Haven’t heard of the Northwoods League? I’m not surprised.
The Northwoods League is a summer collegiate semi-pro baseball league–the most sucessful such league in the country. Their season is based around academic calendars for various colleges to enable players to stay active through the summer playing ball with wooden bats in front of decent crowds. For instance, the Madison Mallards average over 6,000 fans per game. That’s more than many AAA clubs and even starting to give the Rays and Indians a run for their money. The league’s schedule similar to short-season A ball in the MiLB system, except that these players are still in college rather than already drafted and placed in a farm system. Current players like Allen Craig (Beetles), Andre Ethier (Honkers), Ben Zobrist (Woodchucks), and Curtis Granderson (Mankato) all paid some dues in the Northwoods league.
Structurally, the league consists of 16 teams divided into two divisions: North and South. The North division consists of 6 teams from Minnesota that stretch the Gopher State from tip to toe as well as teams in Thunder Bay, Ontario and Waterloo, Iowa. The South division has seven teams in central/southern Wisconsin and one team marooned over in Battle Creek, MI.
For starters, the North and South designations are completely asinine. The quick fix: make the North the West and make the South the East. If I was the Northwoods League commissioner, I’d be dusting my hands and tearing off a bonus check.
But that’s just too easy. Travel is a major burden for these small-time franchises and it’s ridiculous to spend the summer sending buses from Waterloo, IA to Thunder Bay. That’s a long ride. So is Eau Claire to Battle Creek. I wonder if they ever debate taking the ferry across Lake Michigan.
Since teams exclusively play their regular season within their division, I say we break up the teams into four divisions of four.
North: Thunder Bay BorderCats, Duluth Huskies, Wisconsin Woodchucks, Eau Claire Express
West: Alexandria Beetles, Willmar Stingers, Mankato Moondogs, St. Cloud Rox
South: Waterloo Bucks, Rochester Honkers, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, La Crosse Loggers
East: Battle Creek Bombers, Green Bay Bullfrogs, Lakeshore Chinooks, Madison Mallards
This isn’t an ideal scenario. For instance, Thunder Bay is much closer to St. Cloud than Wausau, but St. Cloud fit better as a West team. Madison is south of Wisconsin Rapids, but is also closer to Battle Creek. You gotta crack a few eggs.
In another post, I’ll have some fun by introducing some fantasy expansion teams that will be placed geographically just so. It’s kind of like playing God. Look for it.