The Lakeshore Chinooks, the newest team in the Northwoods wooden bat baseball league won't play their first game until June but they already lead the circuit in at least two categories.
The Chinooks have the most NBA general managers in their ownership group. Bucks GM John Hammond is a minority owner of the team, which is based in Mequon.
"I love baseball," Hammond said. "I've always been a big fan of baseball. Grew up in a baseball home, my father loved the game, played the game. So for me, it's going to be a lot of fun, I'm going to be excited about it."
The Chinooks, one of 17 teams from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Ontario competing in the league this summer, also lap the field when it comes to owners who are enshrined in Cooperstown.
"I wonder if this is how Mr. Selig started," said Robin Yount, who along with fellow minority owner Bob Uecker is in the Major League Hall of Fame. "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."
"This is the second time I've helped put some sort of baseball deal together. The first was Miller Park."
The league, which plays a 70-game schedule from June 1st through August 12th, (the Chinooks home opener is June 4th) 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 1240 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 reserved grandstand and 5 for general admission. "It's affordable family fun," said 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."
Kapco Park will be designed with a family-friendly flavor. The kids' area features a speed pitch and batting display. There will also be a bounce house and a playground set if the team's youngest fans need a diversion from the action between the lines. "We have a space where kids can be kids," Rennicke said.
UW-Whitewater coach John Vodenlich, whose Warhawks won the 2005 division three national championship, will be the Chinooks' head coach. At the team's official unveiling news conference in November, Vodenlich lamented then that he had "zero players." But MLB.com picked up the news conference and within days, over a hundred 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.
The team will provide an outlet for "all the students and young people who want to learn all the various facets of sports management," said 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 said. "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 that 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 said.
"It will bring a lot of folks to campus who wouldn't necessarily come here otherwise," said Dr. Patrick Ferry, Concordia University president. "A great venue, family-oriented activity. Baseball in the summertime. It can't get much better than that."
"I look at it as kind of an honor to have Jim Kacmarcik approach me, asking me to be involved in something like this," Hammond said. "I think it's something in giving back to the community also."
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 said. "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 said. "But we'll get it done."