Thursday, June 3, 2010

Northwoods League Opening Week 2010

All photos of Waterloo Bucks home opener available on Flickr.

June signals the end of the NCAA season and the beginning of collegiate summer leagues across the nation. Our favorite baseball league, the Northwoods League, began its 17th season on Wednesday in seven cities across the Midwest. This year the league expands to 16 teams, with expansion franchises starting up in Wisconsin Rapids and Willmar, Minnesota. Like most teams in the NWL, these cities may be new to the league but are not without their local baseball history. Wisconsin Rapids was a long-time affiliate of the Twins and amateur baseball before the Rafters came to town, and the Stingers are now the 6th permanent tenant of Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar, along with several VFW and Legion ball teams also playing there each summer. We are excited and lucky enough to get to see both of these new teams this season - Erik won a 9-pack of Rafters tickets for winning a "Name the Team" contest, and we plan on tacking a Stingers game onto our Target Field trip next month. I was also fortunate to be in attendance at the first two game in Wisconsin Rapids Rafters history on Wednesday and Thursday at the Waterloo Riverfront Stadium.

I always look forward to Opening Day, but this particular Opening Day was special to me because it would be my first as a season ticket holder! Being a resident of Waterloo for almost a year now, I know just about every place that one can score a free Bucks ticket in this city (which is almost everywhere), but I decided that I could afford to support the team for the modest price of $105 for a 35-game home schedule. Even if I miss one-third of the games, I am still coming out ahead on this deal! It sure looks like the team can use my monetary support this year, because there were absolutely zero fan improvements to the ballpark in the offseason. After the 2008 floods, new batting cages and clubhouses were installed for the players, and a new entry/ticket booth, but much of the seating bowl remains in bad shape and the concessions are still a joke. For my first meal of the season, I was denied two items that are still on the menu but they have never actually had, and ended up settling for a cheeseburger that was made up of a microwaved hamburger patty with ice-cold shredded taco cheese on top. Another lack of improvement in the park was the turf - it still has an inauspicious upward slope at the warning track, which when combined with the field's poor drainage means that any heavy storm the day of a game pretty much means a postponement.

Most importantly, however, the product on the field does seem to have significantly improved over the Bucks' last-place performance of the 2009 season. Aside from a few defensive miscues in Thursday's game, the Bucks played solidly and were in control in both wins. In both games, the starters went at least 6 and the bullpen was excellent - which is more than the Brewers can say about their staff. Both games were low scoring and fast, which was a result of pitching efficiency and good infield defense. The Bucks also took advantage of whatever the defense gave them, including most of their RISP opportunities. Early on, the team does not seem to have a lot of power, so smart baserunning and on-base percentage are going to be keys for this team to contend in the South Division this year.

Brewers 22-32, -9.0 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Cubs, 3 v. Rangers, 3 @ Angels)
Reds 31-23, -- (3 @ Nationals, 4 v. Giants, 3 v. Royals, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 31-22,
+3.0 (3 @ Athletics, 3 v. Royals, 3 v. Braves, 3 v. Rockies)

Erik - 12
Peter - 11

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