It’s safe to say that baseball season is in full swing. The Brewers are about a third of the way through the year. Rickie Weeks has already experienced his hot streak that inevitably precedes his season-ending injury. Nelly has nary a nugget left to offer us, and chef Jerry Garcia is running out of ways to make grilling brats seem remotely fancy. Though Milwaukee’s big league club is more than 50 games though its marathon campaign, up on the north shore, another baseball season is just beginning.
Those who find Milwaukee Brewers baseball to be too expensive, meaningful, and not-in-Mequon will be happy to know the Lakeshore Chinooks—members of the Northwoods League—are about to embark on the third season in their franchise history. Before tonight’s opener and prior to Thursday’s first home game, Milwaukee Record will get you up to speed on the Milwaukee area’s other baseball team—the one with exponentially more batshit crazy promotions happening, and significantly fewer people you’ll recognize.
School of fish
The Northwoods League is a “wood bat league” that allows collegiate baseball players with realistic aspirations of being drafted increased opportunity to compete during summer break and, occasionally, in the presence of Major League scouts. Players are not compensated for their work during the taxing 72-game season, and they must live with host families for the summer. The Chinooks’ roster has players from top-tier sports schools like Michigan State, Florida, Georgia, UCLA, and Arkansas, but also lesser-known and smaller schools, including such in-state learning institutions as UW-Oshkosh, UW-Lacrosse, and three players from UW-Milwaukee. While the sample size of Chinooks alumni is small, 15 past players have been drafted, usually in the middle rounds. The highest draft pick in the team’s short history is Josh Uhen, a UW-Milwaukee pitcher the Brewers drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Milwaukee has taken three Chinooks players to this point (including another UWM pitcher, Erik Semmelhack, in round 12 back in 2012), which suggests the proximity to NCAA talent helps make Brewers scouting a bit easier and more thorough. However, the majority of players are just dudes named Tanner, Kyle, Sawyer, and either Zack or Zach who were born between 1991 and 1994 and aren’t likely to ever play professionally. Sorry, Tanner(s), but it’s the truth.
The big tunas
Northwoods League baseball came to Mequon due in large part to a passionate cast of owners and executives. Paramount among them is Kapco Inc. President and Chinooks majority owner Jim Kacmarcik, who was lead donor to Kapco Park, a pristine field that perks up the otherwise garish Concordia University campus. Other notable partners in the 14-owner group include Hall Of Fame Brewers great/lemonade mogul Robin Yount, all-around hero Bob Uecker, Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond, and let’s not forget about Dutchland Plastics owner Carl Claerbout himself!
Types of bait
The still-young and growing franchise decided to
cut out all the stops and come up with some wonderful promotions in hopes of hooking some new fans. Beyond the AWESOME bobblehead depicting a casually-dressed Uecker midway through a first pitch windup (May 29) and the seemingly requisite Jim Gantner bobble, the Chinooks’ array of off-topic and out-there promotions make most minor league giveaways seem like some of Oprah’s Favorite Things. Yount’s number 19 jersey will be retired May 30, while overlooking the small fact that he’s never played for the organization. On June 4, fans are encouraged to wear green and gold—despite playing the Wisconsin Woodchucks, a team with green as a primary uniform color—in honor of an appearance by Green Bay Packers quarterback great Lynn Dickey. To complete the triad of strange cameos, Hacksaw Jim Duggan will unintentionally reenact The Wrestler June 16 by signing autographs for the unknown hoards of wrestling-obsessed people who are also sub-minor-league-level baseball nuts. It sucks that Kerri Strug and Tree Rollins were busy.
If former athletes showing up for no particular reason somehow doesn’t sway you to spend between $6 and $12 on a seat, perhaps the opportunity to “taste and purchase a variety of wines” during one of the park’s three planned “Wine Nights” (because Mequon) will get you to head north on I-43. Or maybe some cosplay will get you through the turnstiles. After all, what says baseball better than partaking in a Star Wars-themed costume promotion (June 14), dressing like a princess (June 23), or donning a superhero getup (June 29)? Anything, you say? Correct. Closer to the realm of actual sports promos, Chinooks mascot “Gil” will celebrate his third birthday this summer by competing against fellow mascots…in a game of soccer. If we can’t trust in our hearts that a June 26 visit from BirdZerk! “America’s Baseball Prankster” can wholly make up for some of the team’s shortsighted giveaways and special events, then what the fuck can we even believe in anymore?!
Next time you’re in Mequon shopping for artisanal bird seed or taking a guided tour of Juiceboxxx’s childhood home, check a Chinooks schedule and give Northwoods League baseball a try. You won’t regret it. Unless you do, which is entirely possible.