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Q&A: Catching up with the Stingers

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sports Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

How did you become a co-owner of the team?

Marc Jerzak -- I started out as an intern for the Alexandria Beetles during their inaugural season. I really enjoyed the business side of sports and wanted to pursue more opportunities within the league. I was hired as the assistant general manager in St. Cloud shortly after the internship and then became the general manager a few years later. The next step within the Northwoods League was to become an owner and Ryan and I pursued this opportunity during August 2009. We later purchased a franchise from the Northwoods League in the fall of 2009.

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Ryan Voz -- I also began as an intern in the league with the St. Cloud River Bats in 1998, which was their second season in the Northwoods League. Two years later, I became the general manager of the Alexandria Beetles in their inaugural season in 2001. I was the general manager for six years before rejoining the River Bats organization in 2007 and stayed until the end of the 2009 season. Following the 2009 season, we explored the option of an expansion team in Willmar.

How do you select coaches and players? Are there scouting trips?

Players are selected by us and our field manager. There are no real scouting trips. We rely on relationships with college coaches and cross-check potential players. We cross-check guys with major league scouts and other coaches within a given conference. We select coaches by their background and other references they may have in the league.

What kind of competition from other leagues is there for players?

The Northwoods League is the premier summer collegiate league in the country for student athletes who want to play professional baseball. No other summer league prepares collegiate athletes for pro baseball better than the Northwoods League. With that said, the league that we compete with for the best players in the country is the Cape Cod League. They currently still obtain the largest number of first round draft picks, but the Northwoods League is catching up each year.

There are approximately 15 other leagues in the country and we pursue the best players we possibility can for the upcoming season.

Is there any preference given to players from the region?

Yes. Each year we have the challenge of recruiting the best student-athletes in the country to play for the Stingers. If some of those players are within the Willmar area and their coaches and/or scouts recommend them, we definitely want them to play for the Stingers. An example is Jordan Smith in 2010.

Explain how the business side of this team operates?

The business aspect begins with community support. We strive to provide an entertainment value that businesses want to be a part of during the summer months. The business community is vital to the success of the club. Businesses not only help financially support the team but also help expose Northwoods League baseball to people who may have not been to a game.

The business operates similar to a minor league baseball team. Game promotions, merchandising, ticket and concessions opportunities all contribute to affordable family entertainment.

The team takes care of the all expenses associated with the team including all equipment (bats, balls, helmets and catcher's equipment), travel, hotels and meals. The team also uses the revenues to purchase fireworks shows, give-away items, special events and special guests throughout the season.

What's the best part about owning a baseball team?

The best part of owning a team is seeing the fans come out each home game. Seeing a kid's face light up at a game is pretty special. Fans thanking us for bringing the team to Willmar or a business leader telling us we're a real asset in the community, also makes it all worthwhile.

The fans of Willmar are very appreciative of having a collegiate team and seeing that is the best experience. Also, we enjoy having the ability to be creative. If we have an idea on a certain promotion or event, and it makes sense, we can do it.

It seems that Willmar and the lakes and prairie regions have got a crush on the Stingers. But if this is to last, what's the strategy for keeping it fresh?

As with any business, we need to improve each year and keep things exciting. There are many, many things for people to do in the summer time and we will continue to work as hard as we can to provide quality entertainment at affordable prices to the area. Fans can look forward to new promotions each year such as give-away items, theme nights, special guests. We will also look to continue to enhance the ballpark experience for fans with things like a mascot, updated sound systems, new concession items and seating areas.

Like any business, you can't be content. We are providing an affordable option for people of all ages and hopefully fans will always enjoy coming to the park to see some the best talent in the country.

When you buy into the Northwoods League is there an owner's manual on "How to succeed in Summer Collegiate Baseball"?

There is not an owner's manual but we do have Northwoods League Bylaws, a Northwoods League Affiliation Agreement, and Northwoods League Rules and Regulations to follow for the league. The league also has two league-wide meetings -- one in the fall and one in the spring -- to discuss league business, as well as sessions to improve each franchise. Ultimately, you are given an opportunity to run a summer collegiate team the way you want.

Who thinks up the between-inning gags? Have you dumped any so far or will you after this year? Are you adding new ones?

The between-innings promotions are just one of the things that make Northwoods League baseball unique. The between-innings promotion ideas are developed in the front office and sometimes ideas are taken from other teams and adapted to fit within our ballpark. In 2011, we had some of the same on-field promotions as we did in 2010. We will continue to add new on-field promotions each year.

What's the Stingers' geographical reach in terms of drawing fans and bringing in groups? Are you pleased with attendance? And does the announced crowd mean tickets sold or is it truly fans through the gate that game?

The Stingers geographical reach is approximately 40-miles outside of Willmar. If you take a map, put Willmar in the middle and draw a circle of a 40-mile radius that is the territory we try to focus on.

We are very pleased with our attendance. We strive to average 900 or more each night, while giving every fan a positive experience when they visit Baker Field at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. We hope to always draw more fans but our attendance has been great these past two years, especially considering the Willmar lakes-area market is one of the smallest in the league.

The announced crowd is the actual fans that pass through the gates on a particular night.

What limitations do you have with the players in terms of playing time, innings pitched, pitch count, etc.?

The Northwoods League added new pitching regulations in 2010 and 2011 to limit any additional stress on the arms/pitching staff. In terms of playing time, the league has no official rule.

Where do the umpires come from?

The League recruits its umpires from the two umpire schools whose curriculums have been approved by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corps: Jim Evans' Academy of Professional Baseball Umpiring and Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires. The umpires ultimately chosen are often among the top school graduates who were then selected to the pre-season, PBUC-sponsored Umpire Evaluation Course.

The league employs eight two-man crews during the regular season, a six-man crew during the mid-season All-Star Game, four umpires for the divisional playoffs, and six for the championship series. Umpires are salaried and are provided hotel accommodations, meals and travel money.

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