Credit: Tracy J. Lee

The best professional baseball games I’ve experienced in recent years have all taken place at an unusually tidy ballpark wedged between I-294 and the Metra rail up in Rosemont. But “professional” isn’t the first word I’d use to describe the Chicago Dogs, who entered Chicago’s constellation of sports teams last year. They’re one of 12 teams in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, whose name feels like it’s trying to convince the public that, yes, it’s a real thing, even if it bears no affiliation to Major League Baseball. AAIPB teams do sometimes pick up former major and minor league players, though that’s never been a draw for me, even if the Dogs spent some of their advertising budget letting people know they signed former Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano this past season. (For the team’s 2019 program, each player’s bio listed their favorite hot dog and a fun fact, and Zambrano’s says he once pitched a no-hitter for the Cubs; I noted that during a game where he gave up five runs in an inning.)

Still, I’ve found it impossible to shake the feeling that I could attend the Dogs’ open tryouts and get called up to warm the bench if the whole team suddenly became stricken with food poisoning. This is part of their charm; it feels like anything can happen at a Dogs game. I’ve seen the Dogs commit more errors than in most MLB games I’ve witnessed, but also a lot more home runs and squeaky plays that left me on the edge of my seat too. Their wins and losses don’t invade my life or time line like with Cubs and Sox, which makes the enterprise of watching a game more fun. I’m not compelled to worry about every play; instead, I can easily find joy in watching people so dedicated to this game they’ll play for a team that exists on the margins of the pros and the city it claims as its hometown. Also, their mascot is an anthropomorphic bottle of mustard that parades around the stadium with a ketchup bottle sporting a trench coat like it’s Ed Burke. This, too, I find joy in.