On and off the field, the debut season for the Bismarck Larks was a hit.
The Northwoods League franchise sold out 27 of 36 games, while fielding a competitive first-year team. Their success did not go unnoticed across the 20-team league.
The Larks have been named the Northwoods League Organization of the Year. Also, general manager John Bollinger has been named Executive of the Year.
"Really, it speaks a lot about the community and the big-time support they showed and it turned into something really special," Bollinger said. "We thought we had a chance to do something cool, but you never really know, and there are always naysayers, but it didn't take long to see how overwhelming the support was going to be. Our fans were incredible."
In all, 54,600 spectators came through gates with an average of 1,517 per game, ranking sixth in the league. The energetic Bollinger, who also is part-owner of the team, has even bigger plans for 2018.
With creative configuring at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark, the plan is to add about 300 more seats per game. Plans are also in the works to make permanent additions to the ballpark.
"Our focus is on how do we make Year 2 better? How to take the fan experience to the next level," Bollinger said. "We surveyed our fans and asked them what they wanted and how can we make things better."
Among the new additions will be adding dessert to the Scheels 7-Game Packs, which have been selling quickly. At this time last year, none of the popular ticket packages had been sold. To date, more than 1,300 of the packages have been sold, featuring tickets, all-inclusive ballpark food and drinks, no-ticket wasted policy and giveaways. Bollinger said between 65 and 70 percent of cooperate tickets also have been snatched up.
The Larks have become a year-round operation. The team has eight full-time employees and will add a couple more in January. Bollinger is all-in having recently bought a house in Bismarck.
"We invest in people," Bollinger said. "We have a talented and dedicated staff that is doing a lot of really cool things, and are great people to work with. We feel really good about what we're building."
The roster is coming into shape as well. Coach Sean Repay already has commitments from more than 20 players. The team is likely to feature more players from large Division I schools next season. Tyler Steele and Jeff Lindgren, two of the Larks' top pitchers, will return in the spring.
"Our goal is to put the best team on the field and make the game experience even better," Bollinger said. "We owe that to the fans who made our first season such a huge success."