I'm such a fan of the game of baseball. I grew up loving the game thanks to my dad. From the time my boys were born I couldn't wait to sign them up for little league. I spent many hours at fields watching t-ball games and then peewees and then little league. I'm a huge die-hard Cubs fan, just like my dad. And I enjoy visiting other Major League ballparks to see a game. I also love going to see minor league and independent league baseball games.
I recently learned about the newest team in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, the Chicago Dogs, when I attended the Travel and Adventure Show in January. The team began last year and they play in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont in the state-of-the-art Impact Field. Minor League and Independent League games are always a lot of fun. The stadiums are smaller than MLB stadiums, but still full of excitement for a smaller price tag.
And when I heard the awesome news that they signed Carlos "Big Z" Zambrano, I knew I'd have to get a game on my summer itinerary. Big Z is one of my favorite Cubs of all time. I liked his passion and thought he was a lot of fun to watch. He was also an outstanding player whose career highlights include being the National League leader in 2006, a three-time Silver Slugger and three-time All Star, being the starting pitcher in game one of the NLCS in 2003, starting pitcher in game one of the 2007 NLDS and pitching a no-hitter in 2008.
I have three fun memories of his time as a Cub. One was after a game and at the time, you could line up along the player's parking lot and sometimes get autographs. So my son and I would always head out to that area after the games and he'd try to get baseball cards or balls or his ball cap signed by different players. We were surprised to be standing on the sidewalk outside the parking lot and here comes Big Z walking down the sidewalk to his car that he had parked outside of the lot next to a garage. Fans swarmed him asking for autographs, but he was carrying his little girl and said, "Sorry, my hands are full" or something close to that.
My sister is a season ticket holder so we had an opportunity one year to attend a special day for season tickets holders where they would get to see some of the parts of the ballpark that the general public normally wouldn't get to visit like the dugout, locker rooms, batting cages, press box. As we made our way through the locker room most of the lockers were pretty bare with just uniforms in them. One locker had pictures of kids taped up at the top. It was Big Z's locker.
The other memory of Big Z was the last game of the season in 2009. My oldest son, who is a huge die-hard fan just like his grandpa, had won a contest run by Walgreen's to be celebrity bat kid. My son got to enter the park early and sit in the dugout before and during batting practice. When we first arrived there was no one there. The place was pretty much empty. Some of the employees were starting to stream in and there weren't any players on the field yet. My son and the other girl who'd won the contest were led down to the dugout and we had to stay in the stands. All of a sudden I look down into the dugout and standing next to my son is Zambrano. He was friendly to the kids and later on my son admitted he was trying to eavesdrop on Zambrano's cell phone conversation, but he couldn't understand any of it because he was speaking Spanish. It was an incredible experience for him to be able to hang out in the dugout and actually talk to some of the players and get a few autographs. It was unfortunately the days before smart phones were common and I think he had an old cell phone with a querty keypad or maybe a flip phone, but nothing good for taking pics and now that I think about it they probably weren't allowed to take photos anyway. But it is for sure a day neither my son or I will ever forget.
So anyway, Big Z has always been one of my favorites and I'm so happy to see him returning to the game. I remember how exciting it was to see his no-hitter (on TV anyway - I wasn't lucky enough to be there for that game). This year you'll have the opportunity to see the three-time All-Star on the mound again. It's opening weekend and the start of an exciting season. The first series is against another Chicago-area team, the Gary RailCats. Click here to get your tickets.
Thursday, May 16, 2019
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