GARY | With 50 regularly-scheduled baseball games on it every year, plus extraneous games and events, a good field can last five years before it needs to be replaced.
The surface at U.S. Steel Yard has gone unchanged since the stadium opened to a slew of high school games in 2003 before becoming the home of the RailCats.
The field has flooded on more than one occasion and after a heavy rain, the dugouts retain water.
In 2003, the scoreboard and other amenities inside were considered state of the art. The players' clubhouse is spacious and rivals that of elder major league parks, as do the luxury boxes. The stadium is being considered by Purdue to handle hosting duties should the Boilermakers be granted an NCAA Regional tournament, as the West Lafayette stadium is under construction.
As U.S. Steel Yard ages, repairs and updates are necessary, said general manager Kevin Spudic, in his second tenure with the RailCats.
Ten years ago, Spudic was behind the contract to name the stadium U.S. Steel Yard, and those naming rights expire at the end of the year.
"First and foremost of the things we'd like to get done is that the naming rights deal is up," Spudic said. "We want to try to continue that extension, and we were fortunate to have U.S. Steel as our first partner and we hope to continue that."
The initial deal was for 10 years for just less than $2.3 million, Spudic said, with $875,000 of that going to the Home Field Advantage Foundation for baseball and softball teams in Gary.
In addition to renegotiating the rights to keep the U.S. Steel name on the stadium, the RailCats are working with the City of Gary to find creative ways to fund a resodding of the turf and a new scoreboard, Spudic said.
"At the time, our Trans-Lux scoreboard was state of the art and now it isn't. The company doesn't even exist anymore so that's been a challenge trying to keep up with the upkeep," Spudic said. "Also, being right by U.S. Steel and with the weather conditions of the area, that can cause some damage to the scoreboard. We've been bandaging it, but a new one is definitely high on our wish list."
(Editor's note: Trans-Lux remains in business, though the team has experienced problems finding parts for the 10-year-old scoreboard.)*
The project would cost around $500,000 on a low end, Spudic said, as a new field is $200,000 to $300,000 and a new scoreboard could cost between $250,000 to $400,000 or up more than $1 million.
Installing a new scoreboard or field would not begin until the end of the season. A new field would need at least four weeks to take hold. The latest the RailCats could end their season would be after Sept. 17.
Bo Kemp, an adviser to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson who has been a liaison between the city and the RailCats, said that the city typically subsidizes between $350,000 to $500,000 per year to the RailCats, before this request.
"If we were in a scenario where the city wasn't cash-strapped, their requests would not be problematic," Kemp said. "But our financial situation doesn't make their requests feasible.
"We are trying to look for solutions, and it requires everyone to be creative."
Though the maintenance and repairs are contractually bound to the city, Spudic said he's trying to find other alternatives to pay for the project. Naming rights to the field itself or the scoreboard are not out of the realm of possibility, he said.
"I think any time there's big capital expenses that could utilize creativity, we're exploring them," Spudic said. "It's not just naming rights on the stadium, but selling the rights to particular assets. It could be City Field at U.S. Steel Yard or McDonald's Scoreboard at U.S. Steel Yard. We are open and have had some preliminary conversations. There are some decent capital expenses down the line, we don't know yet where that money will come from."
Other maintenance at the park, also under contract by the city, has been well kept, Spudic said.
"I think they have done a great job of maintaining the stadium," Spudic said. "There are somethings that are needed for the RailCats success going forward, especially when it comes to sponsorship sales. Having a state of the art scoreboard gives us the opportunity to do a little better."
*A correction has changed from the original version of the story.