WILLMAR — With so much uncertainty in the sporting world, Willmars Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz is optimistic that the Northwoods League will play games in 2020.
“I think there’s an 80 percent chance of a July 1 start,” he said. “We’re just waiting on (Gov.) Walz.”
If that were to happen, Minnesota would move into a second phase of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. It would allow gatherings of up to 250 people using social distancing.
The next phase would be 500 and that would also be able to happen at Bill Taunton Stadium, Voz said.
The plan now is to have the Great Plains West Division be made up of six teams: Willmar, Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud, Duluth and Waterloo.
Voz envisions a 60-game schedule with the season wrapping up Sept. 4.
He said teams could play weekend doubleheaders and likely not have off days. There’d be 30 home games and 30 on the road.
Currently, Duluth and Waterloo are in the Great Plains East Division. Two teams in the West, Bismarck and Thunder Bay, are going a different route.
Because North Dakota’s governor is opening up its state earlier, Bismarck is a host to three teams. One is the Larks, who are in their fourth year as members of the Northwoods. The Thunder Bay Border Cats, meanwhile, have moved their players to another Bismarck team because of international border restrictions in Canada and municipal restrictions in Thunder Bay. And, there’s a third team in Bismarck made up of extra players from the Larks and Border Cats. The three are playing a 72-game schedule starting in mid-June.
The three teams — the Larks, the Bull Moose and the Flickertails — are scheduled to begin play June 15 under North Dakota’s restrictions, which are less stringent than Minnesota’s.
Voz said there are pluses and minuses with the plan for Willmar’s season to get going.
“Unfortunately, a few players probably will back out,” he admitted, saying he understood the safety concerns.
Players from the Northwoods League come from colleges across the country.
However, he also sees an opportunity.
With Team USA, the Cape Cod League and several other summer collegiate leagues calling off their seasons, the Northwoods League likely will become a go-to place for players looking to get some playing time after having their spring seasons canceled.
Major League Baseball also has decided to draft only five rounds this year. Normal years can have 40 rounds. That also should make it an interesting year and may open up the league to even more pro scouts than usual, Voz agreed.
“I really like our chances (of opening),” said Voz, who is in his 11th season of owning the Stingers with Marc Jerzak. “We have plans in place.”
The team has a social-distancing plan for games that received Twin Cities television air time. Voz said he hoped that crowd limits of 250 could be extended to 500 before the season was over. That’s the plan in North Dakota.
“We’re just waiting on Gov. Walz,” he said.