HAMMOND | The Indiana Chiefs of Hammond were in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when the June 30th storm ravaged their home field at Riverside Park.
"People were sending me photos of the damage," Chiefs founder and manager Dave Sutkowski said. "They looked bad, but I didn't realize how bad it was until we returned home on Monday."
It was a sobering sight as Sutkowski saw what 80 mile-per-hour winds can afflict.
"The thing that really caught my eye was seeing where that 1,500-pound I-beam was placed," Sutkowski said of the prime support of the home dugout's roof. "It was ripped off with the whole roof and dropped way back behind the dugout."
The storm, which rolled in from the north, also took down much of the right-field fence, a section of the left-field fence, detached a cluster of lamps from one of the light standards, and — most revealing — toppled and damaged nearly half of the cluster of trees south of the field.
Even including the double-whammy calamity of 2008 in which Riverside was hit with a tornado and the latter flash-flood of an overflowed Little Calumet River, Sutkowski says this is the worst weather damage in the field's 20-year history.
But things could be worse.
The Chiefs 17U team has only five more home games on their schedule.
"We're fortunate to have had a top-heavy home schedule," said Sutkowski, whose team was able to secure alternative sites for their remaining home games. "I'm just thankful we weren't at home that day. The storm hit about at 6:30 p.m., and we would have likely been in the dugout (in preparation for the game) at that time."
In Tuscaloosa, the Chiefs placed second in the Southeast Regional Qualifier, which secured a spot for the 17U Pastime World Series starting Aug. 1 at Ohio State University.
The World Series will be the end of Chiefs' summer season.
"We're hoping to have this place ready for our fall program," said Sutkowski, who was due to meet with Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. early this week as well as several local trade unions about pending repairs.
"I'm also hoping some or our alumni will step up and help in any way they can," Sutkowski said.