In 1994, a new baseball league was born, the Northwoods League, beginning with
franchises in Kenosha, Wausau and Manitowoc, Wisconsin; Dubuque, Iowa and Rochester,
Minnesota. This League was made up of "All-Star" teams of college players who competed
in a 56-game schedule between June and August. Each franchise was to promote their
games just like a professional franchise would. Fans could look forward to nightly
giveaways, concessions, fireworks and many exciting game events. At the end of the
first season, approximately 70,000 fans attended Northwoods League games and the
Rochester Honkers had claimed the first League title with a 31-15 overall record.
In 1995, the League grew to six franchises when the Waterloo Bucks (Waterloo, IA)
were added. That year also saw the Northwoods League's first All-Star game. On
Saturday, July 22nd, the Wausau Woodchucks hosted the first Northwoods League All-Star
game. This All-Star game featured the very best of the NWL. Along with the first
All-Star game, the NWL had its first Championship playoff series. The teams with the
best records of the first and second half of the season met in a Championship series.
Eventually, the Kenosha Kroakers claimed the 1995 title, downing the Manitowoc Skunks
two games to none and finishing with an overall record of 40-18.
The 1996 season season started on June 7th with the same six teams comprising the
League. This season, the second year franchise from Waterloo hosted the 2nd Annual NWL
All-Star game at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo, IA. The Waterloo Bucks had earned the
right to host the event by setting a single season attendance record in 1995, when
28,745 fans went through the gates in Waterloo. By the end of the regular season and
Championship series, the 2nd year Bucks had claimed their first NWL crown, having
defeated the Rochester Honkers two games to none.
1997 brought change in the NWL. One of the founding franchises, the Dubuque Mud
Puppies, relocated to St. Cloud, MN and became the St. Cloud River Bats. Besides the
location change, the league expanded its schedule of play to 64 games. Since its
inception, the League now had 45 alumni playing or signed to play professional
baseball. 1997 was the first time in League history that a franchise won a second
NWL title, when the Rochester Honkers defeated the Waterloo Bucks two games to one.
The Honkers finished with a 41-21 record. League attendance continued to grow, as
over 135,000 fans came through the turnstiles during the season.
In 1998, the League celebrated its five-year anniversary, welcomed three new teams
into the League, and moved to a two-division system. With the new teams entering the
League, one founding member closed its doors, the Manitowoc Skunks. All three teams
joining the NWL were former members of the now defunct Prairie League: Austin, MN,
Brainerd, MN and Grand Forks, ND. The five-year old league had grown to eight teams
covering four states (Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota). This season, the
NWL introduced a divisional playoff scenario, having a first and second half winner
meet in a playoff. The winners in each division series then meet in the NWL
championship series. Another positive note for the League was that all of the eight
teams were playing in ballparks where professional baseball had once been played.
In 1998, the second year franchise, St. Cloud Rivers Bats, took the NWL crown when
they defeated the Rochester Honkers two games to none.
1999 saw the first Alumnus of the NWL reach the Big Leagues. Jeff Weaver, a former
Dubuque Mud Puppy pitcher, made his first start for the Detroit Tigers on April 14,
1999 against the Minnesota Twins. The year brought about a name change in one founding
team. The Wausau Woodchucks became the Wisconsin Woodchucks, representing the only NWL
team in the entire state of Wisconsin. This season saw the appearance of a new
franchise and another founding member ceased operations. Entering the League was the
Mankato, MN Mashers and the Kenosha Kroakers closed their doors. The annual All-Star
game found a preeminent home in St. Cloud with the St. Cloud River Bats team playing
host to the event the next several years. 1999 saw the Rochester Honkers earning their
third championship crown. The Honkers and the River Bats met in a rematch of the '98
Championship Series, with the Honkers winning the series two games to one.
The new millennium, 2000, brought more changes for the League and another former
NWL player made his debut with the Colorado Rockies. Juan Pierre, former outfielder
of the Manitowoc Skunks, suited up for the National League's Rockies. The League
continued to shift, with the Austin Southern Minny Stars moving to Minot, ND, to
become the Minot Greenheads. With the increased miles for each team to travel, every
NWL squad traveled by coach bus during the season. The St. Cloud River Bats defeated
the Waterloo Bucks two games to none to claim their second title. Overall, the League
continued to see growth, as more than 217,000 fans witnessed NWL baseball and five of
the eight teams set new attendance records. By the end of the season, the NWL had more
than 160 alumni that were either active or that had played professional baseball over
the course of the last seven years.
The 2001 NWL season brought some great changes for the League. The Grand Forks
Channel Cats and the Minot Greenheads ceased operations, while two exciting franchises
opened in Alexandria, MN and Madison, WI. The Madison Mallards represented the largest
city to host a NWL team, while the Alexandria Beetles became the smallest. The NWL
All-Star Game saw a change as the NWL hosted Team USA in St. Cloud, MN. The NWL
All-Stars wound up defeating Team USA, 1-0, in 10 innings. It was the first and only
time to date that Team USA had been shut out by a team from the lower 48 states and
their only loss to a team from the lower 48 states in 2001. The Wisconsin Woodchucks,
one of two remaining inaugural NWL teams, claimed their first NWL Championship. The
Woodchucks defeated the St. Cloud River Bats two games to one in the best of three
championship series. League attendance continued to rise as more than 273,000 fans
attended NWL games, more than any other summer collegiate baseball league at an
average of 1,082 per game.
The 2002 NWL season saw single-season league records shattered, a long-time manager
earn a Championship and attendance records fall by the wayside. The NWL saves record
was broken by Wisconsin's Steve Grasley (Creighton) who racked up 19, breaking the
old record of 15 set by Wisconsin's Tim McNab (Indiana). Waterloo's Adam Boeve
(Northern Iowa) broke the stolen base record by swiping 43 bases, sliding by the
old record of 42 on the last day of the regular season. Two NWL teams broke the
team ERA record of 3.04 set by the 2000 St. Cloud squad. Brainerd's team ERA was
an impressive 2.73, but not to be outdone, the Wisconsin Woodchucks posted a
remarkable 2.53 team ERA. Long-time Waterloo manager Darrell Handelsman won his
first NWL title by leading the Bucks to a 2-0 series win over the Brainerd Mighty
Gulls. League attendance continued its unsurpassed growth by ballooning to another
record of over 337,000. Average attendance grew from 1,082 in 2001 to 1,365 that
The 2003 season saw a growth spurt with three new teams entering the circuit,
bringing the League to 10 members. New affiliates in La Crosse, WI, Duluth, MN and
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada joined the League in 2003 as the Brainerd Mighty Gulls
ceased operations following the 2002 campaign. Attendance grew by almost a quarter
of a million fans to over 580,000, with the average attendance in the NWL increasing
from 1,365 in 2002 to 1,803 in 2003.The Wisconsin Woodchucks won their second NWL
Championship in three years, defeating the North Division Champion, St. Cloud River
Bats, 2 games to 1, under the direction of former Major League pitcher Steve Foster.
David Schultz (Creighton) of the La Crosse Loggers hit 16 home runs, the most by
anyone since current Major Leaguer Jay Gibbons hit 17 in 1997. Mike Pankratz (San
Jacinto JC) of the Wisconsin Woodchucks was named League MVP after posting a .699
slugging percentage along with 12 home runs. The story in 2003, though, was the
pitching, as 5 players entered the top 11 all-time in single-season ERA. Jake Hansen
(Northern Iowa) of the Madison Mallards led with a 1.23 ERA, second lowest in NWL
history. Flame throwing Thomas Diamond (New Orleans) of the St. Cloud River Bats
became the 4th NWL pitcher to strikeout 100 batters in a season as he finished 3rd
all-time with 103. His teammate on both fronts (River Bats and New Orleans), JP
Martinez, registered 17 saves, second all-time in the NWL. Will Krout (Sonoma State)
of the Mankato Moondogs pitched great all summer, posting a League record 7 complete
games and 3 shutouts, good for second in League history. The St. Cloud River Bats
set a League pitching record for strikeouts and recorded the 2nd lowest ERA in team
In 2004, the Northwoods League would continue its trend of breaking records, both
on and off the field. Eight of the ten NWL teams shattered their season attendance
records, as 626,704 fans turned out for NWL baseball games in the summer of 2004.
This number represented a 7.5% increase over the previous year's total. Leading the
way was the Madison Mallards, who drew a NWL record 154,258 for the season including
over 10,000 to a regular season game at Warner Park in June. The 2004 baseball season
saw six more NWL alumni make their debut in the major leagues, bringing the current
total to 19 former NWL players competing in the big leagues. Two former Wisconsin
Woodchucks, Ben Zobrist and Jonathan Tierce, won batting titles at the professional
level in their first full professional season. In all, seventy NWL alumni were
drafted in the June 2004 Major League Baseball amateur draft including the 10th
pick overall, Thomas Diamond, by the Texas Rangers. This marked the highest selection
in NWL history, suprassing former alumni Jeff Weaver who was picked with the 14th
overall pick in 1998. On the field, Rick Cavaiani (UW-Milwaukee) of the Woodchucks
tied a team and league record for saves with 19. Ryan Hastings (Illinois) established
a new League record with 57 base on balls while playing for Waterloo. His college
teammate, Chad Frk, broke the all-time NWL record for games played with 227 from
2001-2004 with Waterloo and Madison. Phillip Hawke (Louisiana-Lafayette) was named
League MVP after leading the circuit in home runs (11), RBI (41), and slugging
percentage (.510). Hawke, also the winner of the "Star of Stars" award as All-Star
game MVP, batted .301 and finished second in the League with a .443 on base
percentage. Pitcher Lance Broadway (Texas Christian) finished with 95 strikeouts
to lead the league (7th All-Time) while also tossing one of three no-hitters in
2004. Adam Sanabria (Florida) from Rochester and Greg Reinhard (UW-Whitewater) of
Wisconsin threw the other no-hitters. The Madison Mallards won their first League
championship in 2004 under the guidance of Darrell Handelsman, who was named Manager
of the Year in the NWL. The championship marked the 2nd in Handelsman's career, the
only manager in League history to win the title twice. Madison's pitching staff
recorded a 2.54 team ERA, good for 2nd best All-Time in the NWL while four teams
struck out 500 or more batters during the season, led by Wisconsin's 524 strikeouts,
placing each in the top 6 All-Time.
Remarkably, the 2005 season witnessed more growth as both two new teams and fans
alike accounted for another record-breaking season in the NWL. With the addition of
Eau Claire, WI and the re-emergence of the Brainerd, MN franchise, the NWL had
expanded to 12 teams in this their 12th year of operation. With growth came more
record attendance numbers, as over 775,000 fans turned out for the 2005 season.
Leading the way once again was Madison, WI who averaged an astounding 5,738 fans
per night on their way to attracting a Summer Collegiate Baseball record of 200,000+
fans to the friendly confines of Warner Park. Ten of the 12 franchises set new
attendance marks with a League-wide average attendance of 1,884. On the diamond,
it was the League's only Canadian entry, the Thunder Bay Border Cats, who took home
the coveted hardware when they won the NWL Championship. The Cats, who were making
their first playoff appearance, knocked off the defending champion Madison Mallards,
2 games to 1, in an exciting Championship Series witnessed by record crowds the final
two games in Thunder Bay. Border Cats reliever Shawn Williams (College of Charleston),
son of former Big League Manager of the Year Jimy Williams, set a new NWL saves
record with 20, eclipsing the previous mark of 19 established twice in the previous
three seasons. Perhaps the biggest on-field story was Waterloo's Zach Daeges
(Creighton), who ended the season as the NWL's first triple crown winner. The
slugging first baseman led the circuit by batting .366, belting 13 home runs and
tying for the RBI lead with 48. However, Madison outfielder Ryan Rogowski (Illinois)
claimed the MVP award by hitting .345 and leading the NWL in hits (86), triples (5),
runs (52), and setting the all-time stolen base mark with 44. Alexandria, MN hosted
its first All-Star game before a record crowd of 1,857 in July. Once again, the NWL
had over 70 players drafted in the MLB Amateur draft in June and watched six of its
former alumni make their Major League debut in 2005, bringing the total to 25 former
players to have gone on to play in the Big Leagues.
The 2006 season saw continued growth as the Northwoods League broke another attendance record as over 813,000 fans came through the gates. The Madison Mallards led the way, drawing over 6,000 fans nightly to Warner Park, fondly known as "The Duck Pond". Eight of the twelve Northwoods franchises set new attendance records in the League's 13th season of play, as the average attendance League-wide ballooned to 1,989 per game.
The Rochester Honkers won the Championship in record-setting fashion, finishing with a 50-17 record, prior to sweeping through the playoffs with four straight victories. They defeated the Madison Mallards in the divisional championship, before knocking off the defending Northwoods League Champion Thunder Bay Border Cats in the championship series. The Honkers were led by reliever Jake Toohey (Illinois) who set a Northwoods League record for saves with 24 and all-purpose first baseman/pitcher Efren Navarro (UNLV) who was named the League MVP.
The League's All-Star game flourished in La Crosse, WI as former Major League Manager Bob Brenly addressed the All-Stars at a gala luncheon prior to the combine and game attended by a bevy of Major League Scouts and over 3,400 fans. Brenly's son Michael (UNLV), played for the La Crosse Loggers in 2006, and Oney Guillen (North Park, IL), son of Major League Manager Ozzie Guillen played in Thunder Bay.
Pitching dominated the scene in 2006 as only five batters hit above the coveted .300 batting average. The Madison Mallards set a League record for Team ERA as they posted a 2.17 ERA. Pitcher Charlie Shirek (Nebraska) set the career ERA record for all Northwoods League pitchers as he posted a 1.47 ERA in his two seasons as a Duluth Huskie.
The Major League Amateur Draft saw a record 96 current or former Northwoods players taken as the League's talent continues to escalate and gain recognition from Major League teams. For the third consecutive season, the League had a former pitcher drafted in the first round as former La Crosse Logger Max Scherzer (Missouri) was the 11th pick overall. He follows former St. Cloud River Bat Thomas Diamond (New Orleans) 10th overall in 2004, and former Wisconsin Woodchuck Lance Broadway (Texas Christian) 15th overall in 2005.
Nine Northwoods League alumni made their debut in Major League Baseball in 2006, bringing the total to 35 former players who have gone on to shine in the Majors.
In 2007 the Northwoods League got bigger and better, once again, by growing in size, expanding to a new media frontier, breaking more records, and having dozens of alumni advance their baseball careers. The League grew to 14 teams with the addition of the Battle Creek, MI Bombers and the Green Bay, WI Bullfrogs. The Battle Creek franchise became the first Michigan entry and the League now had a presence in four U.S. states plus the Canadian province of Ontario. However, it was the Green Bay Bullfrogs that made the big splash on the field as they became the first expansion franchise to reach the playoffs after running away with the South Division first half championship. They accomplished this, in part, by breaking a nine year old League record for consecutive victories by winning 15 straight games in June, to snap the mark of 14 set by the 1998 St. Cloud River Bats. Amazingly, that record didn't even hold for a season, as the Madison Mallards strung together 16 straight wins late in the year in their failed pursuit of the Eau Claire Express who won their first division championship. Both Eau Claire and the North Division's Duluth Huskies were steamrolled in consecutive playoff games by an emotional St. Cloud River Bats team who swept their way to a third League Championship. St. Cloud's triumph came nine days after the death of 19 year old pitcher Richie Gargel (Temple) who suffered fatal injuries in a swimming accident.
St. Cloud's season began with a stadium change, the first such instance in League history. The River Bats moved across the parking lot from their ten-year home of Dick Putz Field to their new home, the upgraded Joe Faber Field. This park, and the other 13 League-wide, combined to set another League attendance record with more than 854,000 fans watching NWL action in 2007. The League was again paced by Madison, which topped 200,000 fans for the second straight season and the one-million mark overall in their seventh year. Eight teams set their own single-game attendance record on a given night during the '07 season. The Mankato MoonDogs were one of those teams, who in addition had an even larger crowd of 2,319 when they hosted the annual Northwoods League All-Star Game on July 11th. That record crowd saw local favorite and MoonDog third baseman Nate Hanson (Minnesota) get the game-winning hit and earn the "Star of Stars" game MVP honor. Hanson went on to earn even more hardware by winning the batting title with a .363 average, the Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year (formerly Silver Glove) at third base, and a new Northwoods League award, the Rawlings Offensive Player of the Year that was issued to the top hitter at each position. The League MVP award was shared for the first time as Eau Claire outfielder/closer Kole Calhoun (Yavapai) and Green Bay outfielder Daniel Robertson (Concordia-Irvine) received Co-MVP honors. Robertson and Duluth second baseman Joe Bonadonna (Illinois) share a new League record having both stolen 45 bases in the 2007 season. Bonadonna, in his third year with the Huskies, tied the career mark with 75 steals. Other records set in '07 include Mankato's Chad Dawson (Indiana State) breaking the career saves mark by four, with 32, in two seasons and Brainerd Blue Thunder outfielder Andy Dirks (Wichita State) reaching base safely in 52 consecutive games to snap the old record of 50 set back in 1995.
The entire Northwoods League was showcased to a nationally televised audience for the first time with coverage provided by ESPNU. Three games, including the All-Star Game, and eleven 30-minute episodes of "Northwoods Baseball Weekly" aired throughout the summer on the specialized college sports network. In the meantime, NWL Alumni were advancing their careers with nine more players making their Major League debut to bring the League total to 44, and a record 120 players getting their named called during the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
In 2008, the Northwoods League celebrated its 15th anniversary season and accomplished some milestones along the way. Many of the milestones were because of great accomplishments by League alumni. In June, 141 current and former NWL players were selected in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft. This number dramatically eclipsed the previous record of 120 set a year earlier. In all, six players that once donned Northwoods League uniforms debuted at the Major League level in 2008. Max Scherzer (La Crosse, 2004) first appeared for the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 29th. His debut was one of the best debuts in Major League history with the right-handed pitcher entering the game in relief and throwing 4.1 perfect innings while striking out seven. In September when Casey McGehee (St. Cloud, 2001) joined the Chicago Cubs he became the 50th NWL alumnus to appear on a big league roster. Baltimore Orioles closer George Sherrill (Kenosha, 1997-98) became the first NWL alum to appear in a Major League all-star game when he pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in July's 15-inning classic.
The present day NWL players were seen in a new way in 2008. The League launched a new website in May, northwoodsleague.tv, which allowed fans from around the world for the first time to watch any game on the NWL schedule live or archived via a video webcast. For the second consecutive year fans from across the country viewed the NWL All-Star Game on ESPNU. The South All-Stars defeated the North 8-4 at Warner Park in Madison, WI on July 11th in front of an all-star game record crowd of 5,357. Madison set a summer collegiate baseball record totaling 207,949 fans through their gates during the 2008 regular season. Madison's 6,116 and La Crosse's average of 3,319 fans per game represented the two highest averages in all of Summer Collegiate Baseball. Madison and five other NWL franchise's set a team attendance record for per game average.
The success stories of some teams in attendance weren't felt by the Northwoods League as a whole. The League took a step back in overall attendance for the first time since 1996. This happened in part due to arguably the worst year for weather in NWL history. Twenty-four games were rained out and a number more were suspended shortly after starting. The Waterloo Bucks were displaced from Riverfront Stadium for 33 days due to the ballpark flooding in June. They were to play 16 games at Riverfront during that stretch. Instead, two were cancelled and the other 14 were played either on the road or a high school field in Waterloo drawing far fewer fans than they would have under normal circumstances. For the second time in four years the Thunder Bay Border Cats overcame one of the more difficult travel schedules in the League to take home the Northwoods League Championship. Playing the finale at home at Port Arthur Stadium, Thunder Bay defeated Madison two games to one in thrilling come-from-behind fashion. Wisconsin and Mankato were the other playoff participants with the MoonDogs being led by NWL MVP Carlos Ramirez (Chandler-Gilbert CC) and Manager of the Year Jason Nell (Iowa Lakes CC).
In 2009, it was former Northwoods League players making the headlines early in the summer. Another great Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in June saw 136 NWL alums selected including four in the first round. Catcher Tony Sanchez (Battle Creek, 2007) went fourth overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates to become the highest drafted alumni in the history of the Northwoods League. Outfielders Brett Jackson (La Crosse, 2007) and Tim Wheeler (St. Cloud, 2007) were selected later in the first round by the Cubs and Rockies, respectively, while pitcher Victor Black (La Crosse, 2007) joined Sanchez with the Pirates after being picked in the compensation portion of round one. Later in the summer Curtis Granderson (Mankato, 2001) of the Tigers and Ben Zobrist (Wisconsin, 2003) of the Rays were teammates for a day with the American League All-Star team, becoming the first duo of NWL alums to accomplish that feat. Another ten former NWLers debuted in the big leagues in 2009 to bring the all-time list to 60.
The Northwoods League All-Star Game stretched beyond the U.S. borders for the first time in 2009 with Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada serving as the host. Fans and players alike were treated by the presence of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup as Thunder Bay native Jordan Staal of the champion Pittsburgh Penguins - and baseball Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins - spread some Canadian pride. With 50 of the best NWL players on one field, it was the South Division that earned the 4-2 victory. Madison Mallard outfielder Kurtis Muller (Iowa) was awarded the Star-of-Stars game MVP award with his three-hit, two stolen-base performance in front of 2,256 fans.
For the fifth time in 16 years the Rochester Honkers proved to be the best team by winning the NWL Championship. At home at Mayo Field, the Honkers took down the La Crosse Loggers with a 7-4 game-three victory. The Honkers and Loggers both won their divisional playoff series in two games over the Mankato MoonDogs and Eau Claire Express, respectively. The Honkers were led by NWL MVP Corey Jones (Cal State Fullerton) whose .315 average, 13 home runs, and 43 RBI show that he was an offensive force throughout the season. Field Manager Rusty McNamara (UC Riverside) and Assistant Coach Joe Cotton (Bowling Green State) earned Manager and Coach of the Year Awards, respectively, in leading the Honkers to a 42-26 regular season record.
In the months following the 2009 season it was announced that the Northwoods League would be expanding to 16 teams in 2010. The Willmar (MN) Stingers were unveiled in December and will join the North Division while the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters became the newest member of the South Division in January.
In 2010, the Northwoods League celebrated its 17th season by welcoming two new organizations, introducing intra-divisional scheduling, and saw the most NWL alumni ever drafted. The Northwoods League also expanded the NWL brand with a four-camera webcast of all NWL games, the introduction of the first virtual media guide and the inaugural season of NWL Fantasy Baseball.
The Northwoods League added two teams to the league in 2010 with the Willmar Stingers joining the North Division and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters becoming the eighth team in the South. The addition of the two teams created a new intra-divisional format which consisted of two eight-team divisions. The intra-divisional format allowed for teams to play within the division only and drastically reduced travel for NWL teams.
In early June the Northwoods League experienced another record-setting Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as 157 players were selected. The 157 players are 21 more draftees than 2009 and 15 players were taken in the first five rounds. Chris Sale (La Crosse '08) was the highest pick of the NWL in 2010 as the Chicago White Sox selected him 13th overall. This marked the seventh consecutive draft that a Northwoods League alumnus has been selected in either the first round or the compensation round that followed. Past NWL Most Valuable Player award winners Corey Jones (Rochester '09) and Kole Calhoun (Eau Claire '07) were drafted in the 7th and 8th rounds, respectively.
The nations' premier summer collegiate league continued marketing the NWL brand with new and innovative ways. The NWL added a four-camera video system in all 16 ballparks across the league to enhance the webcasts of the games on NorthwoodsLeague.tv. A Virtual Guide allowed for all NWL fans to learn about the league in a new, tech friendly way. NWL Fantasy Baseball provided a new way for fans to follow the Northwoods League and its alumni while having a chance to win part of $2,000 in prizes.
The 2010 NWL Playoffs saw the Rochester Honkers take on the St. Cloud River Bats in the North Division Playoffs and the Eau Claire Express face the Wisconsin Woodchucks in the South Division. Rochester made the playoffs by winning the North Division 1st Half while the St. Cloud River Bats won the 2nd Half. Eau Claire won both the 1st and 2nd Half South Division titles and the Wisconsin Woodchucks were the South Division Playoff representative as they finished 2nd overall in the South Division.
The Summer Collegiate World Series pitted the Eau Claire Express versus the Rochester Honkers. The Eau Claire Express, managed by NWL Manager of the Year Dale Varsho, beat the Honkers in the three-game series to earn the title 'Northwoods League Champions' for the first time in franchise history. The Express earned 'Summer League Team of the Year' by Perfect Game Baseball as they finished the season 52-24.
All-Star festivities in July consisted of a banquet at Florian Gardens in Eau Claire, home run derby, professional scout workout, All-Star game and post-game fireworks. The banquet featured former Minnesota Twin and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. The home run derby was won by Duluth Huskie Mark Threlkeld (Louisiana Tech) with nine home runs in the in the three-round format. Threlkeld beat Madison Mallard Kyle Gaedele (Valparaiso) in the final round. Nearly 4,000 fans witnessed the 2010 All-Star game at Carson Park, home of the Eau Claire Express. NWL fans in attendance saw a great game that ended in a North Division 7-5 win thanks to the 'Star of Stars' Cody Asche (Nebraska) of the Duluth Huskies who went 2-for-4 with two RBI on the night.
Individual postseason awards were dominated by two teams, the Eau Claire Express and St. Cloud River Bats. Dale Varsho was awarded 'Manager of the Year' while Eau Claire Express Assistant Coach Shawn Peck was given 'Coach of the Year'. The St. Cloud River Bats had both the 'Player of the Year' and 'Pitcher of the Year'. Shortstop Steve Nyisztor (Rutgers) won 'Most Valuable Player' after finishing in the top-10 in hits (85), RBI (56), homeruns (8), triples (6) and at-bats (278). The athletic shortstop was also named NWL Top Prospect by Baseball America. Teammate Jason Wheeler (Loyola Marymount) won 'Pitcher of the Year' while leading the league with an 8-1 record and a 1.35 ERA. The lanky lefty held opponents under a .200 batting average and led the league in strikeouts with 74.
The 2011 Season saw many more Northwoods League records broken as the League became the first Summer-Collegiate League to draw over 900,000 fans to its parks as five teams set attendance records. Andrew Knapp (California) led the League in hitting with a .400 batting average, becoming the first player to hit .400 in a season since the '90's and Shaun Cooper (Utah) hit 20 Home Runs to set the League record while hitting 36 more during a fantastic power display to win the Northwoods League All-Star Game Home Run Derby. Cooper also had 63 RBI, set the Northwoods League record for Total Bases with 163, stole 15 bases and had a slugging percentage of .675 in one of the most productive summer-collegiate seasons in history, leading the Mankato MoonDogs to the Summer Collegiate World Series versus the eventual Northwoods League Champions, the Battle Creek Bombers. The Alexandria Beetles and Green Bay Bullfrogs were runners-up in the North and South Divisions, respectively.
The Bombers won their first Championship behind the leadership of former Major-Leaguer, Donnie Scott, who came to the team after having a very successful run as a Minor League manager in the Cincinnati Reds organization. The Bombers won both halves of the South Division season, winning 11 straight games to end the season with a 47-26 overall record. Daniel Rockett (UT-San Antonio) led the Bombers in the playoffs as the flashy centerfielder hit four home runs to add to his eight during the regular season, along with 53 RBI, second in the League to Cooper.
Dan Olinger (Minnesota) of the Brainerd Lunkers won the All-Star game MVP award, perhaps inspired by All-Star guest speaker, Hall-of-Famer and University of Minnesota alum, Paul Molitor. The game was played in front of a capacity crowd at second-year entry Wisconsin Rapids' Witter Field, a former Minnesota Twins affiliate facility in the Midwest League.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft saw another record 174 Northwoods League players and Alums chosen by Major League teams. Chris Reed (Stanford), a left-handed pitcher from the Wisconsin Woodchucks was the 16th player taken overall. This was the eighth consecutive year a Northwoods League player had been taken in the first round or compensation round. 40 Northwoods League players or alums were taken in the Top Ten Rounds. 467 Northwoods League players and alumni had been chosen in the last three MLB Drafts.
Post-season awards went to Donnie Scott, Manager of the Year, Cooper as Most Valuable Player and Mankato teammate Blake Schwartz (Minnesota State-Mankato), Pitcher of the Year, with a 6-1 record, a 1.71 Earned Run Average, while striking out 75 batters in 61 innings pitched. Mankato Coach, Jason Ramos, was named Coach of the Year.
The League's webcasts experienced 869,425 streams being viewed by watchers in over 100 different countries.
2012 continued the offensive onslaught previewed by Shaun Cooper's (Utah) record setting performance in 2011. Freshman Ben Moore (Alabama) won the Northwoods League's Most Valuable Player Award, playing for the Alexandria Beetles, by slugging 16 Home Runs and setting a single season RBI record with an astounding 84 RBI in 65 games played. The Northwoods League also broke the single-season attendance record for Summer-Collegiate baseball by drawing 946,611 fans led by the Madison Mallards who broke their previously held Summer-Collegiate single-season attendance record, drawing 217,143 to their home games and another 6,073 fans to the Northwoods League All-Star game, setting another League record.
The League welcomed a new member, the Lakeshore Chinooks, with Hall-of-Famers Robin Yount and Bob Uecker as part of an impressive ownership group and said good bye to the Brainerd Lunkers to complete the 16-team circuit. The Chinooks, playing in a newly constructed venue overlooking the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan on the campus of Concordia University, entered the South Division while the Waterloo Bucks moved to the North Division to replace Brainerd.
The League introduced the Northwoods League Studio to accentuate their League-wide webcasts, offering pre-game and post-game analysis and highlights on a daily basis, attracting over 33,000 video streams over the course of the summer.
On the field, the La Crosse Loggers claimed the Northwoods League Championship, winning the Summer Collegiate World Series in consecutive games over the Mankato MoonDogs who were runner-ups for the second consecutive summer. The Loggers swept the South Division Championship over the Wisconsin Woodchucks who valiantly fell, holding the ninth inning lead in both contests. Mankato beat Willmar in a three-game series in the North Division. Coach Andy McKay led the Loggers to the title after five years at the helm, compiling a 53-21 record for one of the finest teams to ever play in the Northwoods League. McKay accepted a position with the Colorado Rockies following the season.
The Northwoods League All-Star game saw over 75 Major League Scouts viewing an exciting 4-3 win by the South Division on an eighth inning home run by Tyler Marincov (North Florida) of the home town Mallards. Marincov was the MVP of the game, while Trevor Podratz (Hawaii) of the Rochester Honkers won an exciting Home Run Derby. The game also featured the sons of Minnesota Twins hitting coach, Joe Vavra, playing for the North Division. Tanner Vavra (Valparaiso) of the Alexandria Beetles and Trey (Madison College) of the Duluth Huskies both ended the season in the top 15 in batting average with Tanner tying for the League lead at .381.
Rounding out the post-season awards were Andy McKay, Manager of the Year, Joe Potulny (La Crosse Loggers) Coach of the Year and Jack Fischer (Wake Forest), a converted infielder for the Wisconsin Woodchucks who won Pitcher of the Year honors.
129 Northwoods League players and alums were chosen by Major League Teams in a Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft that had been reduced by 20% from the previous year to 40 rounds of selections.