HILLARY SMITH: Spacious U.S. Steel Yard claims more victims

2013-08-04T20:15:00Z 2013-08-05T18:07:13Z HILLARY SMITH: Spacious U.S. Steel Yard claims more victimsHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
August 04, 2013 8:15 pm  • 

GARY | The RailCats actually measured the distance to the furthest point at U.S. Steel Yard.

It's not the center-field wall, that has a 400-foot sign on the back of it.

The deepest point is in right-center, a crook in the wall that sits 406 feet from home plate.

That's where Mike Massaro's ball rolled Sunday, giving the right fielder his first career inside-the-park home run.

The RailCats had already seen their home field steal a few homers away from its own residents.

Catcher Craig Maddox hit the roof of the old Bennigan's restaurant in right field with a ball that was caught by the wind and blown just foul.

First baseman Christian Vitters had a ball caught at the wall in right field in the first inning.

This weekend's victim of U.S. Steel Yard, with its deep, high walls and the wind blowing off Lake Michigan, was the St. Paul Saints. The North Division team of the American Association hasn't won in Gary since Aug. 28, 2012, as string of 10 straight RailCats wins.

"Today was one of those days many Saints players were shaking their head at the Steel Yard," manager Greg Tagert said. "A good reminder of guys what it's like to play here. It was one of those days, typical Steel Yard days, friendly to the pitchers."

The Saints needed a series win at least, or a sweep at most to remain in the hunt for the wild card race. Instead, they leave one game above .500 and the RailCats keep their hold on the final spot in the American Association playoffs with 25 games to play.

The ballpark can be blamed, or credited, for the RailCats' series sweep. It's a pitcher's park, one that is ideal for the 'Cats four-man rotation because of the way it eats up hitters. 

The dimensions are cruel, seemingly short along the left-field and right-field lines, it's deceiving with the nearly 12-foot tall walls that force hitters to find a trajectory to hit a ball out.

It's no wonder the 'Cats are last in the league in home runs and needed Massaro's to come inside the park Sunday.

"It's going to take a good day when the wind is not blowing out, or a ball hit very well (for another inside-the-park homer)," Massaro said. "You saw today, with the wind blowing in (Saints) Ole Sheldon, Adam Frost hit two balls very well and nothing to show for it. We had Maddox and Vitters hit two balls very well and nothing to show for it."

The RailCats home series extends another three games against Kansas City today. The T-Bones play in a park with smaller walls, shorter distances and designed to cater to hitters. Of their final 25 games, the 'Cats have 12 at home.

The hit-first mentality eats players alive at U.S. Steel Yard.

"It's a different style in this park and it fits us to a tee," Massaro said. "We just plan our game like the other teams they do, and hopefully it keeps working for us."

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

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