Northwoods League: Huskies eye several playing scenarios
League owners met Friday to discuss options to open the season.
Could the Duluth Huskies begin the Northwoods League season with an extended road trip to Eau Claire?
How about several series in La Crosse?
Would Waterloo be a possibility?
League owners met Friday to discuss options to open the season, one of which involved organizing a group of “pod” cities that had the fewest COVID-19 restrictions and would be able to house players safely during the current pandemic.
The league’s franchise in Bismarck, North Dakota, has indicated that it will begin activities June 15 and play several series against Thunder Bay and another Bismarck team formed from an additional group of players. Players would be quarantined at a nearby hotel and walk back and forth to the stadium without any bus rides.
Now that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home executive order, teams in Wisconsin cities such as Eau Claire, La Crosse and Madison are not bound by factors like limited crowd sizes and would have the option of playing if their local municipalities and ballparks were open for business.
If those cities or others in Wisconsin are able to serve as a pod community, a la Bismarck, is unknown.
“There are so many moving parts,” Huskies owner Michael Rosenzweig said. “That could be a possibility. We’re trying to not rule anything out.”
City-run Wade Stadium is closed until at least July 1, according to an order by Mayor Emily Larson.
“Even if they said they are going to open Wade Stadium on the first of July, we still need two weeks to get ready,” Rosenzweig said.
Huskies general manager Greg Culver says time is running out to make a decision — the season was originally slated to begin next Tuesday — since players need to make travel plans and workers need to be hired. In order for the Huskies to be able to play this season, Gov. Tim Walz’s current restrictions on crowd sizes — no more than 10 are allowed to gather presently — would need to be lifted.
“We need fans in the stadium; we need the ballpark open,” Culver said. “We can’t just have 100 fans. We need to have the ballpark open July 1, and we need to know by June 23 if the ballpark is going to be open July 1 for us to be able to play by July 15. Mayor Larson could push that off to Aug. 1 or Sept. 1 and we’d be stuck.”
The league is looking to avoid long bus rides where social distancing is impossible and to get players coronavirus tests before games. With teams spanning six states and one Canadian province, it’s highly unlikely all the sites will be ready to play at the same time.
“We’re not all on square one or square two or square three,” Rosenzweig said while sporting a Minnesota Twins face mask in front of Wade Stadium. “All of the states have done a pretty good job of trying to contain this and because of that, phase one looks different for everyone.”
When, or if, players come to Duluth, they will not be housed by host families, Culver said. Instead, players would be quarantined at an undetermined location.
Some summer leagues, such as the Cape Cod League, called off their season already, leaving plenty of talented players available for the Northwoods League. With colleges not in session, and perhaps even delayed in the fall, the Northwoods League could extend its season beyond the traditional mid-August finish.
But to devise a new schedule and get players to town, a decision needs to be made soon.
“It would then become an on-your-mark, get-set and go,” Rosenzweig said.
Culver said the Huskies released one player who didn’t want to play due to the virus and released three others whose college coaches did not want them playing after not having a spring season.