HAMMOND | There was ancestral dirt. There were rites of passage.
No. This wasn't a tribal initiation ceremony ... but maybe in a way it was.
"All these boys did a heck of a job making it down here," said longtime Hammond Optimist Youth Sports volunteer Deanna Breclaw, who is the administrative director of the Cal Ripken Major/60 World Series starting today at the HOYS Complex.
"But this is when they officially become World Series players," she said.
With some teams still arriving by air travel, Cal Ripken administrators conducted team by team orientations Wednesday at the Courtyard by Marriott in Hammond, one of the three hotels including the Fairfield Inn and Residence Inn where the out-of-region teams and their families are staying.
The power-point session was conducted by tournament director George Lally and task force officer Mike Janicki, both East Coast residents.
With the affability and enthusiasm of a well-liked teacher always capturing the attention of his students, Janicki went through each letter of "WORLD SERIES" to emphasize what was expected from the players and their coaches.
When Janicki got to "L" which stood for "Leadership", he quizzed members of the Kingsbridge Knights from the Bronx, N.Y. of the proper reaction to a particular scenario.
"Let's say you're in the on-deck circle, and your teammate is batting with the bases loaded, two outs, full count and the tying run is on third base," Janicki said. "But he swings at a pitch over his head. Strike three. Game over. He comes walking past you with his head down. What are you going to say to him?"
Knights outfield Victor De La Cruz raised his hand.
"You say, 'Keep your head up. You did the best you could,'" Victor said.
"Now, that's leadership," said Janicki, who has been involved in Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken baseball for 30 years.
"I'm excited because great things are going to happen here," Janicki said. "These kids are going to learn something that's going to affect the rest of their lives."
After the orientation, players and coaches received their World Series badges, which gives them access to the complex, and World Series pins, making them official WS participants.
For Kingsbridge, this is their third WS appearance in five years and second straight.
"But it's my first one, and the first one for all but one of our players," Kingsbridge manager Allen Dillon said. "It's a great accomplishment just getting here."
Janicki advised the players the days leading to the series would be a whirlwind of activity, which included an ice breaker social at Plaza Lanes.
"Don't expect to be bowling with just your teammates," Janicki said.
A Banquet of Champions event Thursday night at the Jean Shepherd Center featured former major leaguer and Morton grad Darrel Chaney as the keynote speaker.
Chaney used to play baseball in the Hessville Little League.
Not only is the Courtyard by Marriott serving as the World Series headquarters, it's also where treasured earth is stored.
"Before every game, the umpires will 'mud rub' the baseballs," Breclaw said of the common Major League Baseball procedure that rubs the shininess and slickness off new balls.
"For the mud, we've taken dirt from where the Hammond Optimist club originated (about where the hotels are standing), from where old Woodmar Baseball fields were off 169th Street, and from where they're building the new Crown Point sports complex in honor of Crown Point making it to the World Series."