Baseball fans in the Region will have an extra reason to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Though the Gary SouthShore RailCats are suspending operations till 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Major League Baseball owners and players remain locked in a standoff, the games will resume at Oil City Stadium on Independence Day.
That's when the Northwest Indiana Oilmen begin their Midwest Collegiate League schedule with a 6:10 p.m. game against the Minutemen, the league's new traveling team.
"America has been without baseball," said Don Popravak, who owns the Oilmen and is the MCL's commissioner. "What a great day of the year to celebrate the return of America's sport."
Fans will get their fill, with the Oilmen scheduled to play 47 games in 47 days. The actual number will depend on the weather, as there will be no makeup games.
"If we have a rainout, it's just a rainout," Popravak said.
The Oilmen start spring training this week before taking Father's Day weekend off.
"We're trying to knock the rust off everybody," Popravak said, noting college players have been idle since mid-March because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
At least at the beginning of the season, Popravak plans to limit ticket sales at Oilmen games as Indiana eases back into normal life.
"For the first couple weeks, just to see how we manage crowd control ... we want to keep the attendance down," he said. "From a game-staff perspective, we want to make sure we can manage the flow."
There will be other adjustments as well. Hand sanitizer stations will be available around the stadium, locker rooms will be closed for most purposes and players will practice social distancing in the dugout and bullpen.
But some things won't change.
"We're still serving food, we've got cold drinks and beer on tap," Popravak said. "It's going to be a fun summer for us."
Minutemen roster takes shape: With the MCL playing its entire schedule in the Region, the defending champion Bloomington (Illinois) Bobcats decided to sit out the season because of travel concerns. Their temporary replacement is the Minutemen, a team put together on the fly to give the league an even number of teams.
The new club announced its first batch of players on Sunday and several have Region ties, including a pair of Calumet City residents who were MCL All-Stars with the Oilmen last season: outfielder Mike Bolton Jr., who now plays at Purdue, and Malik Peters, the Oilmen's leading hitter (.368), who's now at Northern Illinois. Other local Minutemen include pitcher Ryan Troxel (Valparaiso/St. Xavier University); pitcher Nick Fies (Munster/South Suburban College); outfielder Ryan Missal (Lowell/Western Michigan); catcher/pitcher Matt Lelito (St. John/Andrean/Kankakee Community College) and catcher Tyler Struck (Valparaiso University).