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Willmar to have team in Northwoods League

Ryan Voz1 / 3
Marc Jerzak2 / 3
Gary Posch3 / 3

WILLMAR - The Northwoods League made it official Wednesday afternoon at a news conference at the Holiday Inn Convention Center -- a summer collegiate baseball team will play 34 games at Bill Taunton Stadium starting in 2010.

A contest will determine the new team's nickname.

Willmar becomes the 15th team in the wood bat league, which plays a 68-game schedule, plus playoffs, from early June to the middle of August.

Ryan Voz and Marc Jerzak, who have a combined 20 years of Northwoods experience, are co-owners and will handle day-to-day operations. Former administrators for the St. Cloud River Bats, both men have experience starting a new team.

Voz helped launch the Alexandria Beetles in 2001 when Jerzak was an intern.

Gary Posch was introduced as the financial backer. Posch is a St. Cloud area native, where he still resides, and is the owner of car dealerships.

Recalling a break he got from a banker when he was starting out, he said he is excited to help support this venture.

The franchise fee is a half-million dollars for cities the size of Willmar.

Northwoods president Dick Radatz, Jr., said the league was attracted by the new stadium -- "a beautiful facility" -- and the public reception at league game here in 2006 and 2007.

In 2008, the league drew 796,022 fans, topped by Madison (Wis.) at 5,991 per game and LaCrosse (Wis.) at 3,266. At the other end, Brainerd averaged 554. Alexandria averaged 995 and the Bats 1,700 to Faber Field.

Radatz was asked how the league expects to build a following here at $6 a ticket?

"We've run into that skepticism before," he replied. "When we went into LaCrosse (Wis.), people said no one goes to games here. We're not just in the baseball business; we're in the entertainment business. We try and have a promotion every night. And we won't just reach out to Willmar, but also to the area."

"We market to both the baseball purist and the non-fan," commented Voz. "Do we expect to fill the stadium every night? Absolutely not. But we'll do all we can to fill it and have the right environment."

The club will operate the concessions and sell 3.2 beer.

Radatz said negotiating a deal with the city was one of the easiest receptions he's had anywhere. The stadium's only shortcoming is the lack of clubhouses, but noted Willmar is not alone in the league in that respect. A hospitality deck will likely be added on one of the berms for game-by-game rental by a business or the public.

Coaches will be hired soon and recruitment of a 30-player roster (26 active) begins immediately. Host families will be sought and a contest to name the team will be held.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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