Summer-collegiate team OK’d at WO ballpark

City council members have greenlit the formation of a summer-collegiate team tied to White Oak’s ballpark.
The team name’s to be determined as the organizers of East Texas Sports & Entertainment prepare to reach out to the community for ideas. That name, too, is temporary while they develop a localized ‘Piney Woods’ moniker, but they’re hitting the gas to get things lined up well-ahead of a May 2024 debut.
“After touring the baseball fields, they liked what they saw, and now they want to see about coming in and leasing the field from the city,” White Oak City Coordinator Jimmy Purcell told council members ahead of Scott Kirk’s initial pitch for the developing team last week.
According to Kirk, the team will be part of the burgeoning Mid America League under president Matt Perry, running from late-May through mid-August. The current plan is a 68-game schedule, 34 at home, the other half on the road.
“Most of our markets are about this size. We’re not a league that goes into bigger cities looking for huge crowds. We’re very comfortable in places like this,” Kirk told council members. Initially, the group was also eyeing Kilgore for the opportunity, but a variety of circumstances shifted the focus to White Oak.
“To say that it met our expectations is an understatement. We couldn’t believe how nice the field is, how nice the facility is.”
Importantly, Purcell noted, none of the new team’s activities will interfere with White Oak ISD baseball at all.
“Absolutely,” Kirk reiterated. Schedules are unlikely to clash anyway, but “If they have a home playoff game, it’s theirs, no questions asked.
“We’re in charge of our own schedule, so we understand. We’re not running anybody out of there.”
Under the agreement unanimously-approved by council members Oct. 16, the group will lease the field for $100 to $200 per game (depending on the results of a utility study) for a period of five years. The term can be extended to 10 years with council approval.
The agreement also anticipates capital improvements of up to $100,000 throughout the life of the lease, a mixture of temporary and permanent upgrades from extending netting for protecting the audience from line drives to adding and improving seating or other enhancements that could be enjoyed by high school players and fans as well.
“We would like the money we spend to go to the fans enhancement of the game,” Kirk said. “We would work that out with the city.”
The team will run concessions, and Monday’s agreement included the city’s approval of an application for a TABC license for beer-and-wine sales.
“We obviously would have security. We’re family entertainment. “
The league’s owner launched their efforts in September, said team president David Upchurch, a Kilgore resident. The project’s been in the works about five years, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first two teams in the league are based in Sherman and Abilene. White Oak makes three.
“This will be the first year of operations in ‘24,” he said. The plan is to have six teams: “We won’t start our league until we have at least five teams committed. The league’s wanting to have a quality product so we can continue to operate every year. We have plans to have 10 in ‘25.”
Many of the players will be college-eligible, Kirk noted, with non-college competitors in the mix as well.
“They could be from all over. They could be local players,” he said, from college-age into their mid-20s. “The one thing they have in common is they all one day want to play Major League baseball. That’s the easiest piece of the puzzle. There’s no shortage of guys that want to play baseball.
Meanwhile, “Usually, and this is very much a staple of collegiate leagues and minor leagues also, is host families. The majority of them will be looking for a place to stay. For anybody that does it, it’s a really neat experience.”
And White Oak’s facility is large enough for those players? council member Thomas Cash asked.
“It’s small,” Kirk allowed. “We’ve talked about maybe one of the improvements we’d make is making the fence taller.”
The new organization would spearhead maintenance of the field, Kirk noted, possibly by funding labor by city workers.
Stadium naming rights is in the conversation as well, with the new group angling to split dividends 50/50 with the city.
The group is developing a Name the Contest to engage with the community. The stadium had to be locked down first, Upchurch said.
“You can’t really draw without a stadium,” he added. “Everything will be based here. The clubhouse is better than most of the ones I was ever in. The stadium may need to be extended, maybe a little longer, bigger, at some point. If we could get to 2,000 seats, that would make a big difference at some point.
It’s a wood-bat league, Upchurch noted, which makes a big difference in how the ball is hit and how far it travels.
“We plan, obviously, on being successful,” he said. “We’re looking at expansion in the Major League realm as well – they are looking to expand. There are plenty of opportunities for growth in those areas. We feel like this is the perfect place.”

Facebook Comments