Oilmen to bring new level of baseball to Whiting
By MIchelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent February 28, 2012 10:28PM
Ron Kittle, Gary native and former Major League Baseball player, speaks during a press conference announcing the formation of the pre-minor league baseball team Northwest Indiana Oilmen at City Hall in Whiting, Indiana Tuesday February 28, 2012. The Midwest Collegiate League team will play at the Oil City Stadium in Whiting. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 1, 2012 8:17AM
WHITING — Northwest Indiana will have a second option to watch the national pastime beginning in June, Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura — along with former White Sox star and Gary native Ron Kittle and South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Speros Batistatos — announced Tuesday afternoon.
The Northwest Indiana Oilmen, one of eight teams in the 3-year-old Midwest Collegiate League, will start its inaugural season June 2 with a home opener at Oil City Stadium. The MCL is a summer wood-bat baseball league with teams around the Chicago area, including Rockford, Will County and the Southland.
Stahura said the team fits into the city’s plan to get, along with the Calumet College of St. Joseph and Whiting High School teams, a viable baseball team that can bring people into the community. When the brand-new, pre-minor league team takes the field at Oil City Stadium this summer, it’ll be playing on a field whose location was carefully coordinated by the city and the BP Whiting Refinery. Pair that with Oilmen owner Don Popravak, whose heart never left the southeast side of Chicago, where he was raised, and the famous “Field of Dreams” line fits perfectly: If you built it, they will come.
Popravak, whose dad played for the New York Giants before becoming a Chicago cop, grew up three miles from Whiting Park and had instilled in him the love of the game. So when he came upon the new Whiting stadium while scouting for a place for his new team, he knew he needed to be a part of the city’s new direction.
“A lot of stadiums are built so far away, but (Stahura) said, ‘Let’s build it downtown so you have to go past the businesses,’” he said. “He had a vision for the city, and we want to be a part of it.”
Batistatos said with projects such as Oil City Stadium, the huge renovation at Wolf Lake Park in North Hammond, U.S. Steel Yard in Gary and the Marquette Park renovation, the north side of Lake County is in the midst of reinventing itself.
“These are Rust-Belt cities, and (leaders such as Stahura and Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr.) are reclaiming Hammond and Whiting, and are leading the charge,” he said. “People want to be a part of that.”
Stahura said businesses are taking notice. So far, four new locally owned restaurants are working on establishing themselves in the city this year, and three more are in early development stages. A deal for a new multi-use building with a mix of retail, office space and condos to be built near the new stadium is close to being inked, as well, he said.
“When the plan is to create a destination for the warm weather months, we knew we had to use it as an economic tool,” Stahura said.
Popravak said the team roster is about two-thirds complete and that it’s still actively recruiting. Players who are on their college rosters are welcome to try out, and he’s been working with college recruiters from everywhere to fill the team.
Ticket prices will start at $4. For more information, visit http://nwioilmen.com.