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ND oil patch city prepares for brief baseball boom

Posted: August 14, 2013 7:00 a.m.
Updated: August 14, 2013 7:00 a.m.
 

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Teams in the 13-year-old Babe Ruth World Series will find the dimensions of the baseball stadium in the northwestern North Dakota city of Williston to be similar to other fields nationwide.

Except there's billions of dollars underneath.

Pool play for the 10-team tournament is scheduled to open Saturday in the oil patch city that recently adopted the title of "Boomtown USA," after watching its population soar from 15,000 to 35,000 people in less than five years. That happened after experts figured out how to extract oil from the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations.

The rush has helped bump up the average annual salary in Williams County, home to Williston, to $78,364 in 2012, tops in the state and more than triple the average wage in the county a decade ago. The Williston area has increased its hotel space from 600 rooms four years ago to 1,700. The population explosion also has brought less desirable increases in traffic and crime.

For some teams, just getting to Williston will be half the battle and guarantees to offer a lesson on current events, geography and travel planning.

America's pastime, meet America's prosperity.

Joe Smiegocki, vice president of marketing and operations for Babe Ruth League, Inc., said that while each team wants to win, there's more to this tournament than baseball.

"At the end of the day, the most important thing we looked at was the educational experience," Smiegocki said. "There are so many unique things going on in North Dakota with the economy and other things. I think these players and parents are going to be surprised at the culture they learn more than what they learn on the baseball field."

Tournament officials are trying to embrace that culture, focusing on the benefits of the energy boom, like oil companies helping to raise more than $600,000 for the event and some of them sponsoring chow wagons for charity at the stadium. And when players aren't rounding the bases, they can tour an oil rig.

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