During the Gary SouthShore RailCats' inaugural season in 2002, the players spent an estimated 200 hours on buses?traveling approximately 12,000 miles without their own ballpark to call home. Indeed, the diamond at U.S. Steel Yard was still under construction, forcing the team to play its entire first season on the road. But while the trip could have been a rocky way for an organization to start out, it instead forecasted a wild ride ahead in which the RailCats never stopped moving. After just four years, the RailCats captured their first Northern League title, marking the first of five straight appearances in the championship series?a Northern League record.
Despite that first year away from home, the RailCats seem to have settled in well at U.S. Steel Yard. Within the park, views of the South Shore commuter train remind fans of the team's origins, and a 55-foot scoreboard towers over left-centerfield in much the same way early pitchers once towered over batters from atop a stack of milk crates.
Typically, it takes months to prepare for a marathon. Without proper endurance training, most marathon runners falter miles before the finish line. Hapilly, the Chicago Beerathon pays nothing but lip service to its -athon suffix, and there are really only a few things a prospective contestant needs to know. First, get a good night's rest beforehand. Second, don't bother pre-gaming, there's enough buzz to go around. Third, don't bother stretching or practicing a victory face—it's not really a competition. And finally, keep some cab fare on hand for afterwards, because at the Chicago Beerathon, every participant is a designated drinker.
Starting at noon and ending at 3 a.m., the Chicago Beerathon is springtime in October for fans of hops, barley, malt, and hiccups. Spiraling out from Wrigleyville to 26 of the city's most joyous venues, beer fans savor 6 ounce pours of craft brew at every stop. With music from live bands and DJs soundtracking the slurry quest, revelers end up with 26 beers in their gullets, leaving only 73 verses of "99 Beers on the Wall" to go.
Unlike an outdoor field, The Perfect Swing's more than 60,000 sq. ft. facility isn't ever affected by bad weather or movie crews shooting yet another inspiring comeback story. The sound of cracking bats and thudding balls fills the training space rain or shine year-round. Baseball and softball players face off against seven automatic pitching machines, which hurl balls at speeds between 35–70 miles per hour, while pitchers work their arms in 17 practice tunnels.
The Perfect Swing also offers four indoor turf fields for year-round baseball, softball, and soccer. Shoppers who are looking to stock up on softball and baseball equipment can visit the on-site store.
Athletes aren't left to swing and throw blindly, though. The Perfect Swing boasts a staff of more than 25 baseball and softball instructors, including many current and former professional players. During private and group instruction, these experts help students hone fundamental skills in areas such as hitting, pitching, catching, fielding, and agility. Instructors also lead outdoor baseball camps during the summer months.
The ThunderBolts' swift pitches and powerful swings have twice led them to being crowned champions of the Frontier League—a set of a dozen independent pro baseball teams. This season, right-handed hurler Dustin Williams has led the 'Bolts pitching staff and fanned 29 batters over 24.1 innings in his first four starts. Meanwhile, catcher Zach Aakhus has been chasing the league’s slugging title with a .365 average through 18 games and an industrial-strength butterfly net. Groupon holders may choose from more than 30 remaining home games in 2011, catching more flies than a bullfrog dipped in honey from their upper- and lower-deck seats.
Baseball and softball players who want to make the jump to the next level often need coaches who know exactly what it takes. At Pastime Sports Academy, the experience offered by the coaching staff reaches to the very top of the talent heap, with a roster of high school varsity coaches, college pitching coaches, and former minor leaguers such as ex-Yankees draft pick Dietrich Enns. For the past 17 years, athletes have taken advantage of this diamond expertise through private and group instruction, which focus on skills ranging from shagging fly balls to fielding grounders to hitting a curveball. Pitchers can develop their velocity and control from a dirt pitching mound, while hitters can perfect their swings and double-pump-fake bunts inside five batting cages outfitted with Iron Mike pitching machines.
At CrossFit Lemont, certified CrossFit trainers and fitness classes build the kind of strength that makes everyday tasks easier?not bulky muscle that's just for show. Their high-octane, functional workout classes accommodate different levels of experience, and span 10 fitness domains, from power and strength to balance and flexibility to speed and stamina. Each of these sessions takes place in the gym's 10,000-square-foot facility, which also features 5,000 square feet of field turf that keeps feet firmly planted during power-lawnmowing workouts.