photo: PAUL R. GIERHART / MILB.COM
The Sox can’t hit and the Cubs never do. But fear not, local baseball fans. There are plenty of other venues where Chicagoans can watch the national pastime played well, and for pennies on the MLB dollar.
Here are five of the best options in and around the city:
The Jackie Robinson West Little League
One of the most competitive Little League programs in the city—in 2011, the league's ten-year-old team won the Illinois state title—plays at plays at Jackie Robinson Park (107th and Morgan). Almost 400 kids, on 24 teams, are signed up to play this spring.
In my profile of Simeon baseball coach Leroy Franklin, running this week in the Chicago Reader, I touch briefly on Jackie Robinson West, the finest incubator of talent south of Madison Street. Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett is an alum—who knows what future stars are on the field this season?
Opening Day is this coming Saturday, and you can find the season schedule on the league’s website.
The Chicago Catholic League
The Chicago Catholic League is the 14-team conference of Chicago's top all-male Catholic high schools. They can play, too.
Three local schools rank among the top five of Sean Duncan’s Sun-Times’ prep baseball rankings: Blue division rivals St. Rita of Cascia High School, St. Laurence High School out in Burbank, and Mount Carmel High School, just south of U of C. Elsewhere in the league, Providence and Brother Rice are never easy to beat.
The remaining regular season schedule is here. A good one to consider: On Saturday, May 11, the Mount Carmel Caravan
travels to play the hosts the St. Rita Mustangs at Haggerty Field on Mount Carmel's campus (just south of University of Chicago). The game could very well decide who wins the conference title.
The Kane County Cougars
This Single A club is now a Cubs affiliate, and you can watch the next generation of lovable losers for $12—or $8 if you don’t mind sitting in the lawn. Check the schedule of upcoming games, at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in suburban Geneva, right here. Next homestand starts May 1.
Personal note: I've always had a soft spot for the Cougars. In a game I once attended as a camp counselor in 2002, the pitcher Dontrelle Willis absolutely dominated, which he did just about every time he walked onto the mound that season.
The Chicago Gems
Baseball isn't just for the boys of summer. For 11 years now, the women's hardball program the Chicago Gems has been "opening the national pastime to the other half of the nation."
The program has two teams that compete against each other regularly in Chicago, and a third that travels to women’s hardball tournaments in different cities. A lot of the home games take place on the North Side at Winnemac Park (5026 N. Damen), and the ladies also caravan up to Rockford several times this spring. On May 18, the Gems challenge the Rockford Spitfires at Beyer Stadium, one-time home of the Rockford Peaches, of A League of Their Own fame.
The No Glove National Tournament
Let's not forget about the softball action around the city. A few decades ago, when hundreds of thousands of locals still played 16-inch softball each summer, Clarendon Park on the North Side and Kelly Park on the South Side were the places to be.
These days, your best bet is to take the Blue Line out to suburban Forest Park. Make the trip in July, when you can peruse the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame and watch the No Glove National Tournament, one of the sport’s most prestigious events.