Over the lush history of Northern League baseball, how many expansion teams have won the league title — and stayed in first place the entire season? Without knowing the true answer, you can reasonably surmise it’s a rare occurrence.
Well, if there ever was a new team that had a chance to win it all, it’s the Lake County Corn Dogs. A pretty good chance – as of the league’s All-Star game July 12 in Whiting. They go into the break with a 24-8 record, 8-2 in their last 10 games, and up five games in the standings over the Southland Vikings. Ten of their players are on the All-Star team.
In management’s mission to rapidly grow the franchise and build a brand under a quirky-cool name like Corn Dogs, it certainly helps that they’re fielding a winner. A grass roots fan base, and always new faces at home games, is proving that Corn Dogs baseball is exactly the fun, affordable family-friendly entertainment offering it was intended to be. People across Lake County have heard about the Corn Dogs and hear that it’s something to check out. It’s pretty cool that people are out and about wearing the blue Corn Dogs caps, spreading the word around Lake County.
On their opening night at Legacy Fields in Crown Point, there were about 600 people in the ballpark — the result of a lot of hard advance work and planning by Majority Owner Ralph Flores, of Munster, and the Minority Owners, Jim Masters, of Griffith, and Schererville’s David Padilla, Samantha “Sam” Salzeider and Alex Teodosi.
Alex has been instrumental in bringing a number of important sponsorships to the organization, which has been nothing short of impressive. Sam has done great work with our interns conducting mid-inning activities and promotions, as well as handling merchandising and social media sponsorship duties. Dave is bringing in a big group from Bishop Noll High School on July 16, and he generously opened his home to catcher Carter Sakamoto for the season, as the Morehead State standout is far from his home in Beaverton, Oregon. Jim Masters, managing editor for a cybersecurity publication by day, manages corndogsbaseball.com and is writing this story. His son, Evan, helped build a flashy and functional website.
Yes, the ball club comes from near and far, but under their manager, former Major Leaguer Justin Huisman, and Coach Kyle Hallberg, the team has gelled quickly. Huisman wasn’t afraid of seeing where players fit. Still, no one expected this record against more well established teams like the NWI Oilmen. Yes, it’s a rivalry now. There’s been some good games against the Southland Vikings too.
The Corn Dogs have won games with awesome pitching — a true strength of the team. Other games have been a slug fest, and we have enjoyed the home runs. We’re getting regulars at the games, and it’s a joy to watch the Little Leaguers chase down foul balls and return them for a free popsicle at the concession stand.
Ralph, riding a career steeped in sports management and business ownership experience, believed the first-year team would be competitive on the field, thanks to the talent acquisition powers of one Bobby Morris. Pitching, hitting, defense, plus Huisman leading the team, the Corn Dogs have been spectacular in every phase of the game.
Winning can certainly build a fan base, but there’s more to the Corn Dogs’ package. You can’t miss Tom Byelick entertaining the crowd as public address announcer. As he says in his rich baritone… “Now batting for the Corn Dogs, Ro-man Kuuuuuntz,” or “here’s cardiac kid Cal Curiel!” He really gets the crowd into it, and plays some good music too.
There’s also the talented Andrew Mild, Butler University senior, calling the play-by-play on Facebook live and conducting insightful pre- and post-game interviews. In addition to a bright career ahead in sports broadcasting, Andrew shows great promise as a sportswriter, religiously writing post-game stories as featured articles on corndogsbaseball.com. Noel Fary joins Andrew in the booth, and they’ve formed a strong on-air chemistry. Josh Brunette has given us great video and sharp game action photos.
Let’s not forget the fine refreshments thanks to Off the Square Brewery, and tasty concession fare, corn dogs included, courtesy of Crown Point Babe Ruth. Nor, John Pearson, who gives the teams a beautiful field to play on and is in charge of a well-run show at Legacy Fields. Corn Dogs baseball is also a Flores family affair, as Ralph’s wife Tina is always there to sell Corn Dogs swag at the merch table, and his daughters and parents are there to help.
What else can you do at a Corn Dogs game beside eat, drink and watch a team of talented young men win? Well, play a game of cornhole if you like, toss the baseball with dad, meet up with friends, and watch all the fun and silliness on the field in between innings. The Corn Dogs organization has brought a complete baseball experience to Lake County with the aplomb of America’s best minor league baseball organizations.
Adding to the inspirational play on the field is that playing for the Corn Dogs this is strictly a summer pursuit, as the players will make their way back to their colleges in August where they are standout student athletes. It’s all over so fast — a brisk 55-game schedule and then back to school. This boys of summer brand of baseball is about skills development as much as competition.
It’s exciting to think that these players are all on their way up, developing their potential in hopes of being drafted by the majors and playing in the show some day. We’ll definitely have some candidates after this season! For each player, that dream is still alive — and we see it with their intensity and enthusiasm on the field. The players say the crowd cheering them on sure helps.
Of course, the Corn Dogs franchise would not be nearly as successful without the support of its sponsors/advertisers. The fact that University of Chicago Medicine is the team’s largest sponsor (read the news release from U of C announcing our partnership), shows that some of the region’s most prominent businesses and organizations desire association with the Corn Dogs. In fact, the Corn Dogs have brought in approximately 20 sponsorships for the 2022 season. More are surely on the way as the team grows in popularity each season.
“We’ve barely tapped into the potential of this sports entertainment product in this market and all that this team can be,” Ralph says. “We’re already looking forward to next season and what more we can offer fans at the ballpark.”
Ralph believes that the sustained success of the ball club is directly tied to its impact on the local community. Thus, the Corn Dogs’ ethos of “building community through baseball” will permeate everything that’s right about this organization, he says.
By mid-August, the Corn Dogs’ first season will be in the books — and perhaps the Northern League record book. With a successful season assured, both on and off the field, the 2023 campaign will offer the promise of more wins, more fans and more opportunities for families and friends to enjoy the sport of baseball and cheer on their new favorite team. Go Corn Dogs!