The Duluth Huskies averaged only 664 fans per contest this summer, last in the 22-team Northwoods League and an all-time low for the franchise, so why was the front office recently so upbeat and optimistic?
Because they survived.
This summer was just what Huskies owner Michael Rosenzweig expected it to be, a challenge coming off a 2020 season that was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he was proud of his organization for pulling through.
“We came through a year where we had no baseball, and we came back and did a lot of remarkable things,” Rosenzweig said. “We’re very pleased with what we were able to accomplish, and next year we expect to get back to whatever that new normal is going to look like — but the fact is, we don’t know.”
Rosenzweig admitted the summer of 2021 wasn’t without hiccups.
“Quite frankly, when you don’t do something for a whole year, you kind of forget about what you were supposed to do,” Rosenzweig said with a laugh. “A little rusty.”
The Huskies were at times short on workers but Rosenzweig said the team got through the summer with a strong support base of host families, sponsors, fans and a “phenomenal” group of 26 interns.
“Everyone was there each step of the way to help us get back in the swing of things,” Rosenzweig said, laughing again, this time at the baseball analogy.
The Huskies limited capacity to 900 for the first month at Wade Stadium but it didn’t get much better after that. Despite having incredibly ideal weather, they only topped 1,000 fans for two games this summer when normally, for some late-season games, they’re topping 2,000 or more.
In a normal year, that would have had Rosenzweig and Co. pulling their hair out.
“But this was anything but a normal year, so we realized expectations had to be lowered to get things going,” Rosenzweig said. “I think there were a lot of people who were still very concerned about the COVID situation. We had lots of masks and lots of hand sanitizer. We added the extra burden of making sure all the pregame meals, postgame meals, all the forks were in their individual wrapping. We did a lot of little things like that.”
Rosenzweig, an optimist, believes things will get better. After this summer, how can they get worse?
“That attendance hurt, how can it not?” he asked. “But with all that being said, we still continued to march forward.”
The FanFood App for ordering concessions was one of the big hits this summer, while ServPro came in after every homestand and deep-cleaned and disinfected the locker room. Extra pains like that are sometimes hard to measure — unless something bad happens.
Rosenzweig and Huskies general Greg Culver vowed Wade Stadium would never be turned into a COVID superspreader under their watch, and it didn’t.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was that nobody got sick out of here, and to my knowledge, nobody had a case of the sniffles,” Culver said. “To be honest, that’s the championship trophy in itself.”