From Intern to Player: How Aidan Wojciehowski Became the Most Unique Story in Northwoods League History
By: Nathan DeSutter
When Aidan Wojciehowski first walked through the gates of the brand new, freshly turfed, Kapco Park during the summer of 2012, the Port Washington High School sophomore made a promise; one day, he was going to play in a Lakeshore Chinooks uniform.
During the winter of his Junior year, that dream was quickly derailed. The day before his first baseball game–scheduled in the hallowed Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis—Wojciehowski slipped, fell and broke his wrist while lifting weights. Not only did the injury take away most of his junior season, but it also prevented him from making a name for himself with Division II and Division III baseball coaches.
But, he isn’t the kind to wallow in self-pity. Instead, he rehabbed, became a two-time Honorable mention All-Conference fullback, two-year varsity wrestler, one-year varsity basketball player, and finished his third and final year of varsity baseball as a first baseman and occasional relief pitcher.
He took all of those athletic talents, plus his trademark positivity, charisma and under the surface ability to be the lead singer of an a cappella group to Loras college in Dubuque, Iowa for the fall of 2015.
Originally, his plan was to be a fullback on the DuHawks DIII football team and pursue a career as a sports broadcaster, but baseball—the sport that tried to escape him—called him back home.
“I got sick of bashing my head in as a fullback,” Wojciehowski said. “I joined the baseball team at [Loras] fifteen days before the season started and and got a small role on the team my freshman year.”
What really intrigued the DuHawks coaching staff was his funky delivery from the left side that features two arm slots and six different pitches.
“What makes me useful is I throw over the top and on the side,” he said. “I messed around with [the delivery] my senior year of high school, and when I got to school they said, ‘Hey, we like that, let’s develop that more.’ So, I don't have the velocity that some of these guys do, but that arm angle can be weird enough.”
His reemergence into baseball, plus his continuing dream of being a sports broadcaster is what made him send an email to the Lakeshore Chinooks internship director, Eric Snodgrass, inquiring about a position on their camera crew for the summer of 2015.
When Wojciehowski went in for his interview, Snodgrass was immediately impressed.
“He was always smiling and had a great attitude,” Snodgrass said. “He wanted to learn as much as possible about the industry and the media side of things, and obviously, being a player, had a good understanding of the game.”
Throughout the summer, he made a name for himself as both the leader and the standout member of the broadcasting team by developing new ideas for between inning videos and through his willingness to take on any challenge.
“He’s the best intern we’ve ever had,” said Arie Bazelon, the Chinooks video board operator.“He did a lot of editing, a lot of voiceovers. He was very involved. It was the first year we started to evolve our videos, and he took it and ran with it.”
He didn't just excel with the camera; he was involved all throughout Kapco Park’s game day operations.
“There were probably days where he hopped into concessions last minute,” Snodgrass said. “He sang the national anthem…he was always willing to help out wherever.”
Everyone always looked forward to the days Wojciehowski sung the national anthem, especially Chinooks long-time broadcaster, Matt Menzl.
“He didn't just sing; he nailed the national anthem. He had it down to an art,” Menzl said. I think he sang 2-3 times during the year. Any time they were in a bind, somebody didn't show up, or they didn't have a singer, he was right there volunteering his services.”
After the summer was over, Wojciehowski returned to Loras and kept plugging away at his baseball dream.
Over the next two seasons, he carved out a more important role that blossomed him into one of the DuHawks top left-handed relief options for the 2017 season.
His on the field success changed his off the field plans as well. Despite an impressive sports anchor highlight reel….
…he decided he would take his skills and become a baseball coach.
“The next Eddy Morgan, that’s my dream path right now,” Wojciehowski said referring to his new Chinooks coach. “What I want to do is be a grad assistant. You get grad school for free. You coach, and that’s your pay. So, you get to have a free masters degree.
But, before he was fully ready to plunge into a coaching career, he gave one last attempt at making his dream from 2012—the dream he had while walking through the metal gates of Kapco Park—a reality.
So, he sat down at his school computer and sent another email to Chinooks management, expect his time it didn’t go to Snodgrass. Instead, it went to the manager of baseball operations Jon Cain.
“I emailed them and said, ‘Hey I would love to play for you guys,”” Wojciehowski said. ‘They said, ‘We’re gonna look for Division I and Division II guys first, but at the end of the year, we always need arms. So, keep in touch’”
In the mean time, Wojciehowski went to play for the Sheboygan A’s, a team—recommended to him by Chinooks management— that plays over 60 combined games in the Wisconsin and Northeastern Wisconsin leagues.
Quickly, he emerged as one of the A’s best bullpen arms. In 13 games, he tossed 20.1 innings and sported a 2.61 ERA. Plus, he surrendered only 19 hits and 12 walks while striking out 22.
As the summer wore on, it looked like the A’s would be the only team he’d suit up for, but on July 24th, he got the call he’d been waiting for since 2012.
“I’m the newest member of the Lakeshore Chinooks!” Wojciehowski announced to his dad. “I was pretty excited, but I think my dad was even more excited. He’s a pretty emotional guy, so he was fired up which got me even more excited.”
That night, the night before he officially signed on July 25th, the pair headed out to a Chinooks game to take it all in, but when he saw the team, Wojciehowski was initially worried.
“I realized, I gotta grow my hair out, I gotta get the flow going,” he said while running his hand through his well-trimmed buzzcut
The other thing that worried him, he had to inform the Sheboygan A’s, and his other internship as a cosmetics sales representative with Arbon—a job he’d been working 7 am to 5 pm five days a week on top of playing baseball at nights— that he’d be leaving them for Lakeshore.
The A’s were thrilled and proud to have a member of their team graduate to the Chinooks, but his boss at Arbon was a bit confused.
“I said, ‘I got a contract,’ and they said, ‘For what?’, Thinking it was an internship or something,” Wojciehowski said. But, when he told them he’d be playing, they couldn't have been more excited for him.
That same excitement spread throughout the Chinooks organization when his former colleagues found out he’d graduated from intern to player.
“One of the interns that interned with him [in 2015] helped out us yesterday, and when I told her, she said, ‘That’s crazy, just coming full circle,” Bazelon said. “When I told Joe [Labarbera, the Chinooks broadcast director] he made the joke, ‘Maybe, when he's not pitching he can run the camera!”
“It’s a heck of a story,” Menzl said. “He’s been a jack of all trades for this organization over the last couple of summers. It’s definitely unique to the Northwoods League.”
Unfortunately, Wojciehowski didn’t get to make his debut under the Kapco lights. Instead, he took the mound during the bottom of the 7th inning at historic Simmons Filed against the Kenosha Kingfish.
Though the game was well out or reach, the Chinooks were down 12-2, Wojciehowski impressed by manufacturing a 4-6-3 double play to get out of a tight spot in the seventh and tossed a 1-2-3 8th to end the day with 1.2 scoreless innings.
“It was awesome, everything I hoped for and more,” Wojciehowski said after the debut. “I got a strikeout, that’s what I wanted. I figured it’d be in a blowout, but if I could get out with no runs, that’d be the ideal situation, and that’s what I did.”
His second outing came on the road as well, this time against the division leading Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, and even though he gave up a run, he held his own against a ball club with a 44-18 record.
Before the season ends on August 13th, pending playoffs, Wojciehowski hopes to get an appearance at home, a moment that’d be incredibly special for his Port Washington friends, family, and mentors.
I think any local kids around here, it’s really special to have them come home, Bazelon said. “Then their families can come watch them. I think it’s gonna be a really cool thing.”
Though, Wojciehowski admits it’ll be a bit nerve-wracking as well.
“Any Chinooks game I know at least two or three people in the stands, even before I was playing. So, seeing those people and knowing that people will eventually hear about me and come try and see me pitch is gonna be nerve-wracking for sure,” he said.
Regardless, it’ll be a special day for the entire Chinooks organization, in fact, Snodgrass compared it to the debut of the Chinooks first MLB player, Zack Granite, with the Twins earlier this July.
“Just like having Granite in the pros, now we have our first intern to become a player,” he said.
However, Wojciehowski hopes that his story won’t be one of a kind. To all those DIII baseball players dreaming of continuing their baseball careers at a higher level like the Northwoods League, don’t give up.
“Just go for it,” he said. “You never know where you’re gonna end up. You can fluke your way into a spot kind of like I did.”