HAMMOND | While Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has been focusing on getting the 15 boys on the Hammond Optimist Youth Baseball geared up for the Cal Ripken World Series, the city also has been clearing the way for the national youth baseball tournament.
McDermott said the city has lined up hundreds of people with hotels and rental cars in the past few weeks. The Hammond Optimist Baseball Complex has undergone major renovations. And with up to 2,500 people expected at opening night alone, the streets are being prepared for major traffic.
Columbia Avenue will be closed to general traffic between 175th Street and the Little Calumet River for one hour before the first game each day.
Two bridges on Columbia Avenue will be closed. The bridge over the Little Calumet River between Hammond and Munster will be closed for construction, and the the bridge going over the Borman Expressway will be closed for the event.
"We support the closing, for those parking at Riverside Park, going over Columbia Avenue is the only way for them to get across to the complex," said Doyle Godbolt, executive chairman of the local organizing committee.
Godbolt said the same area of Columbia Avenue was closed for the Ohio Valley Regional at Optimist Baseball Complex in 2009 and it helped with crowd safety.
Marriott hotels, The Courtyard and The Fairfield, are booked at capacity for the event, Godbolt said.
The event will help local tourism, said Bethany Randolph, South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority special events and services manager.
"This gives the locals something to see, and it brings families into the area and increases activity in local restaurants and businesses," Randolph said.
Police officers will be at the corner of River Drive and Calumet Avenue to direct traffic into Riverside Park, on Old Columbia Avenue, where there will be overflow parking.
Because the bridge over the Little Calumet River will be closed, the area also will be used for additional parking.
Godbolt said 2,000 to 2,500 people are expected at opening night Friday. About 3,000 people are expected during the week of games and events for the Cal Ripken World Series.
Godbolt advised those attending games to enter through Northcote Avenue to River Drive or Calumet Avenue.
Because of expected high volume of traffic Friday, Godbolt said there will most likely be bottleneck traffic between 4:30 and 6 p.m. at Calumet to Interstate 80/94.
In addition to Cal Ripken traffic Saturday, there will be an on-foot pilgrimage of about 1,000 people from Chicago to Harrison Park in Hammond. The group will be crossing Hohman Avenue and Ridge Road.
Godbolt said the pilgrimage shouldn't affect baseball traffic.
Hammond police have always been a big help, Godbolt said.
"I believe everything will run smoothly," Godbolt said. "We have done a lot of preparation planning for the hotel, the event, parking and traffic. This has taken more than a year to plan."
McDermott said the Cal Ripken World Series already has had an impact on Hammond.
"This is putting us on the map, in the baseball world, in tourism, it's a positive thing for the city," McDermott said.