As the weather in southeast Minnesota warms up, the Rochester Honkers get busier preparing for the 2016 Northwoods League baseball season, set to start on May 31 at Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
The Rochester Honkers open their Northwoods League baseball season on May 31 at the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Express (photo from northwoodsleague.com)
The Honkers front office staff has all but wrapped up signing players for the upcoming season. Honkers General Manager and Co-Owner Dan Litzinger said the action in the front office has been ramping up in recent weeks.
“It’s been very busy,” Litzinger said. “We have a small front office staff of two or three people, so it’s a lot of work.
On a tour of the park as preparations continued recently, the first thing people might notice are new cameras being installed around the field. The Northwoods League is upgrading the Honkers video system at the ballpark to a full 1080p HD, and Litzinger said that’s unprecedented.
The view from center at Mayo Field in Rochester is about to get an upgrade to HD in order to improve the quality of watching Northwoods League baseball online. (photo from digitalballparks.com)
“We’re installing a new camera in centerfield that’s up 25 feet just left of center,” Litzinger said. “It will give it a really pro look with the picture coming in over the right shoulder of the pitcher. There will be three more HD cameras by first base, third base, and behind home plate, so watching the games online will be a whole new experience.”
The new cameras are going to enhance video production all across the Northwoods League, and will include replay capability. You can get access to the games on the Northwoods League website or on the Honkers website as well. Click on the “Watch Now” button on either site and follow the prompts.
It’s a pay-per-view access, but pay by the game, the month, or the season, and its give you access to the entire Northwoods League and not just the Honkers
The team roster for 2016 is set with a 30-man roster, three coaches, and ten temporary players mean everything is full. Now they just wait for possible readjustments to happen.
“Things like grades, injuries, girlfriends, a grandmother dies, and other things like that will flip our roster starting soon,” Litzinger said. “So there’s a backup list of players and you hope in the first two weeks that your record is 7-7 and not 0-14, otherwise there’s no chance of making the first half championship in our division.”
The Honkers look far and wide to pull in players. This year’s roster actually has a strong California flavor to it because two of the team’s coaches have great connections in that particular state.
“Trevor Hairgove and Demetre Kokoris are both coming back,” Litzinger said. “They’re California guys (Hairgrove at UC Riverside and Kokoris at Santa Barbara City College) with connections through their colleges. So, we have a lot of kids from California colleges, but overall, the kids come from both coasts, from Florida to California up north to Washington and Oregon.”
Dan Litzinger is co-owner and General Manager of the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods Baseball League. He’s been the GM since 1997. (photo from northwoodsleague.com)
He added, “We have players from New York and even a couple coming all the way from Taiwan.”
Team Co-Owner Kim Archer actually has a son that lives in Taiwan and met an agent that wanted to send players overseas to play baseball. One of the players coming in is a high school senior that’s left-handed and throws hard. The other coming in is also a pitcher and a high school junior.
“It was a challenge to find a host family that spoke Mandarin Chinese,” Litzinger said. “We found one that was a current host but not scheduled to host anyone this summer. Thank God they stepped up and said ‘we’ve had foreign exchange students and we’ll take both these kids.’ Hopefully, this brings us some international exposure too.”
From year to year, most of the roster typically turns over from one summer to the next. Typically, Northwoods League teams try to get four to six players back from one year to the next. It’s important for several reasons.
“One is the fan base,” Litzinger said. “They’ll have an automatic connection with guys who may have played the year before. There are always kids you want back and kids you don’t, plus, some kids can’t come back for whatever reasons.
One big reason players may not want to come back is they want to get out and see the world. Litzinger said it’s hard to tell them no when they want to travel and play in other places.
“How do you tell someone who got an offer to play in Alaska not to go there,” said Litzinger, who’s been the GM since 1997. “There are kids who may have a goal of playing in the Cape Cod League out east, and even though I think we’re a better league, they want to go and try it.
“We tell them to go and give it a try, and most come back saying playing in Rochester was a much better experience,” Litzinger said. “Those players actually become pretty good recruiting tools for the Northwoods League.”
The Honkers have four kids on the roster that return from last season.
One of the more recent additions to the roster was Jackson Douglas of Iowa Western Community College. He played his high school ball at Rochester Mayo.
The Honkers open the season on May 31 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to take on the Express. They return home to Rochester the next night for the home opener, also against the Express.