The Unofficial Start of Summer – Woodchucks Baseball
by John H. Fischer on June 1st, 2012
When does summer start? This past Memorial Day weekend signals the start of summer for many folks. For scientific traditionalists, summer starts June 20th this year, astronomical summer that is. For me, in Wausau, summer starts when the proverbial “boys of summer” arrive, and that is Friday Night, June 1st, as the Wisconsin Woodchucks have their first game of the 2012 season at Wausau’s historic Athletic Park.
One of the best things about Wausau is that you have many big city amenities in a small town package. And the Wisconsin Woodchucks fits that role well. For those not familiar, The ‘Chucks are part of a summer baseball league. The players are all college baseball starts, many of whom are strong scouting prospects for the major leagues. This is pure baseball at it’s best, it is a wood bat league. Many consider it to be minor league ball, but the ‘Chucks (as well as all of the other teams that make up the Northwoods League) are not officially affiliated with any major league program.
To me, I can’t think of any one single thing I like about Wausau more than June through August when the Woodchuck’s season is in full swing (pun intended). Of course, I am admittedly biased. I can not think of one thing that I enjoy more than baseball… true baseball… baseball played by people because they love the game. I love little league, and high school ball. But I think that professional baseball loses some of that passion by the players. To me, the Woodchucks and this type of ball is as good as it gets.
Don’t believe me that these kids can bring true excitement to the Wausau area? Well, here are my top five Woodchuck’s memories:
#5 Watching a talented Bobby Pritchet (I apoligize if I kill the spelling of some of these names) through a no-hitter. For those who are familiar with baseball, a nine-inning no-hitter is a pretty big deal. What made this better is who threw it. Bobby was not only part of the ‘Chuck’s starting pitcher rotation. On games that he wasn’t pitching, he was still playing. In addition to being a pretty good outfielder, he was one of the ‘Chucks hottest bats that year. To have one of their best hitters also be one of their best pitchers, a rare thing indeed.
#4 There are few things more exciting that catching a foul ball, and yes if you get the ball, you get to keep the ball. (And, after the game, you can normally go down on the field and meet the players and get your favorite player’s autograph. Now, you will see a number of kids outside the park getting their souvenier as that’s where most of the foul balls land. I had relegated myself to not getting such a trophy as my season tickets are in the “gold” section just behind home plate, and this section is protected by a large net to prevent 100 mph foul tips coming back and taking one of our heads off. But a few seasons ago, there was a small 8″ gap in the seam of that netting near the very top. And a million to 1 foul tip somehow found that small gap, spun through it, hit the concrete walkway, and bounced right to me in row 4. A foul ball from the gold seats, how cool is that!
#3 Part of the fun of the game is the team mascot, Woody (or Woodrow T. Woodchuck to be proper). The team as a whole went through a lot of changes for the 2010 season. New logo, new pin-striped uniforms, and a new Woody mascot. You can go back and find my post on “Wausau has a big, fat Woody” to see my thoughts on this change. It turns out, I was not alone. So, call me silly, but to be there opening night for the 2011 season and see “old” Woody back as our mascot, that my friends was a big deal.
#2 The 2010 Season also saw the ‘Chucks may a run for the play-offs. For the last few games of the season, it was a 4-way dead heat for the last spot in the play-offs, and all four teams were on a hot streak. So, that means for any chance to get in, the ‘Chucks had to win and keep on winning. With just a few games left and in a must-win situation, facing behing behind 10-0 after the top of the 3rd inning, it looked like our hopes for post-season were over. However, in what had to be the most exciting game I ever attended, after spotting Waterloo 10 runs, the ‘Chucks starting fighting back. When the ‘Chucks came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, they were still facing a 12-8 deficit. They managed to plate one 1 run making it 12-9 when a little while later, a shot off the bat took off to dead center field that probably still hasn’t landed. The 3-run homer in the bottom of the 9th tied the game and a 10th inning walk-off single seals the deal on a 13-12 victory.
#1 My best memory is my first season as a season ticket holder. The ‘Chucks had a closing pitcher by the name of Pat Vendetti. This guy was simply amazing to watch. Pick up a ball with your dominant hand (right hand for righties, left hand for lefties). Throw that ball. Not hard is it? Now through that ball as a baseball pitch at 80 mph plus. Hard isn’t it? Now, move that ball to your other “off” hand and throw it. Could you do it at all? Now imagine pitching it with your off hand. That is what ‘Chucks fans were treated to almost every night. A true “Switch Pitcher”. Pat would go strike out a batter pitching right handed, and then for the next batter would quickly move his glove to his other hand (he had a custom made glove just for this purpose) and then strike out the next batter pitching left handed. I had seen nothing like it before, and I think it fair to say I will see nothing like it again. Pat is currently playing minor-league ball for the Yankees.
The Woodchucks are something great that Wausau has to offer. And, this is really low cost family entertainment. Tickets start at $6, and there are some nights (like Credit Union night or Chamber of Commerce night) when it is easy to actually find free tickets to the game from local businesses. The food is good and priced right.
Don’t like baseball, you still need to come experience a game because often the on-field promotions between the innings can be just as entertaining as the game itself. The Dizzy Bat Race is one of my favorites, however if you do like to gamble, I can introduce you to some people who would be willing to take your wager on the outcome of the Ketsup and Mustard Race. A fan favorite is the T-shirt cannon and I of course would be negligent if I didn’t also plug the Frozen T-Shirt Contest (sponsered by … me). And for the kids, what could be better than going out on the field during the game. Woody takes the kids out into left field to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning strech.
I am excited, I am even wearing my ‘Chucks jersey to work this opening day. I look forward to seeing you all at the game.