Rosemont's Chicago Dogs will play ball while other suburban teams stay home
COVID-19 led to the cancellation of July 4 fireworks, parades and festivals, but two other parts of the typical American summer -- baseball and hot dogs -- return to the suburbs Tuesday.
The Chicago Dogs, who play at Rosemont's Impact Field, will welcome back spectators on Opening Night with limited seating capacity, required masks when walking around the concourse, social distancing measures and lots of hand sanitizer.
For now, the Dogs are the only baseball game in town, with all other area leagues canceling their seasons and the Cubs and White Sox still weeks away from starting their abbreviated schedules (without spectators, at least to start, on July 24).
The Frontier League, which includes the Schaumburg Boomers and Joliet Slammers, canceled its season, though the Slammers plan to host a four-team, 27-game City Of Champions Cup starting July 16. Minor League Baseball, of which the 30-year-old Kane County Cougars franchise is an affiliate, was also called off.
The Dogs play in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, in which half of its dozen teams are playing a shortened 60-game season from a total of four stadiums. The Dogs were to have played in the "hub" stadium hosted by the new Milwaukee Milkmen franchise in Franklin, Wisconsin, until the Dogs got permission from Illinois state officials late last month to be able to reopen in Rosemont. The Dogs will play 30 home games.
"It's certainly been an interesting chapter, but it's evolving in a great way," said Shawn Hunter, the Dogs' owner. "We were very happy to be included in the Phase 4 reopening so that we could play our games at Impact Field and in front of fans. We get to play ball, which is important for our players who are living a dream, and for our fans, who deserve a much-needed break."
While only half of the league's teams will play this summer, Hunter said team owners relied on the hub city model and pinpointed stadiums in states that would allow spectators and had associated health guidelines. In addition to Rosemont and Franklin, Wisconsin, games are scheduled this summer in Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In contrast, officials from the larger 14-team Frontier League said they could not conduct a season under the various guidelines in their teams' home markets, which include seven states and Canada.
League President Rich Sauget Sr. said the limitations on social gatherings, in addition to travel restrictions affecting the Canadian teams, precipitated the full season cancellation.
The Chicago Dogs had to submit an extensive safety plan to the state before getting the OK to reopen. That means a 20% capacity limit at the 6,300-seat stadium on Balmoral Avenue, which is about 1,300 seats. Seats are clustered and spaced out: groups of up to seven are allowed, but most other seats and rows are left vacant to maintain distancing.
By Monday morning, the team reported 95% of seats for Opening Night were already sold out.
Fans will get their temperatures checked upon entry, and they'll be asked to wear masks when not seated, Hunter said.
Markers will designate one-way traffic flow on the concourse, and hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the stadium. And to buy those signature hot dogs -- or any other food or beverage -- don't expect to pay in cash. The plan calls for cashless payments at concessions and the team store.
"I think it'll be a different experience, but it will be a very good one," Hunter said.