Chicago Dogs: What Professional Baseball with Fans Looks Like in 2020 America


The 2020 Major League Baseball season is on the cusp of commencing, and it will be one that is played, at least initially, behind closed doors. Perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to let in a limited number of fans down the line, but if you want to learn how that might work, look no further than the Chicago Dogs in the American Association.

The unaffiliated minor league ballclub is located in Rosemont, which is just outside the city limits of Chicago, and hence they can host a limited number of fans- 20% capacity, or 1,260 to be exact. So how does it all work and how are people feeling about it?

“It’s all been positive,” said Chicago Dogs Owner Shawn Hunter, who was gracious enough to grant an exclusive interview to the Stick to Everything Podcast.

“The best quote I heard was someone who said they felt more comfortable at the ballpark than at the grocery store.”

The extensive plan, to make Impact Field as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, starts with temperature checks at the door via touchless infared thermometers. The concourse is split into two lanes of traffic, for people moving in opposite directions in order to foster social distancing. Masks are required when moving about the park, a facility which is receiving deeper cleaning than ever before.

The mask protocol is strictly enforced too. Masks are allowed to be taken down when sitting at your seat, much like in a restaurant. All transactions are done at the park digitally, no cash ,and there is an abundance of hand sanitizing stations spread throughout.

Seats are also sold with the purpose of keeping people away from one another.

“Probably one of our best features, a ticketing system that automatically physically distances fans from one another when there’s a purchase,” Hunter said.

“When a group of four, five or six buys a block of tickets, it blocks off the group of seats to the front, back, left and right of them.”

Additionally, there are no communal area fan decks for congregating, nor standing room areas.

The Chicago Dogs were set to play all their games at the home of the rival Milwaukee Milkmen, until the state of Illinois reached phase four of the reopening.

The league spent about two months working on their plan for how to play, safely, and with fans. Six of the 12 teams in the American Association have been approved to play in their ballparks in front of fans.

“The players, they’re probably the biggest winners,” Hunter continued. “They didn’t think there was going to be a season number one, so (now) they get to fulfill their dream.”

“These are artists really, if you think about it.”

“Whether they’re baseball, football or basketball, they’re athletes that like to perform in front of fans, so it’s been a good start for them.”

How the Chicago Dogs, and the other minor league clubs currently playing in front of fans, are making it work gives us a glimpse into what the near term future of sports will look like, at least until we find a coronavirus cure or vaccine.

And the model is of course built upon Taiwan’s CPBL, the world’s first pro baseball league to begin its regular season in 2020.

Everyone loved the stories about Taiwan playing in front of only robot fans (some playing musical instruments), but the logistics of how they made it work, and then provided a blueprint for others to follow, is the real story.

Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later when it comes to baseball being back to normal, instead of this so-called “new normal,” but at the end of the day, it’s still pro baseball, which yes, you can attend live and in person. The grass smells the same, the crack of the bat sounds familiar, and there are still hot dogs and beer available for consumption.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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