After 13 seasons in Traverse City, the Beach Bums are out.
A group of investors led by the West Michigan Whitecaps announced the purchase of Wuerfel Park at a press conference Wednesday. They’ll start a new team that will play in the Northwoods League, a summer baseball league for top college players.
The Northwoods League is a wood bat league made up of 22 teams across the Midwest. It includes three teams from Michigan — Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and now Traverse City. The teams are made up of some of the top college players in the country. Over 200 Major Leaguers have come through the Northwoods League, including players like Max Scherzer, Curtis Granderson and Chris Sale.
Dick Radatz Jr. is the co-founder of the Northwoods League. He says baseball in Traverse City will be more exciting next year. Instead of a league made up of what he calls “has-beens and wannabes,” Radatz says fans can expect a league full of “up-and-comers.”
“You will see what future Major League Baseball is going to look like,” he says.
Over the past eight seasons, attendance for Beach Bums games has been on the decline. For example, the average attendance for the 2018 season was 2,261 people per game, filling just over one-third of the stadium’s capacity.
John Wuerfel, the previous owner of the Bums, says a lot of that was due to his lack of experience with fan and community engagement.
“I’m the first one to admit, I know how to build things and design things,” he explains “but this we weren’t real sure, and we felled our way through it.”
Wuerfel says Chamberlin and his staff will do a better job at consistently filling seats and using the stadium to host non-baseball related events.
“They’re going to get very involved with the whole community and a lot of people,” he says. “For an example, they [the Whitecaps] have 70 home baseball games a year, but they did 130 events last year at the ballpark — we did one.”
Fans in northern Michigan have a lot of different activities to choose from during the summer months. But the Northwoods League is approaching those fans not as a prize to be won, but a match to be made.
Gary Hoover, the president of the Northwoods League, says something new will be experienced in the ballpark next year.
“I absolutely think that you will see real differences,” he says. “That difference will be felt because it will be in the food offering, because it will be in the fan engagement, because it will be in the quality of baseball play and the manner in which everything is presented.”
The Kalamazoo Growlers, for example, have developed some unique food items over the years. Items like the Growler Burger — a bear claw with a burger, macaroni and cheese and some barbecued pork stuck in between it. Hoover says those sorts of things appeal to everybody — not just baseball fans.
“We laugh and we love when we hear fans leaving a ballpark saying, ‘Not sure who won, but we had a great time.’”
Currently, the new team doesn’t have a name. Joe Chamberlin announced a contest in which fans can submit name ideas for the new club. To submit an idea, click here.