For some on Bradley’s baseball team, Dozer Park is just a nice facility for a local minor league baseball team.
For others, it’s home.
“It was kind of a surreal experience, because I remember when I was 10 or 12 years old and going to my first Bradley baseball game,” Jackson Chatterton, freshman and Dunlap native, said. “I went with my glove, and I just remember trying to go up to the bullpen and ask for a ball whenever I could. Now being able to be one of those guys in the dugout is just a surreal experience.”
Chatterton is one of five players on the Braves baseball roster with local ties. For those five, putting on a Bradley uniform gives them a sense of pride in addition to fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“Honestly, Bradley was one of the only schools that looked at me at the Division I level,” Chatterton said. “I grew up going to all the Bradley games and Dozer Park all the time, so I knew it already felt like home before I even went on a visit here.”
Chatterton, who has earned starting second baseman duties for the Braves, knows what it’s like to play against some of his teammates. Outfielder Ryan Vogel played for Metamora Township High School, Mid-Illini Conference foes of Chatterton’s and pitcher Taylor Catton’s Dunlap Eagles. The two also encountered each other playing football for their schools.
“Me and Jackson are super similar players, so I think we were always thinking alike,” Vogel said. “We were always laying down bunts, playing small ball, and stealing bases. I don’t think either of us were very fun to play against. I feel like we were enemies on the field but once the game was over, we were back to being good friends.”
Catton has also embraced his former Mid-Illini foes and fellow Bradley freshmen even since his high school days.
“[Dunlap] and Morton were fierce rivals because we were top tier,” Catton said. “The year they won state, we were one of only three teams that had beat them. There was a big rivalry there between us and Metamora; between me and Ryan ourselves, though, not much.”
Catton was one of Vogel’s best friends in high school, and this bond was strengthened by Vogel’s father coaching the latter at Dunlap Valley Middle School. The relationships made from playing each other for years certainly had an influence on Vogel’s college decision.
“With Taylor Catton already being committed here, that was one of my best friends,” Vogel said. “I played summer ball with him and known him my entire life, so that was big.”
Vogel, Catton and Chatterton played in a summer ball for the Central Illinois Outlaws, along with Morton natives and current Braves Dan Bolt and Isaiah Gudeman.
Not only do the Braves sample local flavor on their roster, but they also contribute in large ways. The All-American Bolt is hailed by many as the best Brave to grace Dozer Park since current New York Yankee Mike Tauchman.
Coach Elvis Dominguez knows that his local players aren’t just here to ride the pine—each of the players fulfill a role on the squad, according to Dominguez.
Vogel and Chatterton have earned starting spots at center field and second base, respectively. Catton has also solidified a spot in the Braves bullpen as a freshman.
“It’s always great to recruit local talent and keep them here, that’s our number one priority, but it’s never easy,” Dominguez said. “You never know what these guys are thinking and you never know what direction they’re going, so we have to recruit them just as hard as if they weren’t local guys. Sometimes it’s harder because some of these kids have lived here all their lives, and they want to see something new.”
Recruiting locally has its disadvantages; many 17 year-olds want to get as far away from home as they can. However, it makes the job more convenient for Dominguez and his coaching staff to take an extended look at potential Braves. Vogel received his first exposure at a Braves high-school baseball camp. Scouts were able to follow Chatterton at every game from regionals to super-sectionals in the IHSA state tournament.
No better example exists than Catton, who finished playing a high school game at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and got a call from Bradley scouts to come to the campus for a visit at noon the same day. The standout pitcher didn’t second guess at all.
“I grew up a Duke Blue Devils fan, so I guess they were my dream shot, but I wouldn’t have changed my decision,” Catton said. “I love where I’m at and that I’m here. There were other schools that called me, but I hadn’t looked at them because Bradley jumped on it so quick. When I came in, I loved all the facilities and the coaching staff was amazing.”
While the Bradley baseball team feels like family to the players, it’s not the only family cheering some of the Braves on. A common theme among the local players is that if they love one thing; it’s seeing familiar faces in the stands.
“My whole family lives within 10 to 15 minutes of Bradley’s campus,” Chatterton said. “Just being able to have family close to watch is awesome.
“I love that my grandparents can see me play and also my family that lives around here along with past coaches and friends,” Vogel added. “The other part is I can go home for dinner any day of the week. It’s nice to have your mom cook you a meal.”
With a healthy amount of local talent, the key to a potential NCAA Tournament berth for the Bradley Braves may very well be home cooking indeed.