This serves as the ninth post in my third season of a series called “Down on the Farm” that chronicles visits to various minor league parks throughout the 2013 campaign. (All prior editions can be accessed here.)
Situated among lush hills on the eastern bank of America’s longest river, one finds the charming city of La Crosse, Wisc. And from early June to mid-August since 2003, the La Crosse Loggers have entertained grateful fans of all ages.
The Loggers play in the Northwoods League which is now 20 seasons old and considered the second best Summer Collegiate Baseball League — after “The Cape.” Northwoods has more teams (16), draws more spectators (nearly 1 million combined), and plays more games (70) than any other summer college program.
Teams are predominantly located in Minnesota (six) and Wisconsin (seven), with one club each in Iowa, Michigan and Ontario.
Copeland Park, colloquially referred to as “The Lumberyard,” opened a decade ago. At the time of construction, capacity was roughly 2,000. But, the success of the Loggers prompted expansion, eventually bringing seating to 3,550, though with picnic areas and standing room the facility holds more than 5,000. In fact, 5,433 people attended as recently as June 22.
Fitting with the region, outfield luxury suites are actually “group cabins,” which include a fridge, buffet, furniture and televisions. Field dimensions are small (325-365-315, left to right), but with collegians accustomed to using BBCOR bats now swinging the wood, pitchers still fare well. When I visited June 27, the two starters entered with a 1.13 combined ERA.
The Lumberyard sits at the south end of a neighborhood park along the Black River, a tributary of the Mississippi. It makes for a pristine setting with bridges and boats dotting the periphery, a little league field beyond the fence and free parking offered along the river down the base lines.
After winning the championship in 2012, the Loggers are fighting for first again this season and they have 1,200 season ticket holders, more than any team. When it comes to MLB tastes, fans are split between the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins — both are roughly a three-hour drive away — and the local paper covers both teams.
As for attendance, La Crosse seems destined to finish a solid second-place finish (Madison) for at least the fifth consecutive season. Nearly 3,000 enthusiastic folks attended when I visited, despite a 10-5 shellacking by the Lakeshore Chinooks.
Led by hard-working general manager Chris Goodell , the Loggers have become adept at bringing in top talent (especially from California), yet also wisely maintain local ties. Two current players from the nearby University of Minnesota received warm ovations — one attended high school in La Crosse, the other hails from across the Mississippi in La Crescent, Minn.
The Loggers were the 2012 Organization of the Year and Goodell was named Northwoods League Executive of the Year. Copeland Park also hosted the 2006 Northwoods League All-Star Game.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse will begin playing games at Copeland Park next spring pending final approval from the city. Local high schools and American Legion Baseball also play at this quaint ballpark just north of Historic Downtown La Crosse.