Logan Watkins (STAFF PHOTO/PAM DAVIS)
CHICAGO – The game may go into the record books as another home win for the Peoria Chiefs Wednesday night, but it’s where the game was played that holds the significance.
The Chiefs traveled 173 miles to play a home game against Kane County at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in the third annual "Road to Wrigley." It is the second time in three years that the Chiefs have played at their parent organization’s ballpark.
In 2008, rain suspended play after the eighth inning during a 6-6 tie against the Cougars and was completed in Peoria the following day.
This year, the rain held off just enough for the Chiefs to come away with a 5-2 victory.
Chiefs starter Robert Whitenack (7-6) pitched five solid innings, giving up four hits and two walks but allowing only one earned run.
For Whitenack, an eighth-round Cubs 2009 draft pick from SUNY Old Westbury in New York, it was just another day at the office at first.
“Once I got on the mound, I didn’t pay much attention to the environment,” Whitenack said. “It was a great experience. This is unexplainable. It’s a dream come true and I hope it wasn’t my last time pitching here. All the guys had a lot of fun. It’s also motivational. Every time when I’m feeling a little tired, I’ll remember this experience and where I could be. That should push me to do what I have to do to get there.”
It was centerfielder Jae-Hoon Ha who provided the difference in the game early when he cracked an 0-2 pitch into the left field bleachers for a three-run home run, giving the Chiefs a 4-1 lead in the fourth inning.
“When I came back into the dugout (my teammates) said, ‘Ha, you homered?’” the Korean prospect joked. “The pitching coach told me I was going to hit a homer today. When I came back to the dugout, he said, ‘Ha, I told you, you would homer today.’”
Chiefs DH D.J. Fitzgerald aided his team by going 2-for-4 at the plate, cementing the victory late with an RBI single in the eighth inning to give the Chiefs a 5-2 lead.
Jordan Latham pitched the ninth inning to pick up his 11th save.
“This was a great experience. I got to see Wrigley and play a game before maybe any of (my teammates) might get here,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s a lot of energy. We’re dragging a little bit, but I will remember my time here and what it was like.
“I’ll sleep better tonight knowing I had a good game, but I will remember everything from playing on this historic field and pretty much all of the history around here and the ivy. I will remember everything,” added Fitzgerald.
Second baseman Logan Watkins also added two hits for the Chiefs, stole a base, and scored in the eighth when Fitzgerald batted him in. Like his teammates, playing at Wrigley Field will serve as fuel for his fire to make it to the big leagues.
“It’s a sight to see. You see it on TV every day and it’s the same old thing it seems like, but when you get here, it’s right in front of you and it’s really a unique experience,” Watkins said. “It’s kind of a motivator. It shows you where you want to be someday.
“Halfway through the season, your body is getting tired and worn out and you come here and it makes you want to keep playing and keep working hard.”
Left fielder Greg Rohan understands the importance of playing at Wrigley Field, but he also was able to see the bigger picture this win meant for his team, which entered Wednesday just 3-8 in the second half of Midwest League play.
“Everybody was feeling it tonight. You’re not even thinking about it because the adrenaline is so high. It is definitely different than a regular game,” Rohan said. “We’ve been hurting real bad this second half, so getting this win against a great team, this could really get us going.”
With memories of Wrigley Field in the past, the Chiefs return to Peoria and now have a glimpse of what their future could be as they continue on their own personal Road to Wrigley.