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Northwest Indiana Oilmen will limit crowd size to start season
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SUMMER BASEBALL

Northwest Indiana Oilmen will limit crowd size to start season

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Oilmen vs. Southland Vikings, playoffs

Fans watch a game between the Northwest Indiana Oilmen and the Southland Vikings last year at Oil City Stadium.

WHITING — Crowds at Northwest Indiana Oilmen games will be smaller than usual, at least at the beginning of their first season in the COVID-19 era.

"We're going to limit the number of people who can come into the ballpark," Oilmen owner Don Popravak said on Friday. "We're going to cap it at about 250 people to start with. I don't want to overtax the people in the concession operation."

The Oilmen and the other five members of the Midwest Collegiate League are all planning to begin play on July 1, according to Popravak, who owns four of the league's six teams and also serves as commissioner.

Because of COVID-19 lockdown provisions in Illinois — which is home to the other five MCL teams — Popravak has moved all league games across the border this season.

Besides the Oilmen's home park — Oil City Stadium in Whiting — games will be played at Dowling Park, Riverside Park and possibly Hessville Park, all in Hammond.

Popravak said he's still putting together a schedule, which will have to work around availability of the Hammond parks. The 50-game regular season is expected to wrap up on Aug. 16. Still to be determined are the scheduling of the league's all-star game and postseason playoffs.

In other news, Popravak said the defending champion Bloomington (Ill.) Bobcats will sit out this season and will be replaced by a league-operated travel team.

"They looked at traveling (for all) 50 dates and they're like, 'We can't do that,'" Popravak said of the Bobcats. "It just creates an obstacle for them and I understand that. The best thing for them is to shut it down (this season)."

The other four Illinois-based teams will return: the Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, the Joliet Generals and the Southland Vikings.

Popravak expects to hire a manager for the travel team soon and has put out a call for players for the club. Interested players can find an application at midwestcollegiateleague.com.

With college baseball players being idle since mid-March because of the coronavirus lockdown, MCL teams expect to have an abbreviated "spring training" before the regular season. Popravak said those workouts will begin around June 14.

"We need to knock the rust off these guys," he said. "We want the guys to be healthy."

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