Patrick Reusse: Northwoods League is an old, college try that's thriving

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 24, 2013 - 6:48 AM

The Northwoods League — built from the ground up with collegiate players — is thriving across the Upper Midwest.

view larger photos

  

– Dick Radatz Jr. and George MacDonald Jr. were legacy employees in professional baseball. Dick’s father was the famous “Monster” of the Boston Red Sox’ bullpen and George’s father was the president of the Florida State League.

Dick Jr. was running the Winter Haven club in the Florida State League for the Red Sox in the late 1980s. George Jr. had followed his father as the league’s president.

They both were fired.

“We knew how to promote the game,” Radatz said. “The independent league movement had started. We were looking for the right business model to get back in the game.”

Radatz and MacDonald came up with the idea of a for-profit summer collegiate league. This business model would combine the promotional tactics of the low minors and independent leagues, with the NCAA’s secret of success.

“Free labor,” Radatz said.

Bill McKee, another minor league operator, joined the partnership in 1994. The Northwoods League started that summer with five franchises: Kenosha, Manitowoc and Wausau, Wis.; Dubuque, Iowa; and Rochester.

“We were charging $125,000 per franchise,” Radatz said. “The [independent] Northern League had pulled out of Rochester. That didn’t make people happy, and we couldn’t find an owner. I said, ‘I’ll take Rochester.’ ”

Radatz and his wife, Kathy, borrowed against her 401(k) to come up with their share of seed money to start the league and a down payment to own the Rochester Honkers.

“We averaged 551 people a game that first summer in Rochester, and we made a few bucks,” Radatz said. “I knew then this would work as a business.”

Radatz was sitting in Carson Park on Tuesday afternoon. The All-Star Game marking the Northwoods League’s 20th season would start in a few hours. For now, there were 60, 70 scouts from major league clubs sitting in the stands, watching early sessions of batting and fielding practice for the 26 position players in the All-Star Game.

The Northwoods League has had 105 alumni make it to the big leagues. A half-dozen were in New York for this month’s MLB All-Star Game: Chris Sale and Max Scherzer (both La Crosse), Jordan Zimmermann (Eau Claire), Mark Melancon (Duluth), Ben Zobrist (Wausau) and Allen Craig (Alexandria).

“Zobrist is one of those good Northwoods stories,” said Mark Wilson, a Twins scout watching Tuesday’s activities. “He was playing at a small college and didn’t get much attention. Then, he had a big summer in this league, teams got interested and he was drafted in the sixth round.”

The Northwoods has gone from those initial five teams in 1994 to 16 this summer. Two more franchises will be added in 2014: in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the return of Kenosha.

And the price for a franchise? “It’s now $1 million,” Radatz said.

There’s much speculation the Northwoods could get to 20 teams in the next few years with franchises in Anoka and Shakopee.

“We’d like to be in the Twin Cities suburbs, but we’re not close to that yet,” Radatz said.

Any interest in a Northwoods franchise to share the new ballpark in St. Paul with the independent Saints? “Maybe, but I’m not sure the Saints would want to have us,” Radatz said.

  • related content

  • Reusse blog: Change Eau Claire's Braun's Bay to Aaron's Bay

    Tuesday July 23, 2013

    There were Brewers' fans in a Northwoods League crowd on Tuesday. They were asked about Ryan Braun, of course.

  • The Northwoods League held its All-Star Game — complete with a home run derby, won by Adam Martin, above, of the St. Cloud Rox — on Tuesday in Eau Claire, Wis.

  • Dick Radatz Jr. led the creation of the Northwoods League 1994. “We averaged 551 people a game that first summer in Rochester, and we made a few bucks,” he said. “I knew then this would work as a business.”

  • Carson Park in Eau Claire, Wis., was crawling with major league scouts who were watching the Northwoods League All-Star Game. Among those attending from the Twins were, from right, Mark Wilson, North Central area scout; Jeff Kaldor, an associate; and Rafael Yanez, an administrative assistant.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 6 Bottom 8th Inning
Miami 7
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 7 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Boston 3 Top 10th Inning
Tampa Bay 3
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 6 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4
Pittsburgh 4 Bottom 7th Inning
St. Louis 2
Milwaukee 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Chicago Cubs 3
Detroit 2 Bottom 1st Inning
Cleveland 0
Seattle 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Oakland 2
San Francisco 2 Suspended
Colorado 2
Arizona 0 Bottom 1st Inning
San Diego 0
San Francisco - T. Hudson 4:40 PM
Colorado - F. Morales
Washington - G. Gonzalez 7:10 PM
Los Angeles - R. Hernandez
Texas - C. Lewis 7:10 PM
Kansas City - Y. Ventura
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 30 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Toronto 12 FINAL
Hamilton 13
Edmonton 3:30 PM
Calgary
Indiana 18 2nd Qtr 10:00
Chicago 16

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close