Northwood League, home of Loggers, announces softball coming next summer; La Crosse likely getting team
The Northwoods League is taking on softball and its co-founder has huge expectations.
For 30 years, the Northwoods League (NWL) has been a home for collegiate baseballers to play in the summer to hone their skill for next season with the hopes of going on to play professionally.
Starting next summer, softball players will, too, have that same opportunity, NWL co-founder Dick Radatz, Jr., announced Tuesday on La Crosse Talk PM.
“Your owner of the La Crosse Loggers, Dan Kapanke, was the one who came to me with the idea last summer,” Raddatz said on WIZM. “And I thought to myself, ‘God, that’s a great idea.’
“And you think to yourself, ‘Well, somebody must have thought of this. Why is nobody doing this?’”
No word on what cities will host collegiate players — that announcement comes in July — but Radatz was jokingly asked that, since Kapanke had the idea, he would then be obligated to host a team, right?
“Absolutely,” Radatz said. “Absolutely. I don’t think he would have brought the idea if he didn’t have something in mind.”
Things will start small, with about 5-8 teams, Radatz thought, but he has gigantic hopes.
“Once we go through our first season and get it started, we expect it will really take off,” Radatz said. “And I truthfully expect, you know, in my lifetime, it will grow to be larger than the Northwood League baseball, which is now the largest organized baseball league in the country.”
Radatz said, as far as he knows, there is no softball league like it in the US. And he’s not off about it becoming bigger than baseball.
Women’s sports keep growing in popularity — just look at USA soccer to last season’s NCAA women’s Final Four basketball tournament. Plus, the softball College World Series was more popular this past season than baseball — though that may have had something to do with, arguably, the greatest hitter ever wrapping up her collegiate career.
Last season, Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo, the back-to-back player of the year, finished the NCAA all-time leader in home runs (122), slugging percentage (. 987) and total bases (761), second all-time in RBI (323) and fifth in runs (281).
Unlike baseball, however, college softball players don’t have many options upon graduating to go pro. There is the Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF) league, which launched last year — where Alo is currently playing — but, other than that, it’s nothing like baseball, where just a few years ago former Loggers Chris Sale and Max Scherzer were facing off against each other as starters for both the NL and AL in the all-star game.
Radatz hopes the softball league can spur similar opportunities, where women can thrive professionally.
“There’s not much, very truthfully, there’s not much out there,” Radatz said. “You know, very truthfully I don’t know how this is all gonna play out, but I think the beginning of this Northwoods softball will spawn other professional leagues.”
He envisions bigger cities becoming the homes of professional teams, like any other sport.
“Where venture capitalists get into this and our players will have something to aspire to beyond just becoming better college players,” he said.
Despite growing popularity in women’s sports, Radatz knows what’s in store, because he experienced this when he began NWL baseball in the 90s. You know, when baseball was more popular than ever with the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hitting more home runs than anyone ever imagined — though and “how” didn’t come until later.
“The first three to five years, there were a lot of sleepless nights not knowing if this was gonna financially be successful,” he said. “And I think it’s like any business, you may have the greatest idea in the world, but it takes execution and a lot of luck and some things to fall into place. And now it’s 30 years later, here we are and it’s gone beyond our wildest dreams.”
The first NWL softball season should begin in June of 2024 and run through the first week of August with a 40-game schedule.
With the tradition of NWL baseball — which currently has 24 teams, including nine in Wisconsin — one could expect the very best in softball to flock to the league, as well.
“There’ll probably be players from coast to coast coming into La Crosse,” Radatz said. “You’ll see players from UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, LSU, coming from all over the country to play in La Crosse.”
Radatz also predicted that cities that currently host NWL baseball could convert their fields, such as Copeland Park, to softball by adding a temporary outfield fence and putting the circle in front of the pitcher’s mound, as is done quite frequently already.
After that, it’s just a matter of spurring a tradition that goes beyond college success.
Right now, the current MLB leader in doubles, is former La Crosse Logger, Matt Chapman. The 2021 Home Run Derby champion, Pete Alonso, was a Madison Mallard. And the 2019 Silver Slugger catcher, while with the Twins, Mitch Garver, is a former St. Cloud River Bat.