The summer sports season in Bismarck added a new face on Friday morning when the Parks and Recreation department officially announced the addition of a Northwoods League baseball team to begin playing its home games at Municipal Ballpark during the summer of 2017.
“We were first contacted by the Northwoods League in the fall of 2011, and we talked about the possibility of locating a Northwoods team in Bismarck,” Parks and Rec executive director Randy Bina said. “We continued to have discussions, and they really followed very closely with the ballpark, and as that progressed we became more serious in contract negotiations. I think we negotiated a lease agreement for the ballpark for, I think it took us 18 months to two years, but it was a good process, and at the end, we have a very good arrangement for the both of us.
“We’re excited as we move forward, that the board of park commissioners in October signed the lease agreement for 10 years with the option for two five-year periods to renew.”
The Northwoods League is a summer development league for college baseball players. It has been around for 22 years and is currently the largest organized league in the world with 18 teams.
“We are the largest organized league in North America currently,” league chairman Dick Radatz Jr. said. “We have 800-900 who run through our league every year, and we have over 140 major leaguers that have come through the Northwoods League with some very prominent like Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals), Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox) and Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers).”
In addition to the 2013 Cy Young winner Scherzer as well as all-stars Sale and Zimmermann, the league has seen more than 140 players advance to Major League baseball. 2015 World Series participants Curtis Granderson (New York Mets) and Ben Zobrist (formally of the Kansas City Royals) are among other names that have passed through the Northwoods League on their way to playing at the game’s highest level.
At this point, the Bismarck Northwoods team has yet to be given a name, but newly-named team general manager John Bollinger announced that there will be a special contest to fix this early this summer.
“This summer we will be having a team-name contest,” he said. “A lot of people ask us about the team name, and we have our favorites internally, but this truly is the community’s team. It’s a really fun promotion we’ll do this summer, as we will allow the community to send in submissions, send in names, and we will choose a top-5, and from there, halfway through the summer, we’ll put it out to the vote so the community will get to weigh in.”
The league prides itself on fun, stating that its target audience is people who are not even baseball fans. Bollinger referenced a number of draws including fireworks and excellent food for families that may not have an interest in the sport itself.
“I’m a big believer that fun, if done right, can truly make a difference,” Bollinger said. “Whether it’s the family that takes their son or daughter out for the first time, and it’s exciting with the fireworks and the food is great, that’s a memory that they will have for the rest of their lives.”
In addition, the Northwoods League has made upgrades in technology so that fans can see highlights from road games and keep up with the team on the scoreboard ticker scrolling through at the bottom of the screen during Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers broadcasts.
“It’s the amenities that a community offers that makes a community great,” president of the board Julie Jeske said. “The addition of the Northwoods League team is just another thing that we can add to the fantastic listings of offerings within our community.
“On behalf of the board of commissioners, we’d like to welcome you to our community, and we are really excited to have you here. We’re looking forward to some fantastic baseball next summer season.”