Throughout the offseason, Chicago Dogs broadcaster Sam Brief will catch up with members of the 2019 Dogs to revisit memorable moments, check on what they’re up to during the offseason and talk baseball.
First up is the 2019 American Association Most Valuable Player: Keon Barnum, a Florida-born first baseman who broke the league’s single-season home run record with a blast on September 1.
Trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning, against the eventual league-champion St. Paul Saints, Barnum stepped to the dish to face lefthander Jordan Jess. After tying the record two weeks earlier, the slugger had gone 12 games without a long ball, the longest such stretch of his Dogs career. With the count 1-1, he exploded on a hanging breaking ball to immortalize his name:
— Chicago Dogs (@TheChicagoDogs) September 2, 2019
The home run broke C.J. Ziegler’s mark of 30, which he set as a member of the Wichita Wingnuts in 2013.
In addition to pacing the league with 31 home runs, Barnum led the way in slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits and total bases. His .311 batting average also powered the Dogs. He was named league MVP on September 3.
Sam Brief: How did it feel to hit the record-breaking home run?
Keon Barnum: It was a relief, man. It took a couple of weeks to get. I wasn’t trying to think about it, but people kept coming at me and telling me, “Today is the day.” I was just trying to relax and get a good pitch. It was a huge accomplishment, and it’s exciting for the fans, for my family and for everyone.
SB: You mentioned that it took a couple weeks to hit it. Beforehand, you went more games without a home run than you had at any point all season. Teams pitched around you and away from you. How frustrating was all that?
KB: It was tough, because that’s what I like to do: hit. So when you don’t get pitched to a lot, it gets frustrating. But I just try to find ways to be patient, calm and relaxed. Each game, I try to take it day-by-day.
SB: When you were rounding the bases, you still had a mean mug on face, no smile. But when you got in the dugout and your teammates were congratulating you, we saw those pearly whites. How was it getting embraced by the guys?
KB: Well, that’s just me. I don’t show too much emotion, but I need to start. It was a really cool moment for me. And to have my teammates congratulating me like that, it was really great of them to do that. I enjoyed it.
SB: Off the bat, what was your first thought?
KB: I really can’t explain it. When I hit it, I was like, “Oh wow, it’s about time. It’s about to be the 31st home run to break the record.” I didn’t really know what to think in that moment. I was really just trying to embrace it and take it in as much as I could.
SB: Coming into your first season with the Dogs, what were a few goals you set for yourself?
KB: A couple of my teammates and I talk about this all the time, just trying to set goals. I just try to set day-by-day goals, coming to the field and preparing each day, working on my craft and working on what I need to do. I look at how pitchers are pitching to me.
I also have simple goals, like breathing. I make sure I’m breathing at the plate and staying relaxed and calm.
SB: You had all these goals, big and small. How do you feel this year went for you?
KB: This is the best season I’ve had in my career. It’s huge. I just want to continue to work hard and build off of it, and see what happens from there.
SB: What’s next for you? Offseason plans?
KB: I wanted to play winter ball, but I haven’t gotten any calls yet. I’m just waiting. I’m going to keep working hard, keep playing and trying to get better.
SB: Keon, it’s been a joy to watch you this year. Congratulations on etching your name in the record books.
KB: Thank you. I appreciate that.