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Youth baseball: Chiefs’ new direction working well

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:38AM



After more than two decades, the Hammond Chiefs were ready for a makeover.

It’s turned out to be a little more far-reaching than founder and manager Dave Sutkowski envisioned.

The Chiefs’ remarkable run in the Senior Babe Ruth playoffs ended last summer when they lost a state tournament game for the first time after 82 straight wins dating back to 1991. In fact, they lost twice in a row to the LaPorte Lakers in what would be the Chiefs’ Babe Ruth finale, though no one knew that at the time.

What Sutkowski did know then was that he wanted to alter the age-group mix of players in the Chiefs program. Traditionally, the Chiefs have been made up of 17- and 18-year-olds while the Hammond Seminoles were a 16-year-old team.

The idea was to go with three teams this year under the Indiana Chiefs of Hammond banner: 14-and-under, 15-16 and 17-and-under.

“All of a sudden we had a few kids who were going to be on that (15-16) roster (who) decided they weren’t going to be on that roster,” Sutkowski said. “We had a few 17s we thought were going to come back that didn’t.

“So we figured, come December ... instead of trying to spread ourselves too thin ... put together a combination 16-17 team and go that route and make sure we’re covered.”

Sutkowski is running that club, while veteran Chiefs assistant Todd Iwema is managing the 14U club.

“The 14-year-old team, I can tell you right now: best thing we’ve ever done,” Sutkowski said.

That club has three players who were high school freshmen this spring and 11 who were eighth-graders. “We can keep those players in the program eighth grade through junior year,” Sutkowski said.

“The older team, it’s all juniors and sophomores. It’s nice; I’m enjoying it because you don’t have to worry about all the senior stuff that goes on.”

By “the senior stuff,” Sutkowski means the lack of enthusiasm on the part of 18-year-old high school graduates to endure the grind of the Chiefs’ hectic schedule.

“That’s the attitude out there with the older ones,” he said. “’I’m just going to enjoy this last summer (before college).’”

Sutkowski, meanwhile, is enjoying this summer and the team’s new direction. That includes — for the 14U team — playing in the American Amateur Baseball Congress’ Sandy Koufax playoffs.

The older club is playing in several Pastime Baseball tournaments, including one at the University of Alabama later this month that could lead to a berth in that organization’s World Series. Down the road, though, there could be another postseason path for the older team.

“I think eventually we’ll do that with all the teams,” he said of AABC affiliation.

Also on the horizon is gradual expansion of the number of teams under the Indiana Chiefs of Hammond umbrella. The plan is for Iwema to take the current 14s and play as a 15U team next summer with another 14U team forming and Sutkowski running another 16-17 club. Then in 2015, he hopes to have enough players to field 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U clubs.

Camp time: The Diamond Kings Major League Baseball Summer Skills Camp for players ages 6-14 will be at Heartland Park in St. John from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 1-2. The cost is $85, which includes an MLB Skills Camp T-shirt and lunch both days. The registration deadline is June 23. For more info, go to TrainDK.com or call (219) 558-2273.

The Post-Tribune welcomes information about local summer baseball teams and camps. Please email story tips to mclark@suntimes.com.



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