Baseball back in the Zoo?
Baseball just might return to Kalamazoo, Michigan yet. The city sent out a request for proposals, and the league that responded was the Northwoods League. The Northwoods League is a collegiate wooden bat league, the same one that the Battle Creek Bombers are in. The team would play at Homer Stryker Field, recently re-named Mayor’s Riverfront Park. The NL now has 16 teams, and is based in Rochester, Minnesota. All the players are NCAA eligible, are not paid, and use wooden bats just like the pros. If the deal goes through, a new team could move into Riverfront ballpark by this fall, with plans to start play in 2014. From the pictures, it looks like the ballpark has been kept up, but it still may need some work. Sean Fletcher, director of the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Department, is optimistic.
“The big thing is just getting it game-ready, inspecting it, routine maintenance and getting ready for a team to play ball,” Fletcher told the Kalamazoo Gazette.
The city wants at least a three-year contract, with the team managing all aspects of Mayor’s Riverfront Park, including field maintenance, concessions, merchandising, and advertising. It’s a pretty tall order, and the city should find out within the next few weeks if the Northwoods League will grant them a team. I think it’s fitting that a summer college team would call Kalamazoo home, since it’s the sight of the very first two College World Series. Having a natural rival in Battle Creek won’t hurt either. In fact, in my opinion, if these two communities would have worked together and built a ballpark between the cities off the highway, their Midwest League team would not have moved to Midland. Battle Creek hosted the Michigan Battle Cats, Battle Creek Yankees, and Southwest Michigan Devil Rays before the team left in 2006 to become the Great Lakes Loons.
Kalamazoo did have two recent teams in the indy pro Frontier League. The Kalamazoo Kodiaks played from 1996-1998, before moving to London, Ontario, to become the London Werewolves. The Kalamazoo Kings played at Homer Stryker Field from 2001-2010. The team stated they would cease operations for the 2011 season, but never started up again. It’s too bad I never had the chance to get back to Kalamazoo and see the Kings play. I did see them up in Traverse City playing the Beach Bums, though. Having a new team would give me a second chance to get down that way and see some more baseball! Some fans from the area state that the ballpark isn’t in a great part of town, but I doubt the city will consider building a new stadium for this league, but I wish them all the best in getting a team.