Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Would Wichita Falls be a good fit in the Atlantic League?

Prior to the game two of the Atlantic League Championship, League CEO Frank Boulton said that the league is looking to put a full four team division in Texas, with the first team being the Sugar Land Skeeters who start play next season. It has been speculated that Wichita Falls has another possible site for a team, so I caught up with Drew Pelto who is the Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Wichita Wildcats a Junior Hockey(NAHL) team in Wichita Falls. Drew gave me his thoughts on the possibility of an Atlantic League team going there.

CM: How are the sports fans in Wichita Falls as opposed to Mass, and Ohio where you've lived previously?

DP: They're a different breed for sure. In Cleveland, where I'm from, support is pretty even between baseball and football, specifically the Indians and Browns. When I was in Boston, it was pretty well divided between the four major sports teams, especially the Pats and Red Sox as I was living there in the middle of their dominance. In Wichita Falls, it seems "local" is the key word. High school football is sport #1, followed by high school football and high school football. Support for the Wildcats hockey team where I work wavers a bit. I know there used to be some criticism from a guy in the area writing in to the "Sound Off" section of the paper, a place where fans could write in and rant and rave about anything sports related, and his major complaint was that nothing about the Wildcats was local. Interesting fact, he didn't have that complaint about Midwestern State football or his beloved Dallas Cowboys. Hockey isn't a native sport to North Texas, there were no local kids playing for the team, and somehow in his mind, it meant we were less deserving of support from the community. At times, I feel Wichita Falls is a city of 100,000 that thinks it's a town of 1,000.

CM: Is baseball big enough in Texas, specifically in around Wichita Falls to support a team, and also a full 4 team division?

DP: It's certainly big enough statewide. The existence of the AA Texas League shows that the state does like baseball. Even in Wichita Falls, history has had the Wichita Falls Spudders in the minor leagues in various incarnations between 1920 and 1957. More recently, the Wichita Falls Roughnecks played a year in the Texas Collegiate League. A few players have come from the Wichita Falls area like former Yankee and current Milwaukee farmhand Chase Wright, and White Sox pitcher Zach Stewart. No sport will ever be as big as football around here, but I think baseball is big enough that this city could support a team.

CM: Texas has some grueling summers, and bust travel can tough. Do you think players would want to play there?

DP: It would be tough, but I think if minor league baseball can succeed statewide, no player should have much of a problem playing here. If the games are kept mostly to nights in the summer like the Rangers do down in Arlington, I think they'd be alright.

CM: Every team in the Atlantic League has a figure head to their organization (i.e. Ducks have Bud Harrelson). If Wichita Falls were to get a team, who would you want to be a manager or figure head of the organization?

DP: Kelly Stinnett. He's from Lawton, Oklahoma, which is just an hour from Wichita Falls. He was a longtime backup catcher for eight teams and catchers seem to make good managers, so he seems like a perfect fit.

CM: What would be a good name for the team in Wichita Falls?

DP: Anything related to the oil or cattle industry. Roughnecks, Drillers, Oilers, Wildcatters, Rustlers, Longhorns... Of course, with the past minor league Spudders, that's always an option too.

CM: The following areas are speculated as possible candidates for an Atlantic league team. Choose 2 other cities where you think the league would succeed and why?

  • one of the areas east of Dallas (Rockwall County, Garland/Mesquite, etc.)
  • the southern area of Austin
  • Abilene, TX (population 117,000)
  • Denton, TX
  • Waco, TX
  • Kileen, TX
DP: I'm surprised Waco doesn't have a team already somewhere, so that's the one that stands out most to me first and foremost. Denton would be great for providing a nearby rival for a potential Wichita Falls team, plus it's a college town so they're always looking for cheap entertainment. Of course, seeing as baseball is a summer sport, that can be a problem as the students are out during the season. Of the places you listed, I think Abilene would be another excellent choice as it's the right size for a team in the AL and really lacks any major sports-- the only ones I hear about are Abilene Wylie High School, Abilene Christian University, and the defunct Abilene Aviators hockey team. The Austin area has too much to compete with, as does the Dallas area. I'll admit I don't know much about Killeen.

CM: What do you think bringing an AL team to Wichita Falls would do for the sports, economy, and tourism?

DP: I think it would be an excellent addition. It would provide jobs, low-cost entertainment when football and hockey are out of season, and bring in fans from other Atlantic League cities and really all over Texoma. With the Wildcats, we have a dedicated fan base who support the team even on the road. I know fans who constantly make trips to our road games, whether it's the two-hour drive to Frisco, or the 15 hours to Minnesota. I think the support would be great for it, and that the city would be a major asset to the Atlantic League.

We look forward to the future develops of the division in Texas!

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