The 6,073 fans that attended the 2012
Northwoods League All-Star Game last week in Madison, Wis. were
treated to a very exciting ballgame as the host South Division
all-stars defeated the North 4-3. The game was filled with big hits,
big arms, key defensive plays and hometown heroics.
The hometown heroics came in the form
of Tyler Marincov's solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning
to break a 3-3 tie. Marincov turned on the first pitch from Patrick
Goelz and yanked a line drive over the fence in left field on his way
to being named the game's “Star of Stars” MVP. Marincov also
drew a pair of walks in the game, and showcased his powerful arm from
the outfield during the pre-game scouting workout. Most importantly,
in the context of this game, Marincov plays right field for the
It wasn't by accident that the
Mallards, one of the 16 teams in the Northwoods League, were selected
to once again host this year's all-star game after doing so just four
years ago in 2008. Having over 6,000 fans in attendance isn't
anything new for the Mallards, who average over 6,100 per game, and
set the all-time summer collegiate record a year ago – one they set
themselves numerous times – with a total of 213,467 over a 70-game
schedule. The Mallards have pulled in over 200,000 people every year
Much of the credit for the team's
success goes to owner Steve Schmitt and President Vern Stenman.
“Steve Schmitt, Vern Stenman and
(General Manager) Conor Caloia,” Northwoods League President Dick
Radatz, Jr. said when asked what made the Mallards such a successful
organization. “The magic of Steve Schmitt. I fondly say that
Steve is somewhat of a marketing savant. He just does a magnificent
job and can cater to what fans want, and this is a result of that.
“We're at our showcase facility,
showcase town, showcase of summer collegiate baseball really here in
Madison. It's nice to be back and I'm sure we'll be back here in the
(near) future. It's great for advertisers, sponsors, scouts (etc.).
They do a great job here, like I said probably as good as anyone does
it across the country for summer collegiate baseball.”
Attending a Mallards game is at the
very least entertaining, and many to most of their innovations are
things all teams at any level could learn from. Between a clever
public address announcer, numerous hospitality decks and the team's
mascot, Maynard, flying down to home plate on a zip line prior to the
beginning of every game, the team's creativity in producing a unique
in-game experience is evident.
Stenman, who is in his third year as
the team's President after serving the previous eight years as the
General Manager, has been part of most of those decisions. He was
named the NWL Executive of the Year two times, in 2003 and 2005, and
honor that current GM Conor Caloia received last year.
“It's a completely different story
from 2008,” Stenman said of hosting the all-star game for the
second time in five years. “We've completely re-built the stadium,
and I think that's a big part of the reason we were able to get the
All-Star Game again so quickly here in Madison. I think the league
and Madison wanted to show it off a little bit.”
The Mallards spent $2.2 million to
renovate their stadium, Warner Park, fondly referred to as “The
Duck Pond” by the local fan base, prior to the 2011 season. Their
creativity was shown in these renovations, using old seats purchased
from Camden Yards and Wrigley Field to fill several sections, while
using old bleachers as tabletops and to create the stadium's new gift
That green initiative is only part of
the team's overall creativity, and something a progressive city of
Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, readily embraces.
With a population of nearly 250,000,
it's a little surprising that the city of Madison hasn't been able to
support baseball in the past, as the University of Wisconsin does not
field a Division I team while minor league and independent teams such
as the Madison Muskies, Hatters and Black Wolf weren't successful
enough to keep those teams from leaving town.
“For us it's always been a mentality
of constantly getting a little bit better, both off and on the
field,” Stenman said of the team's involvement with the community.
“We're always looking at things differently and where we can find
an opportunity to get better at.
“We're a customer service business.
Part of that experience is putting a good product on the field, and
that's always No. 1 for us. At the same time we realize it's
entertainment and we have to have great food, we have a great
ballpark and we have to put on a great show.”
The Mallards success has led both
Schmitt and Stenman to start up another Northwoods League franchise,
the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, who are in their third year of
existence and hosted the league's all-star game a year ago. The
Mallards and Rafters are two of seven teams from the league located
in Wisconsin, as the Mallards, La Crosse Loggers and Eau Claire
Express ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 respectively in league attendance.
Radatz believes that success is
reflected at the Miller Park turnstiles for the big-league Brewers in
“(Milwaukee Brewers GM) Doug Melvin
(as part of the event's dinner banquet the night before) said how
interesting it was that we were cultivating fans and creating
baseball fans. And then he mentioned two or three times how they
drew three million (fans) in the last four years. Well we have seven
teams in Wisconsin now cultivating fans that will eventually want to
go to Miller Park. It was really interesting to hear him say that
because we've believed that for years.”
Many of those fans will likely come
from Madison, Wisconsin's second largest city, with a renewed fan
base connected to America's Pastime.
“We want to create memories that
families and fans can connect with for a long time, and the All-Star
Game has really become an event like that,” Stenman said. “We'll
have a sell-out crowd on hand tonight to come out and see some of the
best baseball in the country. And that's what it's all about.”
Catcher Alex Real and shortstop Ty
Forney, who like Marincov played all nine innings of the contest, hit
back-to-back solo home runs of their own to open the bottom of the
sixth inning to give the South a 3-2 lead.
This is the second year in a row that
Forney was named to the NWL All-Star Game. A superior defender up
the middle of the infield, he was also named the No. 42 prospect in
the league a year ago. A shorter, smaller-framed athlete, Forney's
home run was no fluke, as he pulled the ball high and deep to left
Real participated in the 2010 Perfect Game National Showcase, where he earned high marks for his ability to hit for average and power, to go along with his arm strength behind the plate.
Other South hitters that were
impressive include first basemen Casey Gillaspie and Brendon Hayden.
Both are coming off of their freshmen seasons at Wichita State and
Virginia Tech respectively. Hayden replaced Gillaspie, whose older
brother Conor has enjoyed a few cups of coffee with the San Francisco
Giants, in the third inning when Gillaspie was hit in the head with a
pitch. Both players have extremely long and tall frames that give
them exciting power potential. Gillaspie showed the ability to loft
and drive the ball a long way from both sides of the plate and to all
parts of the field during the event's home run derby prior to the
Middle infielder Pat Kelly has natural
middle infield actions showing soft hands and a strong accurate arm.
He also employs a patient approach and short, compact swing at the
plate, and is currently hitting .315 for the Rafters.
Third baseman Bre Kimball has one of
the most impressive statures of those in attendance, with a strong,
stocky build. He has very good bat speed at the plate with an
aggressive approach and exciting bat speed. He also showed well
during the defensive drills as part of the pre-game scouting workout,
with good lateral movements and a strong arm from the hot corner.
Richard Prigatano has a large and
powerful 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, and fittingly was also part of
the home run derby prior to the game. A right-handed hitter, he is
currently hitting .318 with 13 doubles and eight home runs this
summer, and showed his ability to drive the ball hard in this game by
smoking a double to deep left-center in the second inning.
An alum of 12 different Perfect Game tournament events playing for the renowned Orlando Scorpions and FTB travel ball programs, Marincov, as detailed above, is another
talented overall athlete with good size. He's 6-foot-3, 200-pounds
and shows promising multi-tool potential. His best tool might be his
strong outfield arm, and he's having an MVP caliber season with a
.329 average with 16 doubles and 11 home runs.
The North team scored a run in the top
of the seventh to pull back to even, and put the first two runs on
the board by scoring single tallies in the fourth and fifth innings
when Michael Suchy scored on a wild pitch and James Ramsay hit an RBI
Of the North positional prospects,
starting shortstop Hunter Dozier stood out. Not only does he have
impressive size and strength at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds, but he also has
very good looseness for his size. He made the defensive play of the
game by making a bare handed scoop and throw on a slow roller to
throw out the speedy Forney in the seventh. At the plate he went
0-for-3 with a walk, but showed a good approach and exciting bat
Jimmy Pickens also stood out for his
visible athleticism. At 6-foot, 220-pounds Pickens is hitting .365
with 20 extra base hits and 21 stolen bases after hitting .248 for
Michigan State during his freshman season. He hit a hard line drive
up the middle for a sharp single in the seventh, and is a player to
watch at the college level the next 2-3 years.
First baseman Trevor Podratz claimed
the home run derby prior to the game with a perfect approach for such
an event. He swung on roughly every third or fourth pitch, saving
his strength while waiting for exactly the type of pitch he could
drive to the short porch in left centerfield. Podratz played for the powerful San Diego Show travel ball program in high school.
Turning to the pitchers, 11 of the 22
players that took the mound in the game peaked at or above 90 mph,
highlighted by Anthony Bazzani's 95 mph mark. Bazzani was rated the
No. 3 prospect in the league a year ago, while Jordan Foley (94) and
Bradley Wallace (93) also approached the mid-90s. The number of hard
throwers in the game was a significant change from a year ago in
which very few hurlers hit or surpassed the 90 mph mark.
Bazzani was particularly impressive,
which makes it more curious why he fell to the 31st round
(Orioles) of this year's draft. He has great size at 6-foot-5,
215-pounds, and a power one-two punch. His first pitch was thrown at
94 mph and his best at 95 as noted above. He mixed in a power slider
at 78-80 mph that some have identified as a split-finger fastball,
and while he faced only two batters, they had no chance catching up
with his stuff. He currently has 13 saves and a 1.88 ERA this summer
after recording 12 saves last summer with the Alexandria Beetles.
Staying with the North squad,
right-handers Brady Anderson and Jordan Foley as well as left-handers
Trevor Belicek and Jared Miller stood out.
Anderson has a smaller stature but is a
very good, balanced athlete with a low three-quarters delivery and a
live arm. His fastball sat at 90-91 while pounding the lower half of
the strike zone. He also mixed in a sharp 76-78 mph breaking ball. Anderson was known more as a middle infielder in high school, and attended the 2010 Perfect Game National Showcase.
Foley's peak velocity of 94 mph was
second only to Bazzani, who like Bazzani has very good size and
strength in his well-proportioned 6-foot-3, 207-pounds frame. He has
a very easy, repeatable delivery and arm strength, sitting at 91-92
throwing almost entirely fastballs.
I wish I had seen more of Trevor
Belicek, who faced only one batter and gave up a base hit, but
immediately looked to be arguably the most impressive pure pitcher to
me of any arm that took the mound in this game. He has great size
and easy arm strength producing 89-90 mph fastballs, with plenty of
reason to believe that more is on the way.
At 6-foot-6, 240-pounds Miller was
instantly memorable for his size alone. He used his size well to
throw his fastball on a downhill plane, sitting in the 88-90 range
while also throwing a sharp 78-80 slurvy breaking ball. Miller had a
successful freshman season at Vanderbilt where he posted a 3.70 ERA
in 20 relief appearances.
As noted above, Bradley Wallace was the
hardest throwing hurler among the South arms. He too has good size,
projectability and a loose, live arm. He warmed up at 91 mph and
worked at 89-93, mixing in a promising curveball that he'll need to
tighten up and throw with harder bite more consistently. For as good
as his stuff was, the North hitters did make hard contact off of him.
Bryce Bellin followed Wallace in the
fifth inning, also showing very good size, coming over the top with
his 87-88 mph fastball and the best curveball spun in the game. It's
a true 12-to-6 hammer thrown in the low- to mid-70s.
A pair of Bellin's Green Bay teammates
also took the mound in the game, fellow right-handers Zac Hermans and
Will Landsheft. Hermans recorded two quick outs after relieving
Bellin in the sixth, using a 90-91 fastball and a low-80s slider.
Landsheft showed a live arm and good projectability working at 88-91
with a 75-77 curveball.
Alex Tukey picked up the win in the
game, recording the final out in the eighth and the first out of the
ninth, serving as the bookends for Marincov's go-ahead blast. At 6-foot-4,
165-pounds Tukey is very lean and lanky, sitting at 90 mph with his
fastball while flashing a sharp 78 mph curve.
Left-handed pitcher Anthony Marzi
wasn't blowing batters away, but showed very good command of a 86-88
mph fastball and a sharp upper-70s slider. He had a quick inning
pitching to contact.
Fellow lefty Jake Stassi of Long Beach
State returned to pitch for the Loggers for his second straight
summer. After going 5-3 with a 4.02 ERA a year ago, he's currently
4-0 with a 2.27 ERA and got the starting nod for the South squad.
Like Marzi, Stassi enjoyed a quick inning, mixing in a mid-80s
fastball, a slow curve and a changeup to induce weak contact, with
one batter reaching on a weakly hit chopper to the right side of the