Last summer, the upstart Northwest Indiana Oilmen experienced unprecedented success in the organization's first year of existence.
With local talent such as Crown Point's Josh Negele, Lake Central's Cody Dykema and Hanover Central's Andy Wellwerts, the Oilmen were crowned Midwest Collegiate League champions, due in part to an impressive performance on the mound from Wellwerts.
Due to that success, the Oilmen obviously had a lot to live up to this summer. With extra time to market the team and find new sponsors before this season started, the popularity in the Oilmen has risen.
“It's definitely built on what we had last year,” said Oilmen general manager Jim Taipalus. “Last year, it was hard to know what to expect since we were a first-year team. This year, with people knowing who we were and winning the championship, it's definitely grown our fan base.
"Not only just locally, but regionally in Highland, Munster, Crown Point and that area.”
Of the six teams in the MCL, Taipalus said the Oilmen rank second in attendance to the DuPage County Hounds, who are based in Lisle, a much bigger city than Whiting.
“We're right up there with them, as we were last year,” Taipalus said. “Not only just marketing on television, the radio, we've been in the newspaper, we have billboards. We've also marketed our team fairly well, getting them out in the community, throwing out first pitches, handing out tickets and doing autograph sessions.
"I think that's helped out a lot, getting the fans and people in the area to get to know the players and want to see them play.”
The Oilmen are also hosting a free children's baseball camp from 9 a.m. to noon Monday at Oil City Stadium.
“We're trying to do as many nice and good things in the community as we possibly can,” Taipalus said. “That's helped not only our fan base, but also the sponsorship.”
Taipalus said that sponsorship has doubled since last season. They've even added sponsors outside Whiting, such as the Valparaiso-based Hoosier Bat Company.
“We have no worries this year,” Taipalus said. “Financially, we're in a stable position and we're only looking to grow and get bigger.”
The existence of the Oilmen has also helped foot traffic in downtown Whiting. Bulldog Brewery, one of the local sponsors, has received extra business from fans going to Oilmen home games, according to co-owner Kevin Clark.
They've also brewed two beers, Standard Diamonds Ale and another simply named the Oilmen Beer, which are served at Oil City Stadium.
“It's been phenomenal,” Clark said. “We go out of our way to help those guys out. Whatever it takes to help them be successful, it helps us in the long run.”