Taste of Love Cafe manager Daphne Scull hopes baseball fans visiting Gary for this weekend's NCAA action find the downtown restaurant, even if it's closed.
"I think we close before the game starts, but it'll be nice," Scull said. "I think having people down here, they'll see the sign maybe. Who knows what will happen?"
The nearby U.S. Steel Yard, home of the Gary South Shore RailCats pro baseball team, will host the NCAA regional baseball tournament among Purdue, Valparaiso and Kent State universities and the University of Kentucky. The news came down Sunday and the first game starts at 3 p.m. Friday, giving the city less than a week to prepare for the crowds — and attention — the tournament will bring.
Although Taste of Love will be open only for the first game before closing for the weekend, Scull is not the only person hoping the regional brings the spotlight to Gary.
"We believe that now that we've used the stadium as a draw that we can highlight some of the local eating establishments like the Steel City Buffet and some of the other businesses in town," Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.
Gary Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chuck Hughes agreed it's a chance for Gary to shine.
"I think some of the myths, misnomers and misconceptions of Northwest Indiana and of Gary ... we have a chance to dispel some of these," Hughes said. "There is an opportunity to display hospitality that people might not think is available in Northwest Indiana or Gary."
People buying tickets to see the four-way face-off might not stay in town — the Majestic Star Casino & Hotel and an extended-stay economy motel are Gary's only places to stay.
Freeman-Wilson and Hughes hope gas stations, restaurants and attractions such as the lakefront and Michael Jackson's boyhood home will draw some business, even if baseball fans are staying in nearby Merrillville or Hammond.
"They may not stay at the casino, but I'm sure there will be many people who will patronize the casino," Freeman-Wilson said.
And maybe other places will be be impressed by the show Gary puts on.
"I think this is a steppingstone for sporting events and other events to be hosted in Northwest Indiana," Hughes said.
The regional tournament is coming to Gary because Purdue is renovating its fields in West Lafayette. The lights and other NCAA-required amenities aren't yet in place.
Although Purdue started meeting with the RailCats management more than a month ago, the university wasn't selected officially to host until Sunday. That gives General Manager Kevin Spudic and his staff less than a week to prepare for Friday's first game — no small feat considering the RailCats have home games until Wednesday.
Purdue sent some extra hands to help Steel Yard grounds crews spiff up the stadium.
"The one thing is we get to showcase our venue. We're proud of the U.S. Steel Yard here," Spudic said.
Spudic wasn't sure as of Tuesday afternoon how many people would attend. Ticket sales had opened at noon Tuesday, and college baseball doesn't have the same draw as college football or basketball.
Like Hughes, Spudic hopes this event is the first of many to come to Gary.
"I think it's kind of twofold — giving Gary a lift showing we can host events like this and also showcasing the RailCats," Spudic said.