ALSO SEE: Summer POY -- Cal State Fullerton RHP Phil Bickford
There’s a championship feeling around Milwaukee these days.
Naturally, most of you think we’re talking about the Milwaukee Brewers, who continue to lead the National League Central Division, but we’re not. Instead, we’re talking about the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League, who in just the third year of the organization’s existence, are Perfect Game’s Summer Team of the Year.
Ironically enough, the Chinooks do indeed have some ties to the Brewers. Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount is involved in the franchise, legendary radio voice Bob Uecker also is involved, and Chinooks general manager Dean Rennicke spent many years in the Brewers front office. But now, and has been the case for the last three seasons, Rennicke has been full speed in trying to put together a summer league organization that can not only win the Northwoods League title, but also a national title.
He’s accomplished that goal with a little Brewers magic sprinkled in there, as the Chinooks had one of the most impressive summers of any national champion since Perfect Game began the annual award in 2006. In 2010, the Eau Claire Express out of the Northwoods won the award, and that team finished the summer with a 48-22 overall record.
The Chinooks finished this summer with an incredible 50-21 mark in the Northwoods League, going 26-11 in the first half of the rigorous summer schedule, while also going an impressive 24-10 during the second half of the season.
“We have a long schedule here at the Northwoods, and a lot of players stepped up when guys needed rest and what not,” Rennicke said. “From our catchers to our infielders and outfielders, we just didn’t seem to have any weak links. It was just a team effort, and I thought our coaching staff did an excellent job.”
The lengthy nature of the Northwoods summer is a tough one to navigate with players getting injured or needing rest at times, while also dealing with some players leaving earlier than usual to return to their respective college programs in preparation for the fall college semester. Despite those obstacles, the Chinooks were the summer’s model of consistency, not only impressing during the regular season, but also by going a perfect 4-0 in the NWL postseason with a series win over the Wisconsin Woodchucks before finishing things off with a series sweep over Mankato in the league championship series.
Lakeshore had a summer to remember in just its third year of existence. (Lakeshore photo)
Whatever was in Lakeshore’s way this summer was never a problem.
“It was a tremendous summer. It starts with having quality young men, of course, but the commitment and professionalism of all these guys to come to the ballpark each day ready to play with a long schedule, it was impressive,” Lakeshore coach Eddy Morgan said. “As a team, we just stayed away from long losing streaks, and these guys were just really eager to come out and continue to develop each day, ending the summer by going back to their college programs as better players.
“Summers like these can be difficult, but our guys truly took things day-by-day.”
The Chinooks did some good things both offensively and on the mound this summer, but the pitching staff absolutely was this club’s strength throughout. Lakeshore finished the summer with a 2.92 staff earned-run average, and possessed several talented arms, including lefthanders Jake Tuttle (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Evan Kruczynski (East Carolina) and righthander Shaun Anderson (Florida).
Tuttle had an amazing summer for the Chinooks, not allowing a run in 26 innings, while also striking out 27 and walking 11. He sits just 86-88 with his fastball, but has a good, consistent, slider, that really kept hitters off-balance this summer. Kruczynski should flourish as a sophomore for East Carolina after such a strong showing the past few months. The lefty, who stands at 6-foot-5, 175 pounds, had a 2.78 ERA in 55 innings, and showed good run on his fastball in nine starts and 11 appearances. Morgan and the Chinooks really liked Anderson, who tallied a 2.40 ERA in 52 1/3 innings, while also showing excellent command with 43 strikeouts and just eight walks in eight starts and 10 appearances. Like the other two arms, Anderson isn’t a blow-away arm with a fastball sitting 86-89, but possessed a very effective breaking ball with good depth.
“Shaun was just one of those guys who showed good stuff and just always found a way to win, while Evan was one of our top guys and just gave us a quality start each time out,” Morgan said. “As for Jake, I’m not real sure what we would’ve done without him. He was just one of those special pitchers for us.”
Lakeshore ended the summer ninth in the league in terms of team batting average, but still had plenty of hitters who had productive campaigns, and stepped up in big situations.
Outstanding Florida Gulf Coast second baseman Jake Noll followed up a terrific spring with the Eagles with an equally impressive summer, showing a consistent level of play by hitting .316 with four homers, 35 RBIs, and most impressive, 20 stolen bases. Meanwhile, College of Charleston’s Blake Butler got Morgan’s attention with a strong collection of performances. Butler hit .286 with six homers and 26 RBIs, while also hitting 11 doubles and possessing good intangibles. Lastly, the Chinooks got a good summer from Canisius outfielder Brett Siddall, who showed a good combination of consistency and power, hitting .313 with 13 doubles, nine homers and 43 RBIs. He also induced a team-best 32 walks this summer.
“Jake was something special this summer. He’s not going to blow away scouts with his tools, but he knows how to play the game — very well, while Blake was easily the most clutch guy we had in our lineup,” Morgan said. “I thought Brett had a strong summer. He really scared a lot of people in this league with his combination of batting average and power. He kind of just carried this team from an offensive standpoint.”
As we close the book on another exciting summer, the folks in Mequon, Wis., population around 23,000 and just 20 minutes north of downtown Milwaukee, have much to be proud about.
They’re now home to champions. What a summer.
FIVE MORE CONSIDERED
Santa Barbara Foresters (California)
Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Cape Cod)
Peninsula Pilots (Coastal Plain)
Brazos Valley Bombers (Texas Collegiate)
Amsterdam Mohawks (Perfect Game)
Previous PG Summer Collegiate Teams of the Year:
2006: Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Cape Cod)
2007: Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Cape Cod)
2008: Santa Barbara Foresters (California)
2009: Forest City Owls (Coastal Plain)
2010: Eau Claire Express (Northwoods)
2011: Bethesda Big Train (Cal Ripken)
2012: Newport Gulls (New England)
2013: Brazos Valley Bombers (Texas)