Catching up with the Northwoods League

Sport Change promised some baseball posts in April, and it looks like they’re coming toward the end of the month.  Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up the ranks.  Time to catch up with the summer collegiate Northwoods League.

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The Northwoods League is the most successful summer collegiate baseball league in the country, and has helped many college ballplayers keep their skills sharp throughout the summers between school years.  Sport Change has weighed in on the NWL a few times before, and this post lays out the details of the league pretty well.  For now, we’re going to catch up on off-season developments and throw in our two cents.

What’s New?

KENOSHA EXPANSION

The biggest piece of news in the Northwoods League is that an expansion franchise will be placed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for the 2014 season.  Kenosha was ranked third in Sport Change’s list of potential NWL expansion sites, published last summer.  Of course, the team needs an identity!  Ownership in Kenosha has taken the well-worn (and often treacherous) path of a name-the-team contest.  Sport Change specializes in deconstruction of name-the-team contests, so let’s have at it.  Here are the name options being put up for consideration:

Kenosha Comets – The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team that played in Kenosha from 1943 thru 1951 was named the Comets. The team played at Simmons Field, where the new Kenosha Northwoods League team will call home, from 1948 thru 1951.

Kenosha Esox -Esox is the name of the category of fish that includes the Pike. Esox also ties into one of the previous names for the City of Kenosha, Pike.

Kenosha KingFish – KingFish offers a unique combination of a tie to Lake Michigan, royalty and even a little nod to the King, Elvis Presley.

Kenosha Coopers – Traditionally, a cooper is someone who makes wooden staved vessels, bound together with hoops, for instance a beer barrel or cask. The name also connects to the Cooper’s Hawk that is native to the area. Lastly Samuel T. Cooper founded the iconic Kenosha company that became Jockey International.

Kenosha Sockets – Sockets connects to the automotive history in Kenosha as well as Snap-on Tool Company, which is another iconic company based in Kenosha.

Kenosha Lake Bears – Lake Bears is a memorable name that ties nicely to Lake Michigan and summertime in Wisconsin.

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Ok, that’s quite the range.  Here’s the Sport Change take on each one:

Comets is a great sport team moniker in general, and the alliteration is terrific.  The name, however, is highly inappropriate.  The AAGPBL Kenosha Comets are part of baseball lore, and let’s keep it that way.  I have no problem with a team like the St. Cloud Rox borrowing an identity from a bygone team, but this suggestion is too over the top.  It’s been about 70 years since the AAGPBL was around, and comparing it with a Northwoods team is like comparing apples and Rockford Peaches.  If you want to see the Kenosha Comets, watch A League of their Own.  Seriously.  That movie holds up.  (also currently on Netflix streaming.)

Esox is a great concept, and I tip my cap to whoever came up with that idea.  Plays on the ‘sox’ phenomenon are staples in minor league baseball (Everett AquaSox, Amarillo Gold Sox, Utica Blue Sox) and they’re a hoot.  That ‘esox’ is the pike family and Kenosha was once called Pike only sweetens the deal.

KingFish isn’t terrible, but there are a few faults here.  For starters, I hate the “camel-case” wording; where the capital F is like a camel’s hump.  Why?  Also, nicknames that aren’t in plural form are terrible.  It goes without being said, but the phrase: “a unique combination of a tie to Lake Michigan, royalty and even a little nod to the King, Elvis Presley.” should be an automatic disqualification   A better name would be Kingfishers, after the badass blue bird.

Coopers combines two qualities that make for a stellar minor league name: alliteration and reference to a bygone blue-collar trade.  If you ever look back at minor league names from around the turn of the century, you get great names like Furnituremakers, Clamdiggers, and Farmers.  These names tell a great story, and Coopers lends itself well to the nearby Brewers and the roll out the barrel phenomenon.  The Cooper’s Hawk thing is a bit of a stretch, but a hawk perched on a barrel would make a cool logo.

Sockets is certainly fun and ties in with the city, but it’s a tired idea.  The Lansing Lugnuts are an uber-popular MiLB team, and Sockets seems like a facsimile of the original.  The American Association (independent) team, the Wichita Wingnuts, have already gone this route.  That being said, “socket to me, baby” could be a good slogan.

Lake Bears makes we want to run for a barf bag.  Don’t get me wrong: I love lakes and I love bears.  The problem here is that this epitomizes the bland minor league brands that are ubiquitous from coast to coast.  Lake Bears is not much different than Bay Bears, Hillcats, RiverDogs, SeaWolves, River Cats…on an on.  Just say no.

Grades

Kenosha Coopers. (A-)

Kenosha Esox.  (B+)

Kenosha Sockets.  (C)

Kenosha KingFish.  (D)

Kenosha Lake Bears.  (D-)

Kenosha Comets.  (disqualified)

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Let’s keep a clean history here.

Look for the name-the-team results this summer.

ANCHORS AWEIGH

In other Northwoods naming news, the Alexandria Beetles were recently “saved” by the league taking control of the struggling team and reselling to a new ownership group.  Great!  Except that the new group is changing the team’s name from the terrific Beetles to the bland and perplexing Blue Anchors.  All I’ve got to say is…ugh.  Sport Change identified the Beetles as having one of the top Northwoods League nicknames, and one of the best in non-affiliated baseball.  It’s just a disappointment when people throw the baby out with the bathwater.  If the team couldn’t sell tickets, it was probably because Alexandria, Minnesota is a small city.  I have a hard time seeing the Blue Anchors doing a better job in the long-term.

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R.I.P. The Alexandria Beetle. 2001-2013.

KALAMAZOO NEWS

Now we’ll just get in to the realm of rumor and talk about some cities that may someday host a Northwoods League team.  First up is Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was ranked fourth in last summer’s Sport Change rankings of potential cities.  The city recently issued an RFP (request for proposals) regarding use of the ballpark, and the Northwoods League was the sole bidder.  It’s a bit surprising that the Frontier League made no efforts, but they tried and failed with the Kalamazoo Kodiaks in the nineties and the Kings, more recently.  Let’s see this happen!  Right now, Battle Creek is the lone Michigander franchise, and Kalamazoo is right near by just waiting to be a rival.  This would be a big step in expanding the league’s footprint, and may work to lure the successful Traverse City Beach Bums away from the Frontier League.  If Kalamazoo does get a team, the branding options are bountiful.  Many ideas could surface, but here are a few thoughts.  Kodiaks is solid, and could be reactivated, potentially.  Kalamazoo Kazoos was the name of an old MiLB team that played about 100 years ago.  Kalamazoo Kangaroos would be fun, though the name was used thirty years ago for a soccer team.  Kalamazoo Keepers is fun for the pun-loving among us.  In reference to Bell’s brewery, what about the Kalamazoo Brews?

BISMARCK-E

Bismarck, North Dakota, may get a ballpark together.  If they do, the NWL would love to expand westward.  Bismarck would be pretty far from current NWL teams, but then again, so is Thunder Bay.  Perhaps there is a master plan to add say, a team in Grand Forks or to poach teams form Fargo, Winnipeg, Sioux Falls…we’ll see.

ELKHART OF GOLD

Elkhart County, Indiana (near South Bend), may get a stadium deal; making the area an ideal candidate for the NWL.  This move would bring the NWL to a new state and also help with furthering the establishment of a colony of teams on the eastern side of Lake Michigan.  Only time will tell.

Yes, yes.  Many changes afoot for our growing Northwoods League.  It’s a brave wide world–the breathtaking endeavor of summer collegiate non-affiliated independent baseball.

SPORT CHANGE

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2 comments
  1. All of those names are awful. Comets is the only tolerable one. The rest are too clever for their own good. I like the pike concept. Kenosha (Ginoozhe) still means “pike” just in Potawatomi rather than English. Still, “Esox” is one of those names that seems genius on paper, but is really stupid in practice. There should be a name that reflects the essential dirtiness and European ethnic character of the city. When I think of Kenosha, I think about “slightly less grimy than Racine,” and Tenuta’s Italian grocery. How about Kenosha Salamis?

  2. I don’t think salamis is going to fly.

    Comets is a good name, indeed, but would be inappropriate in this context. Imagine if Milwaukee got a Major League Soccer team and named them the Braves.

    I don’t think Coopers is too clever for it’s own good. That’s a solid name, and I hope they run with it.

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