GARY | For Gary South Shore RailCats President and General Manager Kevin Spudic, this weekend's NCAA regional baseball tournament at U.S. Steel Yard is a boon for the stadium and a chance for him to cheer for his alma mater.
"I'm an alumnus of Valparaiso University, and I played baseball there," Spudic said.
Valparaiso University, Purdue University, Ohio's Kent State University and the University of Kentucky will compete in the tournament. The first game begins at 3 p.m. Friday.
"Anytime we have an event that encompasses people from outside the region, it's a winning situation for everyone," he said. "It's another great reach for the team and a chance to show we can put on a first–class event."
Spudic said Purdue's participation in the regional play focuses national attention on the event with the games being broadcast on the Big Ten TV network.
Athletic events are one of the many tools used to sell Northwest Indiana as a tourism destination and "help the cash register," said Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.
Teams, friends and families from outside Northwest Indiana began arriving Wednesday. The tournament will represent 400 hotel room nights from Wednesday through Saturday, Batistatos said.
"The total spent in the area will be between $80,000 and $100,000 in revenue," he said. That tally includes hotel, food and entertainment spent this weekend.
Having a professional baseball stadium available for games was one drawing card for attracting the NCAA regional baseball tournament to Northwest Indiana. Another was the efforts of the SSCVA, Batistatos said.
"Jason (Sands) in our office was instrumental in getting the tournament here. He secured the hotel rooms as part of the package," he said. Sands is director of sports development at the SSCVA.
In terms of tourism, amateur sporting events are "recession–proof," Batistatos said.
"While families have canceled vacations because of the economy, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters will travel to see family members play in sporting events," he said. "That's why we advocate that more cities and towns invest in facilities such as softball fields."
Gary Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chuck Hughes agreed that athletic competitions have a ripple effect on the economy of an area.
"Sports and sporting competitions are so crucial to economic development. So much of the global economy depends on athletics," Hughes said.
From a business perspective, events such as the NCAA regional baseball tournament at the U.S. Steel Yard means "developing a critical mass of people" visiting the area and patronizing local businesses, he said.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson spoke about the tournament during a Wednesday afternoon news conference about the city's Adopt-A-Park program.
"First impressions are lasting impressions," Freeman-Wilson told the crowd at the recently renovated Rees Park. "And we'll see that this weekend when the NCAA brings their baseball tournament to the city of Gary. We're excited that when they come to the entrances of this community they will see what we want them to see and that is a beautiful, well-kept, vibrant community."
The events also give business people and residents chances to "be more supportive," Hughes said. "This is a gateway for people to come discover us."
That's critical because it helps "demystify stereotypes about Gary," he said. "There is an opportunity to display hospitality that people might not think is available in Northwest Indiana or Gary."