Three-team Northwoods League summer of baseball in Bismarck came together quickly
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Three-team Northwoods League summer of baseball in Bismarck came together quickly

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Bollinger

Baseball’s leisurely pace lends itself to slow nights at the ballpark or at home watching on TV.

However, when it came to throwing together a sawed off three-team Northwoods League season in Bismarck, John Bollinger had to kick it into high gear.

In about a month, the likely prospect of having no season turned into a 72-game, three-team baseball bonanza which starts here Monday night.

“I never doubted our team, our fans or our sponsors would come together to figure out something fun, I never doubted that. What that ultimately would end up looking like, I had no idea. I still have doubts. I still have worries, but we’re so excited that we’re going to be playing baseball in Bismarck this summer,” Bollinger said. “The phone calls and the emails of support from our fans inspired us to press on. From the bottom of my heart I can’t thank our fans and our sponsors enough for helping us pull this off. It’s been a wild ride.”

When restrictions were eased on May 4 regarding large gatherings, the door was opened. Still, with larger states continuing stricter social distancing guidelines to combat COVID-19, a traditional Northwoods League season was lost.

Working closely alongside government leaders, public health agencies and the Bismarck Parks and Rec, a plan was hatched to field three teams based in Bismarck -- the Larks, Bull Moose and Flickertails, the latter of which was moved to Mandan, where the team will be housed and fed.

“We had to think outside the box. In every way imaginable, this was a total team effort. It really was,” Bollinger said. “We’re thankful we live in North Dakota. The number of (coronavirus) cases are low relative to the rest of the country, thank goodness. We need everyone’s support and help as we go forward. We need to be North Dakota smart with individual responsibility.

“Health and safety is our No. 1 priority. Everyone is assuming risk. If we’re not following social distancing guidelines and being smart and someone ends up testing positive, that could put the season in jeopardy.”

Filling two additional rosters came together even more quickly. In less than two weeks, the Bull Moose and Flickertails, largely the team initially ticketed for Thunder Bay, were polished off with each team having more than 20 NCAA Division I players. Upon arriving in Bismarck for practice, which began with a handful of players on Tuesday, players are tested for COVID-19.

“These guys want to play baseball,” Bollinger said. “With all the cancellations and disappointments they’ve been through, they just want to play ball. Our coaches did a great job assembling the teams and they did it quickly.”

Having to foot the bill for two additional teams will test the budget, but there was no hesitation.

“With more teams, there’s more costs. Hotels, meals, bats, uniforms, all these things add up,” Bollinger said. “Is this going to be our best year financially? No, but a lot of people are going through tough times. Right now, people need fun more than ever and that’s what we’re going to do, safely.”

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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