Rafters Front Office
John Fanta – General Manager
John Fanta, the 2016 Northwoods League Executive of the Year, enters his 11th season in the Northwoods League and fifth as General Manager of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. In addition to helping manage the roster, Fanta oversees all ticket sales and advertising sales for the team. Under his leadership the Rafters drew a team record 51,694 fans and tied or broke 21 franchise records on the field in 2016, culminating in a Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series Championship. In his first season as GM, the Rafters drew 47,631 fans which was the second highest overall attendance in the team’s first five years of existence and ranked 17th-best among all summer collegiate leagues in the country. In 2015 the Rafters set a new per game attendance average of 1,464 fans per game and hosted the largest crowd in team history (2,500). In his time as GM, he has guided numerous endeavors to improve the existing Witter Field facility including the addition of a HD video board, the League’s first ever Interactive Accessible Seating Area, as well as an interactive water-powered bar experience, the Point Craft River. Fanta has also helped oversee two Northwoods League All-Star Games in Wisconsin Rapids (2011 and 2015) and was named the 2014 Big Top Baseball Executive of the Year.
Fanta joined the Rafters as Assistant GM prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010, after spending two seasons as the ticket sales intern for the La Crosse Loggers where he oversaw a ticket sales operation that annually ranks second in the nation for summer collegiate baseball. He is a 2009 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Business Administration. During college he spent two years and as intern in the Viterbo University athletics department where he assisted the athletics director in event managment for multiple sports. Fanta is a native of Viroqua, Wisconsin and currently resides in Wisconsin Rapids. He is involved in the community as a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club, the Boys and Girls Club’s “Club Blue”, and the Sports Commission and was honored by Daily Tribune Media as one of Wisconsin Rapids’ People of the Year in both 2015 and 2016. In his free time he enjoys running, fishing, spending time with family and friends, and is an avid Brewers, Packers, and Badgers fan.
Jake Serwe – Assistant General Manager
Jake Serwe enters his seventh season with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and third as Assistant GM. Jake began his career with the Rafters as an operations intern and head groundskeeper in 2012 before joining the staff seasonally as the Ticket Sales and Box Office Manager in 2013. After his first two seasons, Jake was promoted full-time to Inside Sales and Operations Manager, a position which he held for the 2014 and 2015 seasons prior to being named Assistant GM. Serwe works with Rafters season ticket package holders and businesses to find group outing solutions for their employees. Jake updates the Rafters team website, writes press releases and coordinates media requests. He will also manage concessions and ballpark operations at Witter Field during the summer. Serwe began his career in baseball as an intern with the Omaha Storm Chasers of the Pacific Coast League in 2011. He received his bachelor’s degree in Sport Management from UW-Parkside in December of 2012. The Brownsville, WI native enjoys watching Wisconsin Sports and loves to go deer hunting and fishing in his spare time.
Emily Steines – Inside Sales and Corporate Service Manager
Emily Steines enters her fourth season with the Rafters and second as Inside Sales and Corporate Service Manager. Steines spent the summer of 2016 in a seasonal role as the Corporate Service and Marketing Manager. In her role she will work with corporate partners to execute sponsorships, and oversee the promotional team during the season to create a unique ballpark experience. She will also work with Rafters 9-game package holders, churches and local non-profit organizations to find fundraising and group outing solutions. After starting her career in baseball with the Rafters in 2013 as a Marketing Intern, Emily spent her summers with the Johnson City Cardinals as a Community Relations Intern and the Great Falls Voyagers as the Promotions Coordinator. Emily received her bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in May of 2015. Originally from Marshfield, Wisconsin, Emily currently resides in Wisconsin Rapids. Emily is a devoted Brewers fan and enjoys relaxing on the lake and roasting marshmallows around a campfire in her free time.
Big Top Baseball Staff
Vern Stenman – Co-Owner/President
Stenman, the 2003 and 2005 Northwoods League Executive of the Year, enters his 22nd season in the NWL, and seventh as Co-Owner/President of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. He also serves as the President of the Madison Mallards and Co-Owner/President of the Green Bay Bullfrogs and Kenosha Kingfish, all members of Big Top Baseball. Prior to starting up the Rafters in 2010, Stenman spent eight seasons as the Madison Mallards General Manager. His innovative promotional ideas and steady vision have contributed to his team’s rising attendance–drawing 393,192 fans between his four Big Top Baseball teams in 2015— and the Rafters consistency with finishing in the top half of the League in attendance each season despite existing in the second smallest populated city in the entire Northwoods League. Prior to Madison he was an intern and later Assistant GM for the St. Cloud River Bats from 1997 to 2000 before taking a corporate account position with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild for a year. Stenman and wife Kallie have two children, daughter Chloe Mae and son Bode Axel. He is originally from St. Cloud, MN.
Steve Schmitt – Co-Owner
Schmitt’s passion for the game and extraordinary attention to customer service are two big reasons why Big Top Baseball and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, Madison Mallards, Kenosha Kingfish, and Green Bay Bullfrogs baseball teams have all become a summertime mainstay in their respective cities. Since Steve began owning a team in 2001, the Mallards have made the playoffs five times, including a Northwoods League Championship in 2004 and 2013, and appearances in the Championship Series in 2005 & 2008. Schmitt’s teams have finished at-least in the top-half of the division standings for every year but two since the Madison franchise’s inception. Also the owner of the midwest’s largest shoe store “The Shoe Box” and Rookies Sports Bar in Black Earth, WI, Steve is actively involved in the community and is a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan.
Conor Caloia – Chief Operating Officer
As the COO of Big Top Baseball and along with President Vern Stenman, Caloia oversees the Madison Mallards, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, Kenosha Kingfish and Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League, Breese Stevens Field and Festival Foods Shake the Lake. Caloia is entering his 13th season with the organization after starting as a public relations intern for the Mallards in 2003.
After serving as the Mallards Assistant General Manager for two seasons, Caloia relocated to Denver to work as the Director of Marketing of the Western Athletic Conference. Following his stint with the WAC, Caloia served as the Director of Operations for the Wilmington Sharks of the Coastal Plains League. Under his leadership the Sharks hosted the 2009 CPL All-Star Game and were named the 2009 CPL Organization of the Year.
He returned to Madison in December of 2009 as General Manager of the Mallards and was named the Northwoods League Executive of the Year in 2011. Caloia was involved in the founding of the Kenosha Kingfish (2013), acquisition of the Green Bay Bullfrogs (2013), the creation of Festival Food Shake the Lake (2015) and the re-birth of Breese Stevens Field (2016).
In addition to his responsibilities with Big Top Baseball, Caloia is on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.
He received his undergraduate degree from of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in Journalism and a focus on Strategic Communication and his M.B.A. from the UW-Madison. He lives on the near west side of Madison with his wife Rachel, daughter Ella, and son Keegan. He is originally from St. Charles, Ill.
Liz Kern – Vice President
Liz Kern started working for the Madison Mallards in 2004 as a game day employee. She was invited back each season after that and continued to expand her roles until she took on a full time position in 2007. In 2007 she became the Customer Service and Box Office Manager. In 2010 Liz was promoted to General Manager of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, making her the first female GM in Northwoods League history. After four successful and fun season in Wis Rapids, Liz moved to Green Bay to be the GM for the fourth team to be added to the newly named Big Top Baseball. In 2016, after 11 years with the organization, Liz moved back to Madison and is now the Vice President of Big Top Baseball. In this new role, she works primarily with HR, payroll and special events. Liz has been part of some spectacular events in BTB history including: June 4, 2004 when the Mallards drew over 10,000 fans to the game that evening; June 6, 2010 – the inaugural game for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters; May 31, 2014 – the inaugural game for the Kenosha Kingfish; and August 6, 2015 – the highest attended game in Green Bay Bullfrogs franchise history featuring Mike McCarthy as a guest, as well as many more events along the way. Liz enjoys seeing fans enjoying the ballpark from the minute they get to the ballpark until they leave.
Macy Nguyen – Digital Marketing and Design Manager
Nguyen enters her fourth season with Big Top Baseball as the Digital Marketing and Design Manager. In this role, she designs and produces creative content for all Big Top Baseball teams. Previous to her Big Top Baseball role, she worked for two years with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. She completed a Video and Webcast Production internship in 2013 and spent the summer of 2014 in a seasonal role as the Media Coordinator. She graduated in December of 2014 from Crown College in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota with a degree in Communications. The Watertown, SD native enjoys playing tennis and spending time outside in her free time. She currently resides in Madison and works out of the office at the Duck Pond.