Sunday, July 29, 2012

The North Woods League All Star Game

Thursday July 24 was the North Woods League All Star Game, hosted by the Madison Mallards. The North division and South division squared off at 7:35pm in front of a sell-out crowd.  I took the day off as an usher for the Mallards to attend the game, because….

We also hosted the Home Run Derby! I’ve never caught a ball and figured it was my best shot. Unfortunately lots of others had the same idea, and the berm was populated by aggressive youngsters willing to sacrifice their bodies for a home-run ball. I figured it was unseemly to fight children, especially at my age. Also I have no skill.  Note the teen in the black shirt and blue hat, (at right) he caught two.

Turns out one of the best places to catch a home-run ball was OUTSIDE the ballpark. We had a lot of balls completely leave the yard – they calculated some of these at 435+ feet. Here’s the group of kids right outside the ‘Backyard’ area, waiting for the next one. 

These two friends (at right) went to the game together, and both ended up taking home a souvenir. Nice work, guys! (They said they’d email me their names, but didn’t, and so forever remain anonymous.)

I talked to another group of youngsters who amassed this nice treasure trove of balls. They did not offer to give me one even with heavy hint-dropping.  The winner of the Home Run Derby was Trevor Podratz of the Rochester Honkers (originally from Hawaii) crushed 23 home runs total to win the derby.

Now on to the game! A large contingent of umpires consolidate before the lineups are announced. Never seen so many in one place before.  And then to the starting lineups! Two Madison Mallards are represented in this year’s ASG, Tyler Marincov (outfield) and Anthony Marzi (LHP) Here is Tyler graciously signing autographs for the kids before the game. (lower right) I have found NWL players to be very generous with their time and attention, especially to little ones. 

The lineups are announced, the South wearing the home green jerseys.  It’s hard to think of Wisconsin as ‘south’ but I guess it’s not called the North Woods League for nothing. Many of the teams come from far north of Madison.  (The Thunder Bay Border Cats travel all the way from Canada!)

A Home Run Derby and a All Star Game – what was the most exciting part? The scouts! I was thrilled to see a veritable ARMY of scouts occupying the area behind home plate. I tend to frequent this area of the ballpark for the same reason: accurately viewing pitches.  Generally we have one or two scouts present.  I realized this was a one-stop-shop of sort for scouts, most of the best players the NWL has to offer without traveling all over the state. 

I love talking to scouts. Even though they are ‘at work’ and doing their jobs, most are quite willing to talk. They love baseball, after all, and most who do love to talk about it. I imagine they don’t really get much attention in the grand scheme of things from fans; in contrast to that I’m practically a groupie.  I admit I want to get as close as possible to anything MLB. These scouts have the aura of that world swirling all around them; they’re a link to that world that I find so fascinating. (In case you’re wondering scouts are not allowed to give interviews, IE for blogs)  In all I met scouts from the following teams: Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Orioles, Blue Jays, Angels, Padres, Detroit, White Sox, Rangers, and the Dodgers.  So to those that think North Woods League baseball is not ‘relevant baseball,’ you are quite mistaken. MLB does draft from the NWL. (also Bob Uecker and Robin Yount co-own the NWL team Lakeshore Chinooks, and there is nothing irrelevant about Uecker and Yount!)
After a tight game with well-played defense, it was tied in the 8th inning. (please visit for detailed play by play and stats from the game, box score here)Tyler Marincov, our very own Madison Mallard, steps up to the plate, and promptly unties it – with a home run! It would prove to be the winning run for the South division, and Tyler was awarded the MVP of the NWL All Star Game. The attendance of 6,073 broke the previous All-Star game attendance record set by the Mallards when they hosted the All-Star Game back in 2008.

If you haven’t been to a North Woods League game, I highly recommend attending. Yeah, it’s not MLB baseball. The fielding isn’t as tight, the pitches aren’t quite as fast. Keep in mind these guys are 18-23 college students, just starting out their professional careers.  The tickets and beer are cheap, and Mallards parking is free.  The stadiums are small, keeping you close to the action.  The players are accessible and willing to interact. It may not be MLB, but don’t dare imply to the players that it’s ‘irrelevant baseball’ – their heart and soul is in this game, and so is mine.