With the arrival of the Traverse City Pit Spitters (summer collegiate; Northwoods League), fans in the Michigan community will be treated to a new baseball experience in a familiar environment.
Last September, a notable shift occurred in Traverse City. An investment group led by the West Michigan Whitecaps (Low A; Midwest League) purchased Wuerfel Park, a ballpark that was first built with private financing from John and Leslye Wuerfel in 2006 for the Traverse City Beach Bums (independent; Frontier League). Purchasing the ballpark allowed the investment group to secure a facility for its new entry in the Northwoods League, which was branded earlier this year as the Traverse City Pit Spitters—a reference to the internationally recognized sport of Pit Spitting. (Traverse City is known as “The Cherry Capital of the World.)
In a sense, the theme of this offseason in Traverse City has been change, with the branding a major component of the ongoing shift at the ballpark—which the Pit Spitters have rebranded as Pit Spitters Park. While the changes are significant, it seems that the community has greeted them with a favorable response thus far.
“Some people go ‘what’s with the name,’ but once they see the logo, they like it,” Pit Spitters general manager Mickey Graham said of the reaction to the branding. “They connect with the logo. Anytime you’re changing something that was around here for 12 years, you’re going to get some pushback and that’s expected. But we’re converting all of those people that don’t necessarily like the name, or maybe are skeptical of what we’re trying to accomplish here, into Pit Spitters fans.”
Merchandise have also been strong, according to Graham, who was appointed to the post in Traverse City after spending 19 years with the Whitecaps, including the past 14 as the team’s Director of Marketing and Media.
“Merch sales have been great,” he said. “People like the logo, they like the name, it’s different and they’re attracted to some of the merchandise we have out there, especially the hats. We think that’s been a nice pleasant surprise for us is how well the merch sales gone.”
Pit Spitters branding will also coincide with a move in Traverse City from independent-level baseball to summer-collegiate baseball. Although the summer-collegiate Northwoods League represents a lower level of competition than the professional Frontier League, fans have been warming to the change ahead of this season. What the Pit Spitters feel has helped the transition is the credibility of the Northwoods League, which has grown over its more than two decades of operation and boasts a slate of former players that includes current Major League standouts like Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.
“Once you explain to them what the Northwoods League is about, the alumni from the Northwoods League, the credibility the league has after 25 years, they like what they hear and they’re excited to see these kids,” Graham said.
Pit Spitters Park has also undergone some upgrades over the offseason. New concessions equipment was installed, while the team has reconfigured the ballpark’s suites—reducing the overall inventory but increasing the individual capacity from 12 guests to 25 guests. Food and beverage items have also been adjusted ahead of this season, highlighted in part by a partnership with the local Moomers ice cream that will bring eight different flavors to the ballpark, including the team-branded Pit Spitters Swirl.
The Pit Spitters also held a fan food vote that resulted in a victory for the Triple Crown Nachos. In West Michigan, the fan food vote has been a promotional staple since its inaugural edition in 2010 and it has yielded several distinct menu options, including our 2017 Best New Food Item, the Beercheese Poutine. Bringing the fan food vote to Traverse City is one example of how the Whitecaps and Pit Spitters will collaborate on ideas going forward, which Graham believes will be beneficial to both clubs.
“We’ll be sharing a lot of ideas for sure,” he said. “We’ve already implemented some of the things that I did down there up here, and we’re going to continue to do that. We think it’s going to be a great partnership between the two teams, bouncing ideas back and forth. There’s going to be a lot of idea sharing, and a lot of collaboration between the two when it comes to the fan experience and promotions.”
The Pit Spitters began their inaugural season last night, hosting the Green Bay Booyah. With the addition of the Pit Spitters and the Kokomo Jackrabbits, who shifted over from the Prospect League following the 2018 season, the Northwoods League will field 22 teams in 2019.
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