HAMMOND | Frank Krutz and Marty Vagenas had taken their seats in the bleachers behind home plate Friday night more than an hour before the championship game of the Cal Ripken Major World Series at the Hammond Optimist Youth Sports Complex.
Krutz, of Merrillville, and Vagenas, of Crown Point, came out early for every game of the tournament that involved the Crown Point Bulldogs, who beat the Kingsbridge Knights on Friday in the deciding game.
The Knights, from New York, were among the eight teams from throughout the country that came to play in the tournament along with Crown Point and the Hammond Optimist squad, which lost to Crown Point in the semifinals.
"We didn't think we'd be here," Krutz said. "It's hard to predict when you never see the other teams play prior to the game."
Krutz and Vagenas had good reason to sit behind home plate, since their grandson Sam Krutz is the catcher for the Crown Point team.
"I can say, 'Sam, it's over here, the ball's over here,'" Vagenas said.
The grandmothers were not the only ones to arrive early for game, as the stands were almost full about a half-hour before game time, with Crown Point red the predominant color.
While fans wandered about the complex grounds and nibbled on corn on the cob or perused the souvenir tent, the Crown Point team took batting practice under the watchful eye of their head coach, Bob Bauner.
His team of 12- and 13-year-olds had compiled a 5-1 mark in the tournament to reach the finals.
"It's come down to New York and us now," Bauner said. "We're gonna give it our best shot. If we play like we're capable of, we can play with anybody."
Bulldog pitcher/outfielder Nick Geisen called the experience "amazing" and said he was trying to remain relaxed.
"We've been together for five years and we know each other really well and we work as a team," Geisen said.
On the visitor's side, Carlos Diaz came from New York to watch his son play for the Knights.
He spoke of what an awesome experience the trip was for the boys and how they were able to attend a Cubs game and see their home-state Yankees play the White Sox.
Diaz remarked on Hammond's hospitality and said his group was made to feel at home.
"One thing I can say, the local people were very pleasant to all of us," he said. "It's been a very good experience so far."
Although Bill Wilson, of Gary, fit right in with the crowd wearing bright red, he said he and his wife, Kathy, came purely as baseball fans with no particular rooting interest.
Wilson said they've attended tournament games all week and that's it's been on the couple's "bucket list" for a long time to attend the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
"This is in our backyard," he said. "We are taking advantage. It's been wonderful."