Northwoods League
SportBaseball
Founded1994
DivisionsGreat Lakes Division, Great Plains Division
No. of teams22
CountriesUnited States, Canada
ContinentNorth America
Most recent
champion(s)
Traverse City Pit Spitters (2021)
Most titlesRochester Honkers (5)
Level on pyramidSummer Collegiate
Official websitewww.northwoodsleague.com

The Northwoods League is a collegiate summer baseball league. All players in the league must have NCAA eligibility remaining in order to participate. The league is amateur, and players are not paid, so as to maintain their college eligibility. Graduated senior pitchers are also eligible to play in the Northwoods League. Each team may have four of these players at a time.

Teams play 72 games scheduled from late May to mid-August. The season itself is broken into two halves, with the winners of each half in each of the four sub-divisions playing against each other to determine a sub-divisional champion in a best-of-three series. The sub-divisional champions then meet in a winner-take-all game to determine a divisional champion. The divisional champions then meet in a winner-take-all game for the league championship.

In 2020, some teams cancelled their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For those teams that did play, instead of playing within their usual divisions, they played in hub regions, with some creating "temporary teams".

History

Established in 1994, the Northwoods League was the first for-profit summer collegiate baseball league. It has more teams and plays more games than any other summer collegiate baseball league.[1] The Northwoods League drew over 1.1 Million fans for the fourth consecutive year in 2017. The purpose of the league is to develop players while college baseball teams are not allowed to work out. Many of the teams in the league play in ballparks formerly occupied by professional clubs from the Midwest League, Prairie League, Northern League, and Frontier League. The wooden bat circuit allows communities deemed too small for professional ball to continue to enjoy high-quality, competitive baseball during the summer months. The Northwoods League was the first summer collegiate baseball league to broadcast on the ESPN network, and currently webcasts all of its games.

The teams are located in the Northwoods region of the Upper Midwestern United States and Northwestern Ontario, mostly in the U.S. states of Minnesota (five teams) and Wisconsin (nine teams); also with three teams in Michigan and one team each in Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, Indiana and Ontario.

Over 200 league alumni have gone on to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) with 91 alumni entering the MLB ranks from 2013 to 2017. Alumni Max Scherzer, the 2017 National League Cy Young Award winner, and American League runner-up Chris Sale faced each other as the starting pitchers in the 2017 and 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Games.

Competition

In small cities it may be hard to find the financial stability in a newly founded baseball league. The Northwoods League (NWL) realized it needed to gain significant revenue from sponsors in order to succeed. According to league Chairman and co-founder Dick Radatz, Jr, two-thirds of the revenue comes from sponsors and the remainder from ticket sales, concessions, and team merchandise. Radatz also noted the importance of having the sponsor revenue before the beginning of the season.[2]

Teams

Northwoods League
Division Team Location Stadium Capacity
Great Plains[3]
Bismarck Larks Bismarck, North Dakota Bismarck Municipal Ballpark 1,900
Duluth Huskies Duluth, Minnesota Wade Stadium 4,200
Eau Claire Express Eau Claire, Wisconsin Carson Park 3,800
La Crosse Loggers La Crosse, Wisconsin Copeland Park 3,550
Mankato MoonDogs Mankato, Minnesota ISG Field 4,000
Rochester Honkers Rochester, Minnesota Mayo Field 2,570
St. Cloud Rox St. Cloud, Minnesota Joe Faber Field 2,000
Thunder Bay Border Cats Thunder Bay, Ontario Port Arthur Stadium 3,031
Waterloo Bucks Waterloo, Iowa Riverfront Stadium 5,000
Willmar Stingers Willmar, Minnesota Bill Taunton Stadium 1,500
Division Team Location Stadium Capacity
Great Lakes[4]
Battle Creek Bombers Battle Creek, Michigan C.O. Brown Stadium 2,193
Fond du Lac Dock Spiders Fond du Lac, Wisconsin Herr-Baker Field 2,000
Green Bay Booyah Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin Capital Credit Union Park 3,359
Kalamazoo Growlers Kalamazoo, Michigan Homer Stryker Field 4,000
Kenosha Kingfish Kenosha, Wisconsin Simmons Field 3,218
Kokomo Jackrabbits Kokomo, Indiana Kokomo Municipal Stadium 4,000
Lakeshore Chinooks Mequon, Wisconsin Kapco Park 3,000
Madison Mallards Madison, Wisconsin Warner Park 7,500
Rockford Rivets Loves Park, Illinois Rivets Stadium 3,279
Traverse City Pit Spitters Traverse City, Michigan Turtle Creek Stadium 4,200
Wisconsin Rapids Rafters Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin Witter Field 1,560
Wisconsin Woodchucks Wausau, Wisconsin Athletic Park 3,850
Division Team Location Stadium Capacity
Future[5]
St. Croix River Hounds Hudson, Wisconsin New Hudson Ballpark 4,000

Map of teams

Current team locations:
  Great Plains Division
  Great Lakes Division
  Future

Franchise timeline

St. Croix River HoundsTraverse City Pit SpittersKokomo JackrabbitsFond du Lac Dock SpidersBismarck LarksRockford RivetsKenosha KingfishKalamazoo GrowlersLakeshore ChinooksWisconsin Rapids RaftersWillmar StingersGreen Bay BullfrogsBattle Creek BombersEau Claire ExpressBrainerd Blue ThunderThunder Bay Border CatsLa Crosse LoggersDuluth HuskiesMadison MallardsAlexandria BeetlesMankato MashersSouthern Minny StarsGrand Forks Channel CatsBrainerd Mighty GullsWaterloo BucksWisconsin WoodchucksRochester HonkersManitowoc SkunksKenosha KroakersSt. Cloud Rox (collegiate summer baseball)

Not included are the temporary teams that were created and made for 2020 as teams had to cancel their season or only play locally/regionally.

Champions

Season Champion Runner-up Result
1994 Rochester Honkers --- ---
1995 Kenosha Kroakers Manitowoc Skunks 2-0
1996 Waterloo Bucks Rochester Honkers 2-0
1997 Rochester Honkers (2) Waterloo Bucks 2-1
1998 St. Cloud River Bats Rochester Honkers 2-0
1999 Rochester Honkers (3) St. Cloud River Bats 2-1
2000 St. Cloud River Bats (2) Waterloo Bucks 2-0
2001 Wisconsin Woodchucks St. Cloud River Bats 2-1
2002 Waterloo Bucks (2) Brainerd Mighty Gulls 2-0
2003 Wisconsin Woodchucks (2) St. Cloud River Bats 2-1
2004 Madison Mallards Duluth Huskies 2-0
2005 Thunder Bay Border Cats Madison Mallards 2-1
2006 Rochester Honkers (4) Thunder Bay Border Cats 2-0
2007 St. Cloud River Bats (3) Eau Claire Express 2-0
2008 Thunder Bay Border Cats (2) Madison Mallards 2-1
2009 Rochester Honkers (5)[6] La Crosse Loggers 2-1
2010 Eau Claire Express Rochester Honkers 2-1
2011 Battle Creek Bombers Mankato MoonDogs 2-0
2012 La Crosse Loggers Mankato MoonDogs 2-0
2013 Madison Mallards (2)[7] Duluth Huskies 2-0
2014 Lakeshore Chinooks[8] Mankato MoonDogs 2-0
2015 Kenosha Kingfish[9] St. Cloud Rox 2-0
2016 Wisconsin Rapids Rafters Eau Claire Express 2-0
2017 St. Cloud Rox (4) Battle Creek Bombers 2-1
2018 Fond du Lac Dock Spiders Duluth Huskies 2-1
2019 Traverse City Pit Spitters Eau Claire Express 3-2
2020 No official league champion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
2021 Traverse City Pit Spitters (2) St. Cloud Rox 9-3

From 1994-2018, the league championship series was a best-of-3 between the two division champions. When the league expanded in 2019, the championship became a one-game playoff.

Notable Northwoods League alumni

Max Scherzer

Umpiring

The Northwoods League, in addition to being a developmental league for players and coaches, is also a developmental league for umpires. The concentrated game schedule, travel, and Minor League-like game conditions give NWL umpires a pre-professional experience. Since the League's inaugural season in 1994, 44 of its former umpires have furthered their careers in affiliated professional baseball.

The League recruits its umpires from the two umpire schools whose curricula have been approved by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corps. (PBUC): The Minor League Umpire training Academy and Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires. The umpires ultimately chosen are usually among the top school graduates who were then selected to the pre-season, PBUC sponsored Umpire Evaluation Course.

The NWL contracts with eleven three-man crews during the regular season, a six-man crew during the mid-season All-Star game, and six umpires for both the divisional playoffs and championship series.

References

  1. ^ "Donovans sign to play summer ball". The Pennington School. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
  2. ^ Platt, Adam (June 22, 2018). "How the Northwoods League quietly became the dominant baseball league in the Upper Midwest". MinnPost. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  3. ^ "2021 Northwoods League Schedule Great Plains Division" (PDF). Northwoods League. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  4. ^ "2021 Northwoods League Schedule Great Lakes Division" (PDF). Northwoods League. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  5. ^ Spedden, Zach (October 12, 2019). "St. Croix River Hounds Set for 2021 Launch". Ballpark Digest. August Publications. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  6. ^ Grossfield, Edie (August 17, 2009). "We are the champions". Post-Bulletin. Rochester, Minnesota.
  7. ^ "Mallards Capture First Northwoods League Championship Since 2004". WMTV NBC 15. August 16, 2013.[dead link]
  8. ^ Hunt, Michael (August 21, 2014). "Lakeshore Chinooks named top summer collegiate team". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  9. ^ "Champion Kingfish reel in another honor". Kenosha News. October 19, 2015. Archived from the original on March 25, 2016.