Baseball

Laborers work to get storm-ravaged Riverside Park ready for season

2014-04-25T17:00:00Z 2014-04-25T20:35:14Z Laborers work to get storm-ravaged Riverside Park ready for seasonJohn Burbridge john.burbridge@nwi.com, (219) 933-3371 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | The big bad wolf huffed and puffed but couldn't blow down a brick-built structure.

The storm that swept through Riverside Park last summer had more bite.

With winds topping 80 miles per hour, sections of the outfield fence surrounding the park's main baseball field were twisted and flattened, lamps from several light standards were detached and a cluster of trees south of the field were toppled after being ripped from their root bases.

The cinder-block home dugout was also torn asunder, but that's not what gave Indiana Chiefs founder and manager Dave Sutkowski pause.

"It was seeing where that 1,500-pound I-beam was placed," Sutkowski said of the dugout's roof beam, which ended up 50 feet behind the dugout.

Sutkowski's 17U team was in Tuscaloosa, Ala., competing at a tournament when the storm hit the region on June 30. He's thankful fate didn't have them playing at their longtime home field at Riverside that day as the storm hit at about 6:30 p.m., the likely time the Chiefs would have been gathered inside the said dugout for pregame preparations.

The Chiefs were also lucky they only had five remaining home games at Riverside Park and were able to secure alternative sites.

The Chiefs' 2014 season is due to start in mid-May. With help from several local trade unions donating their labor, Riverside's main field should be ready by opening day.

"This whole park was built by local trade unions," Pete Severson said. "It's something the city and we take great pride in."

Severson is an instructor for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 4 apprentice program, which recently rebuilt the home dugout.

"It's a four-year apprentice program," said Severson, whose program now holds off-site class at the old Griffith Public Library.

"(April 8), we had some two-year guys out here. Today ... these are our three-year guys. It's a good opportunity for these guys to learn while helping the community."

Including those man-hour contributions, Sutkowski is also grateful for support from the City of Hammond and its mayor.

"We plan to honor all those involved during our first weekend back," Sutkowski said.

The Indiana Chiefs have four traveling teams in the 13U, 14U, 15U and 17U age groups.

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