HILLARY SMITH: RailCats need Gary as much as city needs team

2013-08-11T19:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: RailCats need Gary as much as city needs teamHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
August 11, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Even city of Gary leaders that opposed the then-proposed baseball team 12 years ago see the value that the RailCats bring to the city.

There's the 150,000 fans per year that come to a downtown area that is clearly in need of help.

Those fans come from affluent Valparaiso and Munster, they come from Merrillville and Crown Point. The general idea of "if you build it, they will come" certainly worked at its base.

Though more businesses haven't surrounded the U.S. Steel Yard corridor, people continue to come.

What makes the RailCats quintessential Gary as much in the uniform is the attitude of the players who wear it.

The Gary "G" on their caps is a reminder to the team that they are a beacon of hope to a city many of them couldn't necessarily find on a map before they arrived. They knew it was near Chicago, somewhere, and on the lake, for sure.

But once they arrive, players tend to embrace the attitude that has put the RailCats into the postseason for more than half of their existence. It's an attitude that, like the city itself, takes baby steps.

Teams in the American Association know well the term "RailCatting." It was originally considered derogatory by the team, because it meant the RailCats had beat a team late in a game because of mistakes by the other team in a way that was a typical RailCatting.

Now, the players embrace the idea. Winning late, building momentum, creating runs and not just taking them by brute force, could anything be more Gary?

The city admittedly is a couple years away from rewarding the team with a shiny new scoreboard and a fresh new field. Both are necessary to keep good players flocking to Gary.

They are definitely flocking. When a Clay Zavada will don RailCats green before making his way to the San Diego Padres, that's a sign that playing in Gary is a stop good athletes are proud to make.

The city's contract with the team helped subsidize the franchise and made it sweet for owners like Pat and Lindy Salvi to come from Chicago to Gary. The contract is written to prove how much the team needs the city.

However, though enticing on its face, the city and the team are meeting each other to try to make the contract work for all sides. Why? Because both need each other.

Gary is grimmer with out the RailCats. The RailCats aren't who they are without Gary.

This isn't a team easily displaced to another city or town in the region.

There are front office staff from the city, and game-day staff who live in Gary.

The team works in Gary because of the people, inside and outside of the franchise, that make it what it is.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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