RailCats draw fans from wide field

2013-08-10T17:45:00Z 2014-03-10T16:18:44Z RailCats draw fans from wide fieldBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Daniel Baker is a RailCats fan tried-and-true and proud to say "Gary born and raised."

Sitting along the third-base line at U.S. Steel Yard stadium with his son watching his favorite team face off against the Sioux City Explorers last month, Baker said it's not only the action on the field he comes for 10 to 15 times a season.

"This is probably the greatest family atmosphere you can find in this region," Baker said. "In fact, this is maybe the only place in Gary where everyone comes from around the entire region, on a region-wide basis, to enjoy something together."

A survey commissioned five yeas ago by the RailCats shows Baker was on the money with his comments.

A breakdown of where RailCats fans come from showed that Valparaiso, 27 miles away in neighboring Porter County, sends more fans to games than any other community. In fact, about 25 percent of people in the seats on game night hail from Porter County, despite the distance and its much smaller population as compared to Lake County, where Gary is located.

How safe people from places like Valparaiso would feel coming to the stadium in Gary's downtown was a key question when the RailCats began to play there 10 years ago. At the time, Gary was still regularly making the list of America's murder capitals.

Debbie Jamison and Jane Wilkins, of Crown Point, were at the Sioux City game with their husbands last month and admitted there might have been some trepidation the first time they came to the Steel Yard.

"I think maybe, a little bit," Wilkins said. "But once we got here, we could see it's a safe area. And we hope it would help the city of Gary, because Gary was once such an awesome place and maybe it can be again."

Trail Creek T-ball coach Mike Bruemmer had come to the game with 52 people in tow, most of them active youngsters from the T-ball team and a Michigan City 10-and-under team sporting team shirts and caps. He said he comes to games a few times a year

"We've never felt threatened or unsafe here ever," he said.

While it's possible Gary's reputation might still be factor in keeping people away, prices for RailCats tickets and concessions are a definite draw.

RailCat ticket prices of $10 for box seats compare to $44 to $83 for box seats at the MLB White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field. RailCat ticket prices of $9 for reserve seats compare to a range of $20 to $28 to get you anywhere close to the action at U.S. Cellular.

Perhaps not as easy to understand is the difference in concession prices between the two. For example, the cheapest beer at a RailCats game goes for $4.75 while the cheapest at the Cell goes for $6.50.

"It's just great for families said Kim Quiroz, of Highland, who was at the Sioux City Explorers game with her husband and 3-year-old son. "That's probably the key thing. It's affordable. You can enjoy the game and not be broke for the next month."

Some people think the RailCats could do a better job of spreading word about the team even further afield.

Bruemmer said he has heard some radio advertising about the team in the Michigan City area but not much else.

"It's a great time here at the Steel Yard, and the kids have a great time," Bruemmer said watching his players bounce up and down in their front row seats just behind third base.

So does his young charges pick up valuable fielding and hitting tips sitting so close?

"I wouldn't go that far," he said. "They're young. They just like to have fun with their friends. They love the mascot, they love trying to catch balls and all the other stuff."

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