Northwoods League: Huskies’ broadcasters aim for the big leagues
Sixteen of the team’s 68 games have been shown on the ESPN+ streaming platform.
DULUTH — The Duluth Huskies have long touted the Northwoods League as a conduit to Major League Baseball but this year the team’s interns had the opportunity to show their skills off to a different big league.
For years, the Northwoods League has streamed all its games through its app, but in 2021 the league took down the paywall, allowing anyone to watch games at no cost. The change led to 1.3 million views of games in 2021, with the Huskies as the top-watched team in the league, according to production director Shania Krause.
The team was named the Northwoods League’s best webcast the last two seasons and this season the league raised its profile even further when they signed a contract this spring to show select games on ESPN+, the sports broadcasting behemoth’s streaming platform. 16 of the Huskies’ 68 regular season games were shown on ESPN+, giving the Huskies’ young broadcast team a good opportunity to showcase their skills to one of the biggest names in the business.
“I think we’ve all been very fortunate with the opportunity to go forth this season with ESPN+,” Evan Popalis, a student at Penn State, said. “It’s just a fantastic opportunity for young broadcasters like us that are trying to take that next step to propel themselves into the sports broadcasting field. It’s going to look really good in the eyes of others and I think we’ve done a really good job putting forth some quality content on that streaming service.”
Popalis is part of a team of five paid interns that rotate between calling the games for webcasts, radio broadcasts and serving as the public address announcer. The team also has several camera operators and three directors, including Krause, that help produce the games each night at Wade Stadium.
While calling baseball is a huge opportunity for all five, it is especially so for Max Stapleton, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Wisconsin doesn’t have a baseball team, so I’ve been doing broadcasting for a year strictly with basketball and hockey,” Stapleton said. “I put together a demo reel and I recorded myself over a Yankees game — that’s how I got baseball in my demo reel. To be able to have clips not only for a really prestigious league like the Northwoods League, but also on ESPN as well, it’s a really incredible opportunity.”
A team effort
While the actual broadcast is the part of their jobs most people see, the team’s job starts much earlier in the day.
For every home game, the crew gathers early in the afternoon at Wade Stadium to start putting together stat packs for the club managers and to help out with the night’s broadcast. Early in the season, with less games completed the packs are fairly thin. As the games pile up, more information is added and the packets can swell to as many as 150 pages.
Wyatt Kopelman, a graduate student at the University of Miami, said it also takes time to develop an on-air rapport with his partners. He and Popalis called a game August 10 against La Crosse.
“It’s not just developing your knowledge of that broadcaster and his or her tendencies on and off the air, but also what are they like as people,” Kopelman said. “Do you go out to eat with them? Do you go out for a quick drink to sort of decompress after a long baseball broadcast…That’s something you have to be able to develop.”
They also have to learn to deal with on-air errors, whether it’s calling out the wrong batter or reading something wrong in the booth.
“We can’t really afford to get caught up in something like that because there’s always the next pitch,” Kopelman said.
‘The best view in baseball’
Also unique is the crow’s nest press box perched on the roof of Wade Stadium just behind home plate.
Popalis said the crow’s nest is “one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen in any ballpark,” but it can also be a challenge.
“The thing that I would say is most difficult from the crow’s nest … is just gauging those fly balls because you’re already up there pretty high,” Popalis said. “When that ball first gets up in the sky, you normally view it as a shorter fly ball, at least in my eyes, but normally they can carry a little bit more.”
The crow’s nest is a small space that has to fit two broadcasters as well as Krause and a camera operator, plus video monitors, computers and a few fans to keep it all cool.
“It really is a special place, but it’s tiny up there,” Krause said. “We definitely squeeze a lot of people in to do the job, but it’s the best view in baseball.”
‘A pretty good gig’
All five of the broadcasters said they are looking to make it their career after they finish with their education.
Kyle Morrison, a student at Seattle Pacific University, writes regularly for the student newspaper, but he had no broadcasting experience when he arrived in Duluth. His dream is to become a Major League broadcaster. He said he went back to his earliest games this summer and listened to his calls and he can see the improvement.
“This is a pretty good gig, getting to show up to a baseball field and talk about baseball,” he said. “I think some of the other best things about this summer is just that I’ve grown a lot. I can definitely see myself now at the end of the summer coming into my own as a broadcaster. I think that where I am now compared to where I was at the very beginning — it’s just miles different.”
This article originally listed an incorrect name for Kyle Morrison. It was originally posted at 6 a.m. Aug. 19. It was updated at 7:07 p.m. Aug. 25. The News Tribune regrets the error.