth the trip to see the final product of a third professional baseball team in Chicago. It’s actually located in the Village of Rosemont northwest of Chicago, near I-294, better known as Chicagoland. With a casino, concert venues, and conference space, the Chicago Dogs are also part of the economic growth here. “It had to be fun and authentic,” said co-owner Shawn Hunter. He can sleep at night knowing Impact Field is just that, a “chillax” place for a ballgame, or “fun and authentic.”

Butch Hobson was the skipper hired to lead the new team. He brings 30 years of major league and minor league experience with him, mostly remembered for his managing and playing days with the Boston Red Sox. For many young ball players, it’s either a second chance or a once in a life time opportunity to play professionally. There were even open tryouts that probably helped the team connect to the community.

Shawn Dunston Jr., son of legendary Chicago Cubs shortstop, was the highlight of the 2018 Roster; still working towards the major leagues. For a team trying to appeal to a new fanbase and a prospect with name recognition, it’s a marketing dream come true. They even brought back the “Shawn-O-Meter,” a gimmick used by Cub fans to mark his fathers rising batting average in 1989. It was a board with interchangeable numbers that followed him in the Wrigley Field Bleachers until he was traded to the San Francisco Giants in 1995.

Carlos Zambrano signed with the Chicago Dogs in 2019. He pitched in the major leagues for 12 years, mostly with the Chicago Cubs. First baseman Kean Barnum won the 2019 MVP, the first Dogs representative to win that award. He was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 48th round of the 2012 MLB draft. In 2020 & with social distance protocols in place, Chicago Dogs played the only professional baseball in the Chicagoland area for a good half of the summer. Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox were still shutdown from the pandemic. It’s been three years and they’re still working towards that first play-off berth. But, they bring a competitive balance to a growing league.

Lincoln Saltdogs @ Chicago Dogs

Wrigley Rebuild

Wrigley Field 1060 Project is a 5-phase $575 million renovation plan. Chicago Tribune reported in July of 2014 that $375 million were for the stadium overhaul and $200 million for surrounding areas, including a hotel, an office building, and the plaza. Phase one started in the 2014-2015 off season and phase five completed during the 2018-2019 off season. The vision for the Chicago Cubs organization was to “ensure the viability of the ballpark for future generations of Cubs fans, while preserving the beauty, charm and historic features fans have come to know and love.” Photos were taken during phases one and two.

Phase one visit on October of 2014:

With the exception of the scoreboard beyond center field and its supporting structure, the surrounding bleachers along right field and left field were completely demolished and removed, making way for the design of a new infrastructure that completely rethinks the use of space behind the ivy. The cold days of fall in Chicago are also short, as the sun starts to set 4:30-5:00pm. Not only is it a challenge to see the work in progress, it’s a challenge do get it done in a busy timeline. Both Sheffield and Waveland Avenues were fenced off to the side walk across the street. Cautions were taken to protect the brick wall that is traditionally covered in the iconic ivy that we all associate with Wrigley Field. Something universally true about a renovation plan of this scale is that every step of the way is critical, a path if you will. But this was an especially fragile part of an otherwise crude site, as the only thing supporting the freestanding brick wall during construction was a system of forms and braces. Meanwhile, huge holes were bored into the ground for improved foundations, not to mentioned all the secondary vibrations from the heavy equipment. The braces in the photos represent the back of that iconic ivy-covered wall. The only elements still visible were the manual score board behind center field that towered over the ground where bleachers once stood, waiting out the frigid winter with short days to rebuild its bleachers.

The weather created delays from the beginning that would complicate the start of the 2015 regular season. Installation of some 5,000 missing seats wear eventually completed in May of 2015. Aside from making state of the art accommodations, the newly reconfigured bleachers would house the new bullpen locations under the bleachers and give every visitor a great view of the game regardless of where he or she is sitting. By the end of phase three, the iconic bullpen locations along the foul lines would also be gone.

Phase two visit on April of 2016:

Taking the official Wrigley Field Tour on another cold Tuesday morning to see the recent changes. This was somewhere midpoint of the five-phase timeline. Future tours will allow more access to all new areas after construction is complete. Due to work in progress, the clubhouse was not available for touring. Overall, the upgrades were seamless with the historic elements of ballpark. A walk through the hallways under the bleachers was especially interesting, an up-close look at a re-purposed space. It was surreal to listen to the tour guide discussing life in the Wrigleyville neighborhood during the 1970’s and 1980s, like something from urban legend. Hearing the tour was like thinking out loud. For anyone who grew up in Chicago, Wrigley Field is the story of us. From the “Bleacher Bums” who all knew each other, going to the home games all summer watching their cubbies, to the guys on the corner of Waveland Avenue & Kenmore Avenue who would all claim a part of that corner to catch the home run ball on game day, we all have a story about Wrigley Field, where we’ve been there or not. “As you look out to the buildings across the street, you will see that most of them have rooftop bleachers available for rental with Wrigley Rooftops,” she said. As I remembered how rare it was to see someone on the roof back in the day, she quickly mentioned that it wasn’t always like this.

This ballpark first opened in 1914 as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. Chicago Cubs first played here in 1916. The evolution of Wrigley Field has been one rebuild after another over the years. Yet, there is still a timeless connection to this ballpark once known as Weeghman Park. Like the history of baseball that’s been played here, it’s been the mark of time.

Next Year is Here

Detroit Tigers @ Chicago White Sox

2012 Regular Season. Chicago White Sox host Detroit Tigers at US Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago, their first home game of the new year. It’s a great time of year. Those up north can take a break from the long winter and breath in renewed hope for the new season. On Opening Day, everyone is in first place. Its theirs to lose. For the rest of us hopeless fans, It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Next year is here.

Recently minted 25-man rosters hit the floor running and can go from weathering the climatic shock of the beaming grapefruit or cactus hot sun to working the layers of thermals, stretching, and warming up in more ways than one. The weather during game time held near 65 degrees.

It’s Opening Day on Friday the 13th which is ironic in the baseball world of superstition. On this day, an estimated 38,676 paid. When prices at the ticket window are $75.00 for standing room only, you get in the Chicago way, or the second market. Lots of people not at work here, controlled chaos. The crowd was elbow to elbow, like a scene at your friendly neighborhood nightclub. although the drunk and obnoxious may outnumber the bouncers if something breaks out. It’s “Sweet Home Chicago” no less.

For the most part, Chicago White Sox start the season on the road before settling into the south side. The first game ever played here at US Cellular Field was also against the Detroit Tigers in the 1991 inaugural year, when it was Comiskey Park II. You won’t see that game in any Chicago White Sox highlight reels. Detroit Tigers massed 19 hits and scored 16 unanswered runs. On a good note, Chicago White Sox had some winning moments, later in the nineties, to drown that day out.

2012 was the first year without Ozzie Guillen as Chicago White Sox Manager. He and former White Sox teammate Robin Ventura have a side game of career jeopardy throughout the season. Ozzie Guillen jumped ship, as skipper, to accept the manager position with the newly rebranded Miami Marlins. White sox granted him a release from the one year remaining in his contract, within a couple of days, the news came out, leaked by Ozzie Guillen, that he would be heading for South Beach, departing before the start of the final 3-game homestand in the 2011 season with the Toronto Blue Jays Apparently it was part of a marketing campaign to stage Ozzie’s arrival in south Florida and to usher in a new era. Pitching Coach Don Cooper managed the last three games for the Chicago White Sox.

Former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura was enjoying retirement life with his family in his oceanfront property in California when Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and President Kenny Williams came knocking on his door, during the off-season, to pre-emptively offer him the job as Chicago White Sox Manager. Meanwhile, the party at South Beach would take a hard turn when Ozzie Guillen made comments favorable to Fidel Castro during 2012 spring camp that infuriated the Cuban-American community in South Florida. In Chicago, he would probably get a little shade at most. In Miami, its equal to hugging the third rail. That was the beginning of the end for the Miami Marlins. A sequence of controversial moves from the front office led to a mid-season free agency yard sale and Ozzie Guillen’s dismissal of his duties when the season ended. Robin Ventura was busy with the growing pains of his new position while steering his team to a record of 85-77. After constant pushback for his laid-back demeanor and the upcoming losing seasons, he eventually saw the writing on the wall and ended his tenure in 2016.     

So, what is the name of that park on the south side? Like other naming rights arrangements, it’s a series of shameless bids focused on the highest bidder as opposed to the ring tone of a pronoun mounted over the main entrance. From 2003 to 2016, the name was US Cellular Field. Now, it’s come down to the current “Guaranteed Rate Field.” Maybe it was a good payout but the red arrow on the logo that points down is not good optics, the most out-of-touch signage. But, the good people at Miami Marlins organization said “hold my beer,” securing naming rights this year with loanDepot. They have dropped big money to enter the world of baseball. They will also be sponsoring award presentations and are the official mortgage company of Major League Baseball.   

Opening day this year is on April 8th to start a 3-game home stand against the Kansas City Royals. They started on the road again for a 4-game set with Anaheim Angels. Chicago White Sox come into the 2021 season as an off-season winner. They were busy on the hot stove making additions to put them in the post season conversation. And, there’s another familiar face at the manager position in Tony LaRussa to keep things controversial as usual. Sometimes, bad guys wear black.

Crosstown Journal

2016 Regular Season and both the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs are home. It’s a rare occasion, during the regular season schedule, that Major League Baseball is played both on the north side and the south side on the same day. It may happen once or twice a season. Growing up in Chicago, I took it for granted and never tried to go to the ballparks. I had to be a tourist to think of it.

This time, its a Thursday in September and the Chicago White Sox play at 1:10PM in the last of a 4-game series with Cleveland Indians here at U.S. Cellular Field. White Sox would leave town after the game for a 3-game set in Kansas City. At 8:05PM, the Chicago Cubs were just starting their homestand, as they played the Milwaukee Brewers, the first of a 4-game series.

A huge contrast between the two contests for many reasons; the biggest one being that the energy was mostly on the north side, as the city was anticipating the Cubs to clinch a spot in the post season and fans were putting all their marbles on a World Series win. Over on the south side, White Sox were basically playing for pride, as 15 games remained in the regular season. The math would not add to anything more for the 2016 White Sox.

Game 1 at US Cellular Field: A day game with a free Jose Abreu t-shirt promotion for the first 10,000. In his third season, Jose Abreu was just grabbing a seat to the rebuild that took place on the south side. He went 2 for 3 in this one with an RBI and a run scored. That was the other glaring contrast; alow turn-out. It’s a problem the White Sox have had for some time, placing between 25-30 in attendance the last few years. Many reasons why that is. It’s also part of a bigger problem the MLB has. Still, it’s a source for grief from Cub fans who remind everyone that White Sox are second in the second city. Needless to say, I arrived in the third inning from out of town and was still able to get a t-shirt, glad that it worked in my favor.

Speaking of rivalries, the feud between White Sox teammates Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier was brewing. It would tip over in an on-field incident one day last year at Citi Field, when they were playing for Washington Nationals and New York Mets respectively. Chicago native Jason Kipnis was patrolling second base for the Cleveland Indians. He was traded this year to Chicago Cubs and is now playing for his boyhood team.  Chicago White Sox beat Cleveland Indians 2-1 in a walk off win. Cleveland Indians would eventually clinch the AL Central title on September 27.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train system makes it really easy to get from one game to the other. Of the color code system identifying the routes, you only need to remember the red line. It takes you door to door without having to switch trains. Of course, you will need to change trains when traveling from one of the airports (blue line for O’Hare, orange line for Midway). Considering the time of day, it’s the best way to get from 35th Street to Addison Avenue.

Game 2 at Wrigley Field: Arriving with enough time to take in the scene. Wrigleyville is landlocked and you will not find huge parking lots or multi-level garages; plan accordingly. If it’s your first-time visiting Wrigley, you can get a free personalized certificate to make it official (concession is usually located behind home plate). Within a short period the seats, the standing room, the roof tops, and the streets were shoulder to shoulder, waiting for some one to yell play ball. A Cub win or a St. Louis Cardinals loss in San Francisco would turn this place into an all-night party. Milwaukee Brewers beat Chicago Cubs 5-4 but San Francisco Giants won at 12:49AM eastern standard time.

Ironic that two storied franchises were in Chicago unbeknownst of their opponent across town. The Chicago Cubs faced the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series and won. Besides the historical significance for the two teams, it was a hard-fought contest that made 2016 iconic. The only thing that would top that in Chicago would be a Crosstown World Series. The last time it happened was 1906, during the dead-ball era. They called it the “Chicago Panic” and it was the biggest event in Chicago since the 1893 World’s Fair. It’s September and both teams are going into the post season in 2020. If it happens, we can call it the “Chicago-Pandemic.”

Days of Wrigleyville

Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs.

2010 Regular Season at Wrigley Field to meet an old friend and to catch a game in the old neighborhood. I had a great childhood in the 1970’s, many good memories of living so close to the “Friendly Confines.” At one point, my family lived in a third floor apartment on Shefield Avenue, literally across the street from Wrigley Field, behind the right field bleachers. We could see the game from our living room window, everything except the right fielder who we could not see because of the bleachers. I had the good fortune, like some of the other kids in the neighborhood, to make my first money selling parking spots or souvenirs, among other jobs, for local businesses. Once in a while, I’d be lucky enough to get in and see the game for free. My first visit to a Major League Baseball (MLB) game was at Wrigley Field. I just don’t know when that was. Its like trying to remember when you first learned to walk. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the game of baseball. This was my back yard. I also thought it was awesome to live in a city with two MLB Teams. Believe it or not, my interest in baseball didn’t allow me to notice the Cubs-White Sox rivalry until I was 20 years old, when I first visited Old Comiskey Park. In the 1980’s (before inter-league play), the Cubs and the White Sox started to play an exhibition game once a year. That was my crash course into the feud. 

This is the only remaining MLB Park where Jackie Robinson once played, the second oldest Major League Baseball Park (behind Fenway Park 1912), the called shot by Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. This was where my sense of history was born. When you walk into Wrigley Field, its timeless. The green of the grass and its architectural marvel stirs the same feelings those fans had in 1914, when this park first opened. Back then, there was also the Federal League and a third team in Chicago named the Whales. They called this home. The Cubs were still at West Side Park where they played the 1908 World Series. Looking back, its hard to believe that the first night game in Wrigley Field was in 1988. Apparently, Cubs Owner P.K. Wrigley bought and stored equipment for lights under the bleachers. He had plans to install lights in February of 1942. But, the equipment would be donated to the war effort in December of 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. For the next 46 years, lights were never a viable option for the Cubs.

These images were taken in 2010, five years before the multi phase construction and renovations that started in 2015. In 2009, The Ricketts Family purchased the Cubs from the Tribune Group for $900 million. Their vision was to restore a winning tradition. Capital improvements included a Sheraton Hotel, an office building, a plaza outside, subterranean clubhouse expansion, bleacher expansion, etc. In fact, the only elements left standing are the grandstand, the scoreboard, and the iconic outfield wall. The bleachers had recently been expanded just to give way to more progress. For better or for worst, the physical landscape of Wrigleyville has changed. With the World Championship of 2016, the Cubs Organization has enjoyed a renaissance era. This land, originally owned by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1891, was perhaps sacred from the beginning. Their fans are a testament of what having faith means.