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A whole new ballgame

By MARK CONCANNON

June 5, 2012

The new Kapko Stadium at Concordia University is home for the Lakeshore Chinooks.


Let’s play ball!

The Lakeshore Chinooks will be one of 17 teams from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Ontario competing in the Northwoods wooden bat baseball league this summer. They are the circuit’s newest club, entering their first season — and while they have yet to prove their merits on the field, the Chinooks undoubtedly lead the league in owners who are enshrined in Cooperstown.

"I wonder if this is how Mr. Selig started?" asks Robin Yount, who along with fellow minority owner Bob Uecker is in the Major League Hall of Fame. Bucks General Manager John Hammond is also part of the ownership group. "I don’t know if I have commissioner in my future but it certainly is exciting to be involved with a baseball team on this side of the fence," he says.

The league, which plays a 70-game schedule from June 1 through Aug. 12 (the Chinooks home opener is June 4), features college players undrafted by the pros. The Chinooks will play at newly constructed Kapco Park on the campus of Concordia University in Mequon. Kapco Metal Stamping in Grafton made the lead donation for the facility, which will have one of the most stunning vistas in all of baseball, overlooking Lake Michigan.

The park will open with 1,240 individual stadium seats (the same seats used at Washington Nationals Park) with the ability to expand in the future. There will also be bleachers, standing room and lawn seating.

The most expensive seat in the house is $11 for a reserved box seat, $8 for a reserved grandstand and $5 for general admission.

"It’s affordable family fun," says Chinooks general manager Dean Rennicke, who pitched in the Dodgers’ organization. "And with this view, people can watch an inning or two, then walk around a bit and check out the vistas."

UW-Whitewater coach John Vodenlich, whose Warhawks won the 2005 division three national championship, will manage the Chinooks. At the team’s official unveiling news conference in November, Vodenlich lamented he had zero players. But MLB.com picked up the news conference, and within days more than 100 college coaches contacted the Chinooks offering the services of their top players.

On the field, the Chinooks will get the opportunity to prove themselves to major league scouts by playing against top competition and using wooden bats. Off the field, college students will also be auditioning for future positions by working with the club’s day-to-day operations.

"All the students and young people want to learn the various facets of sports management," says Jim Kacmarcik, Kapco’s president and the majority owner and president of the Chinooks. "Things like athletic training, journalism, broadcasting, marketing, social media. We’ll need all those folks to help. We’ll build their resumes. We’ll have some professionals on staff to mentor them."

"I want to see our players get drafted by major league teams," Rennicke says. "And I want to see kids selling tickets, media, whatever, get a phone call and say, ‘I just got hired by the Mets or the Brewers to be in their front office.’ That would be cool."

The Chinooks will be a community team in the purest sense. They are looking for host families to house their players during the season and also hope baseball is good for business in Mequon and benefits Concordia University, a significant Mequon resident.

"This is a great opportunity for people to come, restaurants to sell their stuff ... the list is endless of what we can accomplish here," Kacmarcik says.

"It will bring a lot of folks to campus who wouldn’t necessarily come here otherwise," says Dr. Patrick Ferry, Concordia University president. "A great venue, family oriented activity. Baseball in the summertime. It can’t get much better than that."

Chinook players will have no problem finding a role model for inspiration. Robin Yount. The Kid. Now, owner of a baseball team.

"I kept hearing one great thing after another," Yount says. "It made more and more sense that it was the right thing to do."

Chinooks management has been moving at lightning speed, putting a team together, hiring a staff and supervising construction of a new ballpark in a few short months.

"It’s exhilarating, but nerve-wracking," Rennicke says. "But we’ll get it done."

5 Things to do at a Chinooks Game

1. Grab a seat on the grass: Kapco Park will have ample lawn seating available, so pull up a blade of grass or two, relax and enjoy the ballgame.

2. Do your kids got game? Discover your child’s potential future in baseball by testing their skills at the speed pitch and batting displays.

3. Games within the game: There will be a bounce house and a playground set in the kids’ area if your little ones need a diversion from the action between the lines.

"We have a space where kids can be kids," Chinooks general manager Dean Rennicke says.

4. Make friends with a fish: The Chinooks still unnamed mascot (you can vote for the name at lakeshorechinooks.com) will be roaming the ballpark posing for pictures and engaging in various hijinks with fans.

5. Enjoy the view: Kapco Park sits on a piece of land overlooking Lake Michigan. Stroll the grounds and you’ll see an amazing panorama of Mother Nature.

 


This story ran in the May 2012 issue of: