Monday, June 4, 2007

Owner/Manager of Struggling Minor League Team Gives in to NPR's Incessant Requests to Profile Story

West Lake, TX
Long in denial of his team's impending doom, West Lake Oil Cat's owner and manager Doug Farling has given in to repeated requests by NPR (National Public Radio) to feature his team in a radio essay lamenting "the demise of the American pastime as experienced in the minor league." Farling first heard from a producer affiliated with Fresh Air with Terri Gross in 1999, when he purchased crumbling West Lake Stadium and rebuilt it, installing the Oil Cat's and giving West Lake its first professional sports team in over seventy years. "Opening day was incredible. I had the Blue Angels fly by and we gave away Oil Cat's collector cups to all the kids," reminisced Farling in his office Monday. NPR was interested in profiling the business in a bi-monthly series, detailing the trials and triumphs Farling would face trying to build civic support for a new minor league team. As a sample of their work, producers sent Farling tapes of recent shows on subjects like horse shoe making, collapsing steel mines in former boom towns, and even a story about the last collegiate tennis game held at a Division III school in Ohio. Farling became wary of the trend he noticed. "All these businesses were quaint and stuffed to the gills with folksy Americana," he dismissed. "I knew being on this show would paint the team in a bad light from day one. How am I supposed to get butts in seats when everybody in West Lake listening to NPR realizes my business is failing and 'every swing of the bat be the last we ever see?'" Farling's fears were met, though his reasoning may have been off. A largely Christian municipality, hardly a soul in West Lake listened to NPR. However it wasn't long before the stink of failure permeated West Lake Stadium. In its first season, the Oil Cat's were stripped of their class A status when they were removed from the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system. Soon, players left for greener pastures and Farling was left scrambling to fill his roster with capable players. Within two years, game attendance had plummeted, and even a Southwest League pennant couldn't revive fan support. Farling said a low point for him personally was when a local strip club asked to offer tickets to the home season opener in the spring of 2003 as part of a promotion they were running on the radio. Christian activists in town called for a boycott of the team's home games for the entirety of the season.

West Lake Stadium has now come to be known colloquially as the "Mistake in West Lake" by locals familiar with the Oil Cat's short history. Hoping to drum up any support possible, Farling finally agreed to the NPR story. "After eight long, disastrous years, this team needs all the help it can get," he lamented. "I just hope some people come to see us play North Dallas at home when those NPR people arrive."