Second Thought: Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Dog Days, Cats’ Pajamas

Off the field, Fort Worth’s minor-league team beats the Rangers every time.


It was a recent weekday afternoon when I saw an old friend of mine at LaGrave Field — one of those “businessman’s specials” games. The guy was at the Fort Worth Cats game with his office staff, using the outing to give everyone a needed break and to promote unity. Doing something nice for some common, hard-working people.

After the game, we were talking near the Cats dugout, and my friend asked if I could help him with something. Maybe he could get a baseball from the game, have his staff all autograph it, and give it to one of the workers they wanted to honor.

I saw Monty Clegg standing nearby. Monty is the senior VP and general manager for the Cats, about as high as you can go in the organization. So I explained to Monty why my friend wanted a ball and wondered if this baseball exec could help us out. No problem, Clegg told us. He popped down to the dugout, and then tossed the ball to my friend. And then Clegg did what most sports business people forget to do. He thanked my friend for bringing his people to the game, saying the team really appreciated their support.

That’s how the Fort Worth Cats get it and the Texas Rangers don’t.

It’s easy to make the excuse that the Cats are minor league and have to fight for any fans they get, and the Rangers are big-time and can assume the fans will just show up. But in this summer of discontent in Arlington and success at LaGrave Field, it’s quite obvious that one team is working hard on and off the field for its fans, while the other is in shambles.

The Cats won both halves of their season and won their first playoff series against Pensacola over the weekend. They face San Angelo for the Central Baseball League championship this week in a five-game series, with three home games over the weekend if needed.

Cats manager Wayne Terwilliger was named CBL manager of the year after celebrating his 80th birthday earlier this summer. Clegg was named the CBL executive of the year. The games at LaGrave are affordable and entertaining, and team owner Carl Bell is often seen walking through the stands, thanking people for coming. And Bell preaches to the front office that they have to do lots of jobs. I’ve seen Clegg on the field after a rainstorm, drying out the outfield grass with a blower. Coaches and players mingle with fans before and after games. It’s like a family with the Cats.

The Rangers, on the other hand, have become a dysfunctional family. They canceled the popular “winter carnival” this year, an event that diehard baseball fans loved. The Wednesday player autograph sessions were canceled as well, and the team raised ticket prices again. And for some reason, the Rangers decided 100-degree days in late August were the best time to play day games. They did have a recent event where fans could bring their dogs to a game. I guess dogs count in their organization.

Rangers owner Tom Hicks has said that he has to “stop writing checks” for players that might make his team better. The Rangers players have started to bitch about the owner not spending money, and manager Buck Showalter likes to blame the media for the players’ comments. The attitude of the Rangers front office seems to be that if everyone would just shut their traps about his team losing, then maybe the team will win in a few years. The sad truth is that the players — and the fans — have heard this all before.

On the field, the differences between the two teams parallel their attitudes toward their fans. Terwilliger stresses good defense, hustling, steals, and sacrifice bunts where you work hard for a single run. The Rangers are about to set a major-league record for the fewest sacrifice bunts in a season, have pretty poor defense, and think offense is all about waiting for a home run. The key word here is “waiting.”

So if you’re tired of the Rangers’ disdain for the win column, their cheap owner, and their whiny players, check out the Cats this weekend as they go for a championship. The Cats players are young guys who don’t make much money but work really hard. The team’s front office is the same way — maybe not so young, but working hard to make each game a fun experience for their fans.

The Rangers seem to be in a downward spiral of failed assumptions: It’s all about profit, so you don’t spend money, players get pissed and don’t want to hang around, which leads to losing teams and an organization seen as not caring about its fans. Who, in repayment, turn out in smaller and smaller numbers — which gives the team less money to spend, and there you go, the never-ending cycle of bad teams.

By comparison, the Cats, though profitable, have barely a ball bucket to whiz in. But the Cats fans don’t seem to care — because their team wins with fans off the field as well as on. They happily pass their dollar bills down the row for the collection plate every time a Cats player hits a homer and stay on their feet clapping until the Cats pitcher throws the first strike of the game.

Maybe that’s why the baseball momentum in Tarrant County these days seems to be going to the Cats — and not to the dogs over in Arlington.

Dan McGraw is a local author and freelance writer.

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