By Tyler Bright
The infamous Interstate 94, which connects major metro hubs such as Chicago and Detroit, goes straight through Northwoods League (NWL) country. Along the freeway, there are exits at the cities of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, whose teams play in the biggest rivalry in the NWL: The I-94 Rivalry. The two clubs are just a short 28-mile drive from each other. What makes the rivalry so unique is the sense of community and passion for baseball in both Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.
Both ball clubs have been playing each other since the Growlers joined the Northwoods League in 2014. Both fan bases are passionate about the success of their teams, and many of the hardcore fans debate on which team is superior to the other in Southwest Michigan.
As the Battle Creek faithful might recall, the Bomb Squad never lost a season series against the Growlers up until 2019, commanding the I-94 rivalry for five seasons. On the contrary, Kalamazoo has recently turned the series in their favor, winning the 2022 series, 9-3. In addition, Kalamazoo’s victory in the 2022 Northwoods League Championship, their honor of being named the Organization of the Year, and the accolade of having the Executive of the Year give them a boost of confidence in the I-94 rivalry going into this year. As a result, the Growlers may be overlooking the Battle Jacks potential down the stretch. So much so that even an employee of the Growlers referred to the Battle Jacks as “little brother.”
It is a narrative that is looking all too familiar to the famous “little brother” comment made by former University of Michigan stand out running back Mike Hart. At a post-game press conference back in 2007, Hart referred to Michigan State as “little brother”. Unbeknownst to Hart at the time, The Spartans would go on to beat the Wolverines the following four matchups. The comments made by the Michigan running back proved to be a huge factor in providing Michigan State with the motivation to turn the tides of the series. In a similar way to the Spartans, Kalamazoo’s comments may just be bulletin board material for the Battle Jacks as they strive to take momentum in the I-94 rivalry back.
To up the ante, the two cities cannot even agree on what food is better. Fans in Kalamazoo are Team Mac and Cheese while Battle Creek supporters side with Team Doughnuts.
With the Growlers having the series lead, the Battle Jacks need to finish strong to claim the I-94 Rivalry Cup. The Battle Jacks and Growlers have four games with each other in the final 12 games of the season. The final push for the cup starts at 6:35 on Monday.