Northwoods League teams in Minnesota got the sign to start play in 2020.
On Monday, the league announced that five teams will comprise the regional Minnesota-Iowa pod: the Willmar Stingers; Mankato MoonDogs; Rochester Honkers; St. Cloud Rox; and the Waterloo Bucks.
“Continuing efforts on the part of our Affiliates in Minnesota and Iowa to craft plans for safe operation in their respective locations in consultation with their state and local officials, along with the steps by those officials to open up their communities for larger gatherings, has made it possible to start another ‘pod’ in the Northwoods League footprint on July 1,” Northwoods League President and Commissioner Gary Hoover said in a press release. “This regional pod will bring the special brand of Northwoods League baseball back to those communities, but in a way that is consistent with everyone’s goal of doing so in a safe manner.”
The season will run from July 1-Aug. 20, with the team holding the best winning percentage being declared the winner of the pod.
On July 1, Willmar will play host to St. Cloud, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
"Given everything that's happened, this is the most positive news we've gotten since March," said Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz. "Things are trending the right way."
Voz continued, "This was something we were hoping for. We started this process of navigating through what the season was looking like. July 1 is a real positive."
With states opening up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northwoods League previously announced regional pods in North Dakota, Wisconsin-Illinois and Michigan. The North Dakota pod began play on June 15 while Wisconsin-Illinois and Michigan will, like Minnesota-Iowa, begin play on July 1.
On Monday night, Voz said 33 players are driving or flying in for the first day of practice Wednesday. Manager Al Leyva and assistant coach Matt Caselli were flying into Minnesota on Monday night while new pitching coach Kevin Smith is set to arrive Wednesday.
"One of the easiest things was making the phone call to those guys and letting them know they can play baseball," Voz said. "They're very grateful for the opportunity to play summer ball."