John Fanta – Vice President, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters & Green Bay Bullfrogs
John Fanta, the 2016 Northwoods League Executive of the Year, is in the midst of his 12th season in the Northwoods League. In July of 2018, he was promoted to Vice President, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters & Green Bay Bullfrogs after serving five seasons as General Manager of the Rafters. Under his leadership the Rafters have drawn record attendances and broke many team records over the years, including consecutive attendances of over 50,000 in 2016 and 2017. In 2017 he oversaw a team that broke 35 team and league records, including becoming the first team in the Northwoods League’s 24 year history to win 52 games in a season. In 2016, the team tied or broke 21 franchise records on the field, culminating in a Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series Championship. During his tenure as GM, Fanta guided numerous endeavors to improve the Witter Field facility including a complete re-grade of the infield playing surface, the addition of an HD video board, the League’s first ever Interactive Accessible Seating Area, as well as an interactive water-powered bar fan experience, the Point Craft River. Fanta also oversaw the largest crowd in team history in 2015 (2,500), two Northwoods League All-Star Games (2011 and 2015) and was named the 2014 Big Top Baseball Executive of the Year.
Fanta joined Big Top Baseball and the Rafters as Assistant GM prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010, after spending two summers as the ticket sales intern for the La Crosse Loggers where he managed the box office for an organization that annually ranks second in the nation for summer collegiate baseball attendance. He is a 2009 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he earned his bachelor’s 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 management for multiple sports. Fanta is a native of Viroqua, Wisconsin and currently resides in Wisconsin Rapids. Throughout the years he has been involved in the community as a member of the Noon and Sunrise Rotary Clubs, 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. His hobbies include running, fishing, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying Brewers, Packers, Bucks, and Badgers games.
Andy Francis – General Manager
Francis was recently promoted to General Manager of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Prior to being named GM of the Rafters, Francis was in his third season with the Bullfrogs and second as Assistant General Manager. He is no stranger to Wisconsin Rapids as he spent the 2015 season as a member of the Rafters staff. He also spent time working for the Green Bay Packers before joining the Bullfrogs as an Inside Ticket Sale Representative at the end of 2015. Francis is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where he worked with the Intramural program as a supervisor. Outside of work, Francis enjoys watching baseball and spending time with family and friends.
Matt Steinmetz – Assistant GM
Matt Steinmetz enters his second season with the Rafters as Assistant GM. Since 2014, he has interned for multiple sports organizations including the Milwaukee Bucks, Green Bay Blizzard, and Green Bay Bullfrogs. His other experiences include stints with the Milwaukee Admirals and most recently as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers Grounds Staff, while working towards his Master’s degree. Steinmetz works with Rafters season ticket package holders and businesses to find entertainment and group outing solutions and also oversees game day operations at Witter Field.
Steinmetz began his career in baseball as an intern with the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League in 2015. He received his bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from St. Norbert College in 2015 and his Master’s in Sports Business Management from Cardinal Stritch in 2017. Matt is a native of Boyd, Wisconsin.
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.