Cleburne Railroaders Spike

Cleburne Railroaders mascot Spike energizes the crowd on opening day at The Depot. The stadium faces Impact Field, home of the Chicago Dogs, in the finals of Ballpark Digest’s annual Best of the Ballparks competition. Voting is open until Monday.

This week’s ongoing David and Goliath Battle Royale pitting Cleburne against Chicago caught Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain in rare form confident that Cleburne has the Hog butcher for the world shaking in its boots.

“We’re going to make certain the Windy City never forgets Cleburne,” Cain boasted.

Ballpark Digest’s annual fan voted upon independent baseball Best of the Ballparks competition is down to the stretch into the final turn with either The Depot, home of the Cleburne Railroaders, or Impact Field, home of the Chicago Dogs, poised to realize the thrill of victory. Having defeated all comers and sailed through the Final Four round the two are the last ballparks standing in this year’s battle for first.

Ballparks competing ranged from historic — the Evansville Otters’ stadium opened in 1915 — to recent, Cleburne’s The Depot having debuted in 2017. That year proved a charm for The Depot, which won Ballpark’s ballpark of the year it’s first year out. Cain and others said they hope history repeats itself this year.

Voting runs through Monday at Voters may vote multiple times but only once per day on each of their devices.

Far from done in urging Cleburne residents to vote early and vote often, Cain doubled down Henny Youngman style.

“Chicago may need to get another billy goat after we beat them,” Cain said referencing Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis’ supposed 71 year curse on the Chicago Cubs.

Cain carried on carrying on.

“If Mrs. O’Leary was still alive her cow might just burn Chicago down again after we win,” Cain said. “We’re going to show the world Cleburne’s a small town with a big heart and Chicago’s going to learn not to mess with Texas.”

Such ribbing and competition is all in fun, Cain said.

“Hey, I’ve got friends up in that area and love Chicago,” Cain said. “Doesn’t mean I’m not still pulling for Cleburne to win but whatever happens it’s really exciting for us to be back in the finals in our third year. And it’s fun to be up against an opponent who obviously has a much larger base of residents to draw from. But who knows? We’ve beaten everyone else including some of the other larger cities like St. Paul. 

“So while it would be great to win again, the truly exciting thing is that this gives us another chance to showcase our team and ballpark and show everyone what a great, tight knit community we have in Cleburne.”

The other cause for excitement is the Railroaders’ current first-place standing in the American Associations South Division, tied with the St. Paul Saints who sit atop the North Division.

Things should get exciting, Cain said, on July 24 when the Railroaders travel to St. Paul for a three-game stretch.

“That’s what’s exciting about being in the finals for ballpark of the year is that we’re also No. 1 at the same time,” Cain said. “That’s despite injuries and obstacles they’ve had to overcome after losing four or five starting infielders to injury after the first three games. But they’ve bounced back and we’re all excited about a late August pennant race and the chance for Cleburne to be in the mix to win its first baseball championship in more than a century.”

Equally thrilling, Railroaders President John Junker said, is the Chicago Dogs are in town today and Thursday, which should generate some good-natured heckling between the two over the ballpark of the year competition.

“It’s an exciting time to be a Cleburne Railroader fan,” Junker said. “Being in first place and in the finals of the ballpark contest is exciting enough but what’s also great is that our ballpark is getting some national notice and deservedly so. The Depot is a park we can all be proud of. But definitely in these last days of the contest we need everyone in Cleburne to go online and vote for The Depot.”

Done and done, Cleburne resident and Railroaders fan Gary Wylie said.

“I already voted this morning buddy,” Wylie said. “You can vote on any device that accesses the internet so my iPhone, my iPad and my desktop, I vote three times a day. All Railroaders fans need to get online and get ‘er done. We need to sweep this series from Chicago then take the ballpark award from them.

Firsts loom large in Railroader history. The Railroaders won the championship in 1906, the year they were founded. The owner of that team relocated to Houston the following year where, after several name changes, the Railroaders eventually became the Houston Astros. Another team flying under the Cleburne Railroaders name set up shop in 1911 and once again won the championship. After that the team went silent until returning in 2017.

“I think we can make history again if we win best ballpark,” Wylie said. “This is only our third year back and this would make two out of three if we win again. From the research I’ve been able to do I don’t think anyone else has done that.”

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