FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WFRV) – Grab the peanuts and cracker jacks. It’s time for ball caps and wood bats.
Baseball is back in Northeast Wisconsin as the college wood bat Northwoods League returns to play next week, featuring both the Green Bay Booyah and the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders.
It’s an opportunity few saw coming this summer as the COVID-19 pandemic halted college baseball in the spring, and other collegiate summer programs like the Cape Cod League called off their seasons.
But just two weeks ago, the Northwoods League announced its partial return with a six-team, Wisconsin-Illinois “pod” including the Green Bay and Fond du Lac clubs.
According to the players, it was pure excitement when they got that phone call.
“(Manager) Zac (Charbonneau) called me and I was like, without a doubt yes,” said Vanderbilt infielder and returning Dock Spider Tate Kolwyck. “It was just the greatest. Just to hear we’re playing organized baseball again is amazing.”
“You know, we rode that roller coaster every day,” Charbonneau said. “Every day felt like maybe, yes, no, probably; alright we’re gonna do it. Let’s go.”
Fond du Lac has consistently been one of the top teams in the Northwoods League, winning a coveted NWL title and bringing in top talent year in and year out.
This year, despite the focus being the simple return to baseball, the Dock Spiders still carry high expectations.
“We want to win,” Charbonneau said. “We want to have a buy-in from everybody on our roster, we want to give them a really memorable experience, but help them be better, help them get to that all-conference level at school next year or raise their draft stock, but we want to win here because winning’s fun.”
But before the wins or even the games, comes familiarizing themselves with the diamond once again – a challenge that could prove daunting after a near-four month layoff.
“I think just going from not playing games, trying to get back into playing shape,” said soon-to-be Austin Peay catcher Jack Alexander. “And then get back playing and get back rolling hopefully pretty soon.”
Alexander, like many Northwoods players, hopes this summer can help him transition to a new level of his game as he transfers to Austin Peay from Notre Dame. Summer development has long been a calling card for the Northwoods and keeps players coming back year after year.
But perhaps a bigger factor to player retention is the ballpark atmosphere unique to Northeast Wisconsin’s teams.
“It just feels like a close-knit community, like everybody loves coming out here and supporting,” Kolwyck said. “It’s just fun, and you feel like you know everybody out here, so it’s cool.”
The NWL is a rare sporting event this summer prepared to host fans, and while things may be a little different, the players are still looking forward to the support and a fun atmosphere.
“They’re dedicated,” Alexander said. “It’s a really cool place and they’re out here every night, so it’s pretty special to come out here.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Charbonneau said. “I mean we want to put on a good show for the fans and the community, but give our guys an opportunity to play again and show what they have.”
The Dock Spiders open the season at home against the Wisconsin Woodchucks on Wednesday, July 1.