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Northwoods League expands to Willmar

Ryan Voz and Marc Jerzak are the prospective team owners of a new summer-collegiate team in Willmar, Minn.

The Willmar City Council has approved a plan for a summer-collegiate Northwoods League team in Willmar's Taunton Stadium, as the circuit strengthens its presence in central Minnesota. The league has successfully staged several games at Taunton Stadium, so the ballpark is a known quantity. Ryan Voz and Marc Jerzak, who ran the St. Cloud River Bats successfully the last two seasons, are in line as owners; Voz was also successful running the Alexandria Beetles before that.

So while the pair have a lot of experience in small markets, Willmar will be a huge challenge. The market is on the smaller site — the population has actually shrunk since the last census, down to 17,700 or so — and surrounding Kandiyohi County has only 40,000 or so residents. There's not much of a commercial base in Willmar unless you're interested in turkeys (Jennie-O Turkeys still has a large presence in town), either. Still, Voz and Jerzak are pretty sharp guys, so we're guessing they have a workable game plan in mind.

The lease calls for the team to pay $300 a game for 34 regular-season games as well as any playoff games. No beer license is in place, though it's expected the team will be granted a 3.2 license in the future.

What this means for the league lineup for 2010 remains to be seen, as there are issues that need to be resolved in other markets. We are assuming a new Waukesha ballpark is still on the docket, which would add one more Wisconsin team. The future of the Battle Creek Bombers would seem to be in play as well, although league officials may have heard the same strong rumors we've heard: that the Frontier League's Kalamazoo Kings will be suspending operations at the end of the season (currently the Kings are in the league championship series). That certainly could affect the future of the Bombers.

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