MEQUON (WITI) — The Lakeshore Chinooks are the “big fish” in the Northwoods League. They’re having a terrific season — but what they pulled off this week makes them MVPs.
“It’s a pretty awesome day so far — especially being here at home — being able to spend it with our fans, a couple of my players and coaching staff. It’s pretty special,” Chinooks right-fielder Brett Siddall said.
Siddall summed up the feeling of every college player who was selected to take part in Tuesday night’s Northwoods League All-Star Game at Kapco Park on the campus of Concordia University.
Siddall was one of four All-Stars from the Lakeshore Chinooks — the host team in just its third year of existence.
“The league approached us and I was honored. Obviously our whole staff — Jim Kacmarcik, our president, and our whole staff — especially only being in our third season, we said ‘you know what, as Commissioner Selig used to always say, do what’s right for the game.’ This is exactly what the Northwoods League needs,” Chinooks VP and General Manager Dean Rennicke said.
Rennicke worked in the Brewers’ front office — and pitched in the Dodgers organization. Rennicke, combined with his team — which includes 50 interns who have their own dreams of working in the game someday put on a great show. For Rennicke, it’s all about the desires of young ballplayers to make the big show someday. What a time in their lives.
“It’s an awesome time. It’s fun getting to know these kids and talking to the All-Stars. They have the same dream. They want to be in the Big Leagues someday,” Rennicke said.
Rennicke added that five to ten players off the All-Star rosters will realize their dreams.
Tigers star pitcher Max Scherzer and Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier are among 120 Major Leaguers who came through the Northwoods League.
President Dick Radatz Jr., whose father pitched in the Big Leagues co-founded the NWL 21 years ago.
“We’ve probably got about 600 to 700 guys in the Minor Leagues right now. We had 177 kids drafted by Major League Baseball in June. 45 of our last 50 umpires have signed professional baseball contracts,” Radatz Jr. said.
A unique part of this All-Star game is that 80 Major League scouts were in town to watch the players go through pre-game drills.
“In this kind of setting, you want to see them against the best competition — how they handle it and how they perform. In some cases, they may not have their best day. Then, you go back and you rely on the people who have seen them in the past, and you go on what they tell you,” Reds Director of Pro Scouting Terry Reynolds said.
“You try to just block them out, you know. You’ve played before in high school in front of scouts a little bit — just different events. We all got recruited to play college baseball. Just do what you do every day and just play the game. We learned to play when we were kids,” Chinooks All-Star Blake Butler said.
The All-Star event featured a home-run hitting contest — won by Chinooks Slugger Siddall. Siddall, whose father is a Blue Jays play-by-play announcer, lost his 14-year-old brother to lymphoma just a few months ago, so he’s sharing his Big League dream.
“I know he’s watching over me every day, and like I say, everything I do is for him. Trying to live my dream for me, and also for him, because I know he’d be out here playing on the diamond because he loved that. I’m just trying to do what I can,” Siddall said.
The All-Star Game featured Brewers legends Robin Yount and Jim Gantner as honorary managers. For “The Kid,” it’s all about the kids.
“One of the reasons I got involved in this was to help young people progress in the game of baseball, but it’s more with the Chinooks than just on the field. It’s behind-the-scenes with a lot of the kids we have working here. We had a kid this off-season get a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ticket office, so you know what? That was almost as enjoyable as watching a kid sign a contract,” Yount said.
Young managed the “South Team,” and Gumbee the north. That subject started a “Who’s on First, What’s on Second” for the former Brewers double-play combo.
Gantner: “Yeah, I’m the north going against Robin.”
Yount: “I thought I was the north.”
Gantner: “No. Your Southern Division. Chinooks is south.”
Yount: “Oh, okay.”
Gantner: “Good thing Gumbee’s here to get you squared away.”
Yount: “I know.”
Gantner: “Always, always.”
Yount: “Which way is that? North or south?”
Yount: “It’s north?”
Gantner: “Yeah, it’s north.”
Tom Pipines: “Who’s on first?”
Yount: “Which way is north?”
Gantner: “Straight north.”
Yount: “So I’m that way.”
Gantner: “That’s straight east.”
Yount: “Well where’s south?”
Gantner: “South is right here.”
Yount: “I thought that was west?”
Gantner: “No, that’s south.”
Tom Pipines: “Alright, you got that?”
But hey — this is baseball, played at the highest level by two big time competitors.
“There’s more than bragging rights here. There’s probably some beer involved,” Yount said.
Yount’s “South” beat Gantner’s “North” 3-0 on a three-run homer by Pete Alonzo of the Madison Mallards.
Yount is a minority investor in the Chinooks. His jersey number 19 was retired by the team on May 31st.