Rand: World Series-bound Mets have Northwoods League feel





ASSOCIATED PRESS New York Mets manager Terry Collins sprays the crowd after Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. The Mets won 8-3 to advance to the World Series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

By: Michael Rand, Star Tribune, @randball on Twitter

Curtis Granderson singled to lead off Wednesday night’s Game 4 of the NLCS. A few batters later, with two on and two out, Mets teammate Lucas Duda launched a three-run homer. Nine innings later, manager Terry Collins sprayed champagne all over Mets fans at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field, a celebration of New York clinching a trip to the World Series.

All three had come a long way from Mankato, Alexandria and Duluth, where they had spent short but instrumental parts of their careers in the Northwoods League — a summer baseball league for college players.

Granderson played for the Mankato franchise in 2001; Duda was with Alexandria in 2006; and Collins, perhaps the most interesting story of all, managed the Duluth franchise in 2009 after having previously managed major league baseball’s Astros and Angels.

Collins, who is often described as a baseball lifer and who has managed at virtually all levels of organized baseball, took the Duluth job for part of one summer after befriending former owner Bobby McCarthy. A little over a year later, he had his third shot as a major league manager with the Mets. Now he’s managing in his first MLB postseason and has the Mets four wins away from their first World Series title since 1986.

“He’s a great guy. He’s paid his dues,” Northwoods League Chairman Dick Radatz said Thursday. “Here he was in the Northwoods League, 20,000 leagues below the majors.”

It might feel that way to players, too, but playing in the league — which Radatz co-founded in 1994 — has proved to be an increasingly popular path to the majors. As of now, 141 former NWL players have made it to the majors, including 67 who were active this season.

Granderson is one of the league’s biggest success stories and served as a spokesman for the Northwoods League Foundation for two years.

“He’s just one of those special people you run into in life,” Radatz said. “I think he very much appreciated his time in the league, which I think he feels like helped prepare him for his career.”

The league comprises two divisions and 18 teams, with another set to join in Bismarck, N.D., in 2017. St. Cloud, Willmar and Rochester are the other Minnesota franchises, with several teams coming from Wisconsin and other regional spots.

“It’s all part of the evolution,” Radatz said, noting that both the Royals and Blue Jays both have league alums on their rosters. “Now I can turn on most any game and seen two or three of our players any night.”

Original story can be found here: Rand: World Series-bound Mets have Northwoods League feel