Indy Ball is Actually What Brought Baseball Back in 2020
Image courtesy of Chelsea LaddHere in Twins Territory, the independent baseball league should be recognizable immediately due to the success of the St. Paul Saints. CHS Field is a gorgeous park nestled next to the highway 94 and highway 52 split, home to the 2019 Champions. It's currently being used as the satellite location for the Minnesota Twins.
Much like the NBA plans to do, the American Association created a bubble model to go forth with their season using regional hubs. Playing as the defending champs, St. Paul will look to defend their title with all games in 2020 being played in Sioux Falls, SD.
In an effort to dive more into the American Association, the St. Paul Saints, and the path paving the league is going in 2020, I connected with a journalist synonymous to Indy Ball. Chelsea Ladd, founder of Dugout Dish and contributor to both Pitcher List and Prospects Live, is among the best resources in the nation when it comes to baseball off the beaten map.
It was a fun conversation, and here’s what she had to share:
Twins Daily: First off, let's get to know you. What's Chelsea Ladd's story with baseball, and how did covering Indy Ball become your sweet spot?
Chelsea Ladd: I grew up around baseball. I was actually born during an Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos game. My mother was in labor and my father, who is a die-hard Braves fan kept hoping they would get through one more inning before I arrived. He jokes that he won twice that night — he became a girl dad and his Braves won. I played softball from fourth grade until my senior year of high school. I’m left-handed and despite wanting to be the female Mike Piazza, I started pitching in sixth grade. I grew up a Mets fan even though I grew up two hours away from Busch Stadium. Back when I was younger, ESPN didn’t have much softball coverage, so I leaned on baseball. At the age of 10, I made a promise to myself that I would be on Baseball Tonight when I grew up. I lost that promise along the way but last year I found it again. I went through skin cancer at 19 and my softball career was completely over at that point; then a divorce in 2018 and the death of my dog in March of 2019. After the death of my dog, my anxiety was at a very high point. He passed-away traumatically in my family’s home and my love for baseball and writing was a grieving technique.
The first professional baseball game that my parents took to me to was an Evansville Otters game — a team within the Independent Frontier League. I have always had a love for independent baseball. The grind that these men go through to play the game they love is incredible. The talent within each league is remarkable and my end all goal with covering indy ball is to get these guys noticed — to give them the kind of recognition they truly deserve.
TD: You created your main platform Dugout Dish roughly one year ago. What spawned the site, and what do you see as the next evolution in coverage from here?
CL: Dugout Dish is officially a year old as of July 11 and I could not be prouder. As mentioned before, I used writing and baseball as a way to grieve the loss of my family dog. I wanted to be able to promote the game and share my love. My dream as a young girl was to be able to be in the baseball industry and I finally took the leap to getting that dream back.
As far as coverage, I’ll be branching into more independent baseball and MiLB coverage in the future. With Indy and MLB returning, expect a lot of this type of content on the site. I’m credentialed with indy teams and a minor league team.
TD: The NBA is returning through a centralized bubble model, but they aren't the only league. The American Association is using regional hubs as well. How has that worked and how has it made the game different?
CL: So far, the regional hubs for the American Association have worked very well. There was a brief moment when the Milwaukee Milkmen had to postpone a game due to two players testing positive. The team has since been tested and everyone has since been negative.
It has not made the game much different from what I have seen. Of course, rules are in place to keep everyone safe during this uncertain time but in the first few weeks back, everything is going smoothly. I spoke with Commissioner Schaub earlier in the month and the main goal and motto for this season is, “For the Love of the Game.”
TD: With a physical presence in Missouri and Kentucky, what can you tell us about covering the St. Paul Saints from afar. What are some of the highlights from AA ball in general?
CL: While many baseball fans often do not know what independent baseball is, many know who the St. Paul Saints are. The entire organization is truly a blessing to the independent baseball community. Of course, there are rumblings of the Saints becoming an affiliate to the Twins — which would be incredible for the organization. Sadly, the men who play for the team would more than likely have to search for a new home if that were to happen. A few guys worth keeping tabs on: Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Alexander, Chris Chinea, Mikey Reynolds, and Matt Solter.
Across the league, teams are showing up and showing out. The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks recorded 13 strikeouts against the Chicago Dogs. The Sioux Falls Canaries are leading the standings, as of the weekend, they were leading with five game winning streak. Right now, it is the perfect time for someone to become a fan of the American Association. What Joshua Schaub and his league are doing is truly inspiring for many. You can purchase a subscription to watch the games, an indy ball version of MLB.tv without blackouts.
Other leagues are doing the same — despite the Frontier League cancelling the season, the GM of the Washington Wild Things has formed a four-team league that includes the Black Sox Professional Baseball team. Each game is streamed for fans to view.
TD: As Major League Baseball prepares for a return, how does that shift your coverage, and what expansions into big league and prospect narratives are you excited about?
CL: I’m ultimately excited about Dylan Carlson under the lights at Busch Stadium. The opportunity to see younger guys who might have had to wait to play if we were having a normal 162-game season.
My coverage on Dugout will not shift much thankfully because I currently cover all levels of professional baseball. But it’ll be nice to have fresh information on MLB teams for Dugout’s content.
TD: How has dealing with a global pandemic challenged your baseball coverage, and what has it forced you to change. Keeping a job within the industry during this time is no doubt difficult. What has helped you to stay creative?
CL: I went from three jobs in February to one in March due to COVID-19. I freelanced for my town’s newspaper, worked and wrote for a local radio station, and as tech at an eye surgeon’s office. As of right now, I’m only working at the radio station, but I have been blessed with the opportunity.
I went from having my entire summer planned where I would be spending my time between Marion, Illinois, Washington, Pennsylvania, Evansville, Indiana, Springfield, Missouri and St. Louis, Missouri to spending my summer in Kentucky and virtually covering games for the teams still playing this summer.
I’ve added multiple series to my website to stay fresh and have at least one post weekly. I have In the Press Box, In the Dugout, Swinging into History and Women Who Inspire. I have also kept my podcast going with new episodes — I have had guest appearances by Jessica Kleinschmidt and a few friends within the baseball community.
TD: As you've grown your platform to now include bylines at Pitcher List and Prospects Live, what are some of your future goals? What's next for you and Dugout Dish?
CL: My goal has always been to eventually write for Major League Baseball. It has been a dream of mine since childhood and I can only hope that one day, it comes true. As I’ve dove into the baseball industry more, I realized a lot of my heart belongs to Minor League Baseball and Independent Baseball. Any way that I can promote the game and help the guys who might not get recognition, actually get recognition, that’s something I cherish. That’s one of my ultimate goals at the end of the day. Indy ball and Minor League ball deserve so much and if I can be a part of that, I’ve done my job.
TD: Let's wrap with this, assuming baseball does return in its full (but modified) capacity, what are you most looking forward to this season. Is there a particular narrative or story you're anticipating playing out?
CL: I would love to see the season run as smooth as it possibly can despite the odds against it. As far as a narrative or story, I am excited to see how small market teams and teams that are often quickly out of the running for October baseball do with a 60-game schedule.
Follow Chelsea and check out her work here.
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