HAMMOND | The first award of the Cal Ripken World Series went to the team from East Boise, Idaho, but it didn't have anything to do with baseball. It was for its singing, or something like that.
As teams and their fans gathered from the four corners of the country for the opening ceremonies Friday at Optimist Park, a local musical group performed to entertain the crowd. As they broke into the chorus of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," the East Boise boys provided such inspirational supporting vocals that the group's leader dubbed them the best singers.
"The whole team loves to sing and dance," one team member said.
To get to Hammond from Idaho, team members said they had to drive three hours to Salt Lake City to catch a flight to Dallas, where they waited another three hours for the plane to Chicago. The long trip didn't dim their enthusiasm as they proudly proclaimed the team nickname was the Idiots.
Enthusiasm came in abundance as the crowd gathered for music, food and souvenirs. Judy Hart came from Opp, Ala., to watch her grandson play with the Opp team. Asked where Opp is, Hart said, "It's about as far as you can go without being in Florida."
She said the long trip to Hammond was worth it because she hopes to get in a little sightseeing while the team is here. She wants to see what Lake Michigan attractions there are as well as visit the Amish Village.
"It's very rare I get this far from home," Hart said. "I want to make good memories to take back to Opp."
She said she was having a hard time adjusting to the "chilly" weather here, and another Opp fan said the team was used to playing in 100-degree weather.
Fran Gaudiano and his family drove all the way from Quincy, Mass., for the tournament, a total of 15 hours, while other team members flew. Fortunately, the directions were easy to follow.
"You just get on the toll road and don't turn until you get to Hammond," Gaudiano said.
The Quincy team won the Northeast Regional for the second time, but this was its first trip to the World Series.
"We got them right where we want them," he said of the other teams' chances of beating Quincy. "We've lulled them into a false sense of security."
Gaudiano complimented tournament officials for having a well run World Series, and said everyone has been great to the visitors. The Quincy group hopes to squeeze in a trip to Notre Dame during its visit here.
Although the tournament had teams from as far away as Hawaii, not everybody had to endure tough travel schedules. Among the 10 teams in the tournament, Hammond, as the host city, is represented by the Optimists, and Crown Point's Bulldogs are in by virtue of winning the Northern Indiana Regional competition.