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Gorches: If you love baseball, catch a local minor league game

The Northwest IndianOilmen (right) SouthlVikings take diamond for singing Star Spangled Banner prior their inaugural game Oil City Stadium Whiting

The Northwest Indiana Oilmen (right) and the Southland Vikings take the diamond for the singing of the Star Spangled Banner prior to their inaugural game at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind., Sunday, June 3, 2012. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 6, 2013 6:34AM



It was America’s Independence Day on Thursday, and what’s more red, white and blue than baseball.

It’s the American pastime, right? How did the old car commercial go: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

I don’t own a Chevy, but my waste line shows I love hot dogs and apple pie, and who doesn’t love baseball?

But if you’re a Chicago baseball fan — whether your alliance is north side or south side — it’s been a dreary summer. In fact, Chicago sports fans are probably begging for the days to pass by quickly to get to Bears training camp. Thank God the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup just because it meant more games and less attention spent watching bad baseball.

If you’re like me, though, you still yearn for the crack of the bat and those undeniable sights and smells from the ball park — don’t you just love the smell of a fresh wiener from a ball game?

But who wants to go to a Cubs or White Sox game right now? I know I don’t. I went to one Sox game this year, and that’s enough to show my loyalty. Like any other business, if the product stinks, why should I spend my hard-earned money to experience it?

Both Chicago teams are expensive propositions — tickets, parking, food — that aren’t worth the money. Going into Thursday’s games they were a combined 26 games under .500 with the Sox in last place in the American League Central and the Cubs just barely above last place Milwaukee in the N.L. Central.

The only word that comes to mind is pathetic.

But it’s baseball, and when I was a kid it was all about playing or watching it with friends. In fact, it still makes me sad to drive by a local park on a sunny summer day and not see anyone playing unorganized baseball. What ever happened to kids just getting together for a game or to playing running bases or just throw the ball around?

The answer is simple: It’s easier to play video game baseball on the XBox or Playstation with friends joining the game through the Internet.

How is that enjoyable?

So if you love baseball and actually like leaving the house for the great outdoors, why not take in one of our local minor league teams?

After all, it’s still baseball and entertainment, and both teams are playing quite well in their respective leagues.

The Northwest Indiana Oilmen are tied for first place in the Midwest Collegiate League after winning the league title in the team’s first season last year. And they have quite a few former local high school players, including pitchers Andy Wellwerts (Hanover Central) and Jimmy McNamara (Lake Central).

The Gary RailCats are just a half game out of first in the Central Division of the American Association, but are well within the playoff hunt with the second-best record in the league.

So they’re playing good baseball, and it’s inexpensive, too.

And both teams play in two of the best small ballparks around.

U.S. Steel Yard is well-known for being fan-friendly with an unmistakable sight line of U.S. Steel beyond the South Shore railroad tracks. Oil City Stadium sits just beyond downtown Whiting on the old home of Standard Diamond where I played in a crosstown Little League game a couple times (I was a member of rival Robertsdale Little League and still remember laying down a great bunt down the third-base line for a single when I actually could run). And its sight line is cool from a Region Rat viewpoint — flames from smokestacks at BP Oil Refinery just outside the outfield fences.

If you love baseball, Chicago is a depressing place this summer. So stay close to home and check out the Oilmen and RailCats.

And grab a good old American wiener or two. I know I will be when the RailCats return from their road trip next week.



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