HAMMOND | The softball field at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 51 is down to its final out.
After a weekend farewell tournament, the city will reclaim land it once leased to the FOP that now is occupied by most of left field. A contractor will then begin work on a nearly $10 million athletics complex within Dowling Park that will give Purdue Calumet teams room to play.
But it will crowd out hundreds of city softball players who have spent summer afternoons and evenings pursuing the game for more than 30 years. The FOP said it stands to lose $10,000 a year in rental fees and concession revenues.
It's being scored an unnecessary force out, by Mike Darnell, FOP vice president.
"I think the city is just screwing with us," he said, noting this development coincides with troubled contact negotiations between city hall and the FOP.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. calls that a wild pitch.
"It had nothing to do with police negotiations. They wanted to limit Purdue women's access to the new softball field. We tried to give them a gift, a turf softball field and they were pretty unreasonable," McDermott said.
The field will either have to undergo a radical reconfiguration or be lost.
"It's been a great field and cheaper to play here than many others," said Dave Shindle, a member of the Kenwood Tap adult softball team. He has been running the bases there more than five years as have about 20 other teams.
"We've had players from as far away as Elkhart and Chicago comment on how nice it is. We were hoping to expand and have other unions play here."
McDermott said, "I understand the historical importance of the FOP softball field. My father used to play there, coaching a softball team. But we knew all along the Purdue Calumet athletic complex was going to be built at Dowling Park and include a men's baseball, a women's softball and soccer fields and tennis courts.
"We want Purdue Athletics to be top notch so 30 years from now Purdue Calumet is a powerhouse in athletics."
He added the new athletic complex will be available to the city at large when Purdue is on break.
The city approached the FOP earlier this year to acquire their facility.
"We needed every inch we could get," McDermott said."
Darnell said, "They were going to repave our parking lot and give us rights to the new field when Purdue wasn't using it."
Talks slumped over the question of how many nights the FOP could use the new field.
"We asked for three or four nights. They said that's too much. They got mad at us and said we were too hard to work with."
McDermott said, "The FOP said they weren't going to work with us. I said, in that case, we have to go forward and you will be missing your left field. They said that's fine. It costs us months to rebid everything and the FOP comes back and says we want to reopen this issue. I said we are not going backward."
Darnell said the FOP's only hope is to rotate the field to face north in the remaining space, but the cost of moving lights and fences could cost its members more than $30,000.