There are 11 players who are returning for a second season with the Chicago Dogs baseball team, but a newcomer is stealing all the attention.
“I actually made the joke, ‘I don’t get why you’re getting all the attention. I’m the local legend around here,’” pitcher Rich Mascheri said.
That newcomer generating all the buzz is former Major League pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who at the age of 37 is trying to make a comeback into the big leagues.
The long-time Cubs hurler will serve as a set-up man and occasional designated hitter for the Dogs, who open their season on Friday, and he said that the inspiration for his comeback came from an unlikely source.
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“Five different pastors from all over the world came to me, and they don’t know each other, and they told me that God wants me to go back to baseball,” Zambrano said.
Dogs Manager Butch Hobson has said he will use Zambrano in a variety of roles with the team.
“He has talked to God, and God wants him to pitch,” Hobson said. “I’m not going to argue with that at all.”
Zambrano has already become a big attraction as the season nears. He went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored for the Dogs as he was the designated hitter in Wednesday’s exhibition finale, and tickets to the team’s home opener at Impact Field in Rosemont have sold out.
“I know we are in independent ball, but people still love the Cubs,” Zambrano said. “The people that come here love the Cubs and each player that played for the Cubs.”
The Friendly Confines seems like it’s much farther away than the 13 miles that separate Impact Field and Wrigley Field, but Zambrano invoked a current Cub who he’s looking to emulate as he attempts a remarkable comeback to the big leagues.
“When I used to throw hard, I used to challenge hitters. Now I have to be more careful than Kyle Hendricks,” he said. “My pitches are there. I’ve got a good split, a good slider, and my ball is moving a lot. So I’m ready.”
Zambrano is already making an impact both in the community, as he’s donating his Dogs salary to charity, and on his teammates, for whom he has bought meals and participated in various bonding activities.
“Our status quo is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some chips, so for him to buy us a hot meal before and after games has been awesome,” teammate Treyson Vavra said.
Although tickets for the team’s home opener against the Gary Southshore Railcats are sold out, tickets remain for Saturday and Sunday’s contests at the ballpark.