Huskies weather stormy first half

The frustration showed on the face of Duluth Huskies general manager Craig Smith as he climbed the Wade Stadium stairs last week and turned to go to the press box.

Duluth Huskies
(2009 file / News Tribune)

The frustration showed on the face of Duluth Huskies general manager Craig Smith as he climbed the Wade Stadium stairs last week and turned to go to the press box.

Smith was 15 feet from the top of the grandstand, but was startled when he suddenly became wet from rain that streamed in sideways through the window screens atop the stadium.

"It's not even fun," Smith said.

Duluth has endured six rainouts this Northwoods League baseball season, including five of its first 10 home games. The Huskies' three-game homestand last week against the Rochester Honkers was washed out, and even the home games they've completed have been played under cold, ominous skies. The combination has hurt attendance and crippled the team financially.

"It's killing us," team owner Bobby McCarthy said last week. "I've been here since June 1st and have seen two sunny days, the first day I got here and (June 18). The people of Duluth are hearty, but they're not stupid. Who's going to come out here at 7 o'clock, when at 5 o'clock they're telling you the world is going to end?"


While the Huskies are doing well on the field, going 11-9, they have only averaged 742 people per home game, third worst in the 16-team Northwoods League. That is well below last year, when the Huskies averaged 1,153 fans per game during a tough year on the field.

This week's forecast looks good, but the Huskies play eight of their next 10 games on the road, beginning with a three-game series at Alexandria today.

Compounding the problems is poor drainage at Wade Stadium. Last Thursday, large puddles formed by both dugouts and the outfield was swamped. A stadium worker took a squeegee broom and tried to clear water that had pooled along the concourse behind home plate so people wouldn't get wet as they exited.

While the Huskies front office is concerned, the players have kept upbeat and positive. Rochester and Duluth players entertained what remained of the crowd during a downpour last Thursday, bolting across the field and turning the infield tarp at Wade Stadium into a giant Slip 'n Slide for about 20 players.

"Every day you come to the ballpark with the mindset where you're ready to play," said Huskies batting leader Jeff Reynolds, who attends Harvard. "So when you can't, you're frustrated, but you've still got to make the most of the situation and know you'll eventually get those games in. You can't control the weather, and we know Bobby and Craig are frustrated, but they would never take it out on us. Everyone here does a great job helping us out."

Unlike the former Duluth-Superior Dukes, Huskies players aren't paid, thereby greatly reducing the team's operating cost. The team relies on interns and has only two fulltime employees, Smith and assistant general manager Aaron Benson.

Smith used to work with the city as a recreation specialist and has worked closely with Wade Stadium since 1996.

"Without question, this is the worst weather we've had, and I can't even remember the Dukes having this bad of a year," Smith said. "It's extremely frustrating because you work your hind end off all year long to get promotions in order and to get people out to the ballpark. All our revenue is generated on 35 home nights, so when this happens, you literally can't pay the bills."

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads