Sunday, August 23, 2020

St. Paul Saints 6 at Chicago Dogs 3 (American Association) - August 21, 2020

I was originally planning to be in the Dakotas this week, but when South Dakota was added to New York's list of states from which visitors must quarantine, I had to change my plans. Although the quarantine is mostly unenforceable, there are penalties if you don't follow it and cause harm to someone else, which is within the realm of possibility with our child returning to day care next month.

That happened to open up this weekend for a trip and I decided to use miles to get to Chicago to see another independent league baseball game. The American Association has been holding games at five locations, including Fargo and Sioux Falls, which I had hoped to visit. One of the other home teams is the Chicago Dogs, who play out of Impact Field in Rosemont. Readers familiar with the Blue Line out of O'Hare know that Rosemont is the first stop after the airport, and the stadium is a 20-minute walk from there, so a car is not necessary. You can see the ballpark in the middle of the shot below.

I was staying in a nearby hotel and made the five-minute stroll over the 294 on the bridge you can see just to the left of the stadium in the photo above. Most fans drive and park in the $3 lot adjacent to the stadium. The main entrance is along Pearl Street, where you can find the ticket office. As the game was sold out, there was no line up on this night. The naming rights are owned by Impact Networking, a local IT solutions provider.

The Dogs are selling only certain seats to maintain social distancing and a sellout means just 1,400 fans in attendance, less than 25% of the 6,300 capacity. As the team wants to sell at various price points (from $9 for outfield seats up to $85 for the suites), a general admission approach is not possible. So the Dogs have determined exactly which seats to sell and you must choose one of those seats when purchasing online. As a single fan, I could not buy one from a pair and strand a single seat, so I picked up one of a group of four and figured I could move if the other three showed up.

Before entering, my temperature was checked, and that was it. Of course, when I bought my ticket online, I had to acknowledge the risk of COVID-19, which is the way of the future. Masks are mandatory when walking along the concourse, but not when seated. It was Happy Friday, which meant a free t-shirt as well as drink specials that are listed on the scoreboard above. Unfortunately, there was only one stand selling these drinks, so a 20-minute wait was required (below). That is the parking garage directly behind.

Those in the queue were serenaded by a local music school band that ably belted out some classics, all while wearing masks. Given the difficulty in scheduling live performances these days, it was good work by the staff here to get the kids a chance to practice in front of a crowd.

I took two laps of the stadium concourse for photo purposes, one before the game, and one during. The Saints are warming up in the shot below.

The scoreboard is impressive for an independent league team, and stands above left field, with the 294 running behind. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the Big Ten logo underneath; the conference headquarters are on the other side of the highway and there was a protest that morning with about 25 parents of football players demanding the season go forward. My hotel was so concerned as to send me an email about the "peaceful protest", but by the time I checked in around 2:00, a solitary father remained, speaking to local news.

The aforementioned $85 suites are above the seating bowl along first base (below). The ballpark was opened in 2018 and they incorporated so much from other stadiums, although not everything was on display due to the pandemic.

They even have drink rails that you can see above the seating bowl above, but these were closed, though I can't figure out why. If you are standing there above the seating bowl wearing a mask, you should be fine. I would expect fans from different groups to have the sense to not stand next to strangers.

Another special seating area is the Leinie Lodge, sponsored by Leinenkugel's. Located above the third base concourse, it caters to groups so I did not have a chance to get up there. My seat, for which I paid $12 plus a $2 fee, was down the third base line and as it turned out, the other three fans did not show up. It is also possible that the Dogs removed those tickets from inventory or moved them elsewhere after I bought a single, I am not really sure. You are asked to sit in your ticketed seat, but this is not enforced; but again, fans are sensible enough to avoid getting too close to strangers. The view is below.

Many of the concession stands are closed but one that is not is The Wiener Circle. This is the only other location of the iconic eatery located near Wrigley Field that I visited back in 2017 when the Jays were swept by the Cubs. Sadly, I did not get insulted here, though the Char Dog was decent at $6.

As you would expect, the mascots are condiments, with Mustard and Ketchup a dance between innings with some kids who are relishing the experience.

The press box is in the building that also houses the ticket office. There is not a complete stadium structure here, rather the seating bowl is surrounded by a concourse, and then separate buildings for suites, the club, the press box, and concessions have been constructed. As was noted by another fan, there is no cover in the event of rain, but you can return to the garage if that happens.

The sun sets behind first base and provides some beautiful views as the evening progresses.

This is from just to the left of the batter's eye.

From my seat in the sixth inning, with a crescent moon in the top right corner.

Overall, I was very impressed with Impact Field, especially the job they have done given the circumstances. I have generally looked down on independent baseball as the quality of both stadiums and games is not quite up to minor league standards, but this is obviously an outdated opinion. The Dogs have accomplished a lot in offering baseball to the local population and they will be rewarded in the long run. Not only was the stadium top-notch, the game was exciting too.

The Game

The St. Paul Saints were in town for a three-game set, the two clubs having just played three up in Minnesota's capital, with Chicago winning the last two. Luke Westphal started for the Dogs, with Nick Belzer his mound opponent. The Dogs scored in the 2nd on three straight two-out singles, and added a pair in the 5th on a homer from Logan Moore and an unearned run. Meanwhile, Westphal was strong, tossing 7 yielding just 3 hits and no walks. The scoreboard pitch speed touched 96, but I am pretty sure that was slightly inflated.

The following pitcher was Jalen Miller, who allowed the Saints on the board after a walk, groundout and double. He reached 101 on the speed gun, so it is definitely exaggerated. Up 3-1, Chicago brought in Scott Shuman to close things out in the 9th. Unfortunately, he struggled, giving up a double, a walk, and then a monster 3-run homer to Josh Allen, who is not the Bills QB. The ball sailed deep into the night over the left field fence and gave St. Paul the 4-3 lead. A few batters later, Troy Alexander added a 2-run shot for some insurance. All that happened on just 16 pitches.

The only upside of the blown lead is that we got a chance to see the Rally Pickle try and inspire the Dogs, but on this night, they were unable to ketchup (sorry), getting just a single from former Blue Jay farmhand Michael Crouse off Jameson McGrane, who earned the save in the Saints 6-3 triumph.

A surprisingly well-played game that kept fans entertained until the end, despite the home loss. The players are generally older than those in the minors and play a more polished game, with some excellent defense included. I will be adding independent league ballparks to my list of places to visit and plan to see the Saints at home next month. Now that the CDC has said that quarantines are not necessary, maybe I can stay longer than 24 hours. Well, that would assume a logical approach from Governor Cuomo, so nope, that's not gonna happen.


While doing my rounds, I was surprised to see another sports traveler, also named Sean, who is part of our Club 123 meetups and lives a few miles north of the ballpark. Even with masks on, we immediately recognized each other and we spent the last few innings discussing all the missed travel opportunities. He was scheduled to complete Club 123 in San Antonio a few days before the season was cancelled, but he has made the most of the summer by visiting many other ballparks around the Midwest. Always good to run into a familiar face (or set of eyes) when on the road.



Monday, August 10, 2020

NHL #1 Seeds to Meet in the Finals

The Stanley Cup Qualifiers have been completed, so now it is time for the actual playoffs. There were some significant changes from the expected outcomes based on season series that I posted back in May, so I will do it again, mainly in a pathetic attempt to put some sports related content on the blog. As always, this method has never picked the eventual champion, but sooner or later, I'm sure it will.

Eastern Conference

The quarterfinals:
#1 Philadelphia over #12 Montreal (2-1)
#2 Tampa Bay over #9 Columbus (1-0)
#3 Washington over #7 NY Islanders (2-2, 14-14 goals, Washington advances on better record)
#4 Boston over #6 Carolina (1-0)

Reseeding for the conference semifinals:
#1 Philadelphia over #4 Boston (4-1)
#3 Washington over #2 Tampa Bay (3-1)

Eastern Conference Final
Philadelphia over Washington (4-0-1)

Top seeded Flyers win the East.

Western Conference

#1 Vegas over #12 Chicago (2-1)
#11 Arizona over #2 Colorado (1-0-1)
#8 Calgary over #3 Dallas (2-1)
#7 Vancouver over #4 St. Louis (2-1)

Reseeding for the conference semifinals:
#1 Vegas over #11 Arizona (2-1)
#8 Calgary over #7 Vancouver (2-1)

Western Conference Final:
Vegas over Calgary (3-0)

The #1 seed Knights take the West.

Stanley Cup Final

Philadelphia over Vegas 1-1, 10-7 on goals

So the Flyers will be the asterisk winners. Of course, as this prediction method has never been right over about six attempts, the only guarantee is that another club will win. Update; Flyers are out after the second round.

Update after first round: Although Philadelphia and Vegas are still alive, the season series winners completely change now that Arizona, Calgary, and Washington are out. The East Final sees the Islanders over Tampa Bay, while the West is interesting in that Dallas won the season series 1-0-1 over Vegas, but the Golden Knights won the seeding game between the two, so it depends on whether you include that seeding game. Both teams beat the Islanders 1-0-1.

Update after the second round: All four series were won by the team that took the season series. I include the seeding game, so Vegas will win the Cup over the Islanders.

As for a personal prediction, I'm taking Calgary Colorado Vegas Tampa Bay because I always pick the team that Dallas is facing.