Baseball fans pack the park at Concordia University to watch the Lakeshore Chinooks. It’s a team of college players, many hoping to make the big leagues.
The team, which started in 2012, has become popular with the locals. They often see the players about town because they live with host families.
“They’re at the grocery store, they’re at restaurants; they're living here and being a part of all of us for the summer. It’s just the neatest, accessible way for kids in baseball and professionals to connect,” according to fan Lisa Liljargren.
The players also mingle with fans at the games, in fact, the team eats its pre-game meal right next to the concession stands. Liljargren says she sometimes attends two games a week with her 12-year-old son Simon. He always brings his baseball glove.
"I like getting foul balls and running around," Simon says.
"It's about entertainment," according to Chinooks' vice president and GM Dean Rennicke (no relation to the Brewers' manager.)
The games feature giveaways and contests, including a kids' dance-off, and the park is equipped with inflatables and an obstacle course. Rennicke says even the team name was meant to be unique.
“We ultimately settled on Chinooks because, we felt at the time, there was no other team that had that name, and we also wanted it to tie in with the lake or some other kind of recreational sport here in Wisconsin. And the Chinook is the king salmon,” Rennicke says.
Rennicke says the team scouts for top college players and may consider hundreds. They play for free, to keep their skills sharp over the summer and perhaps, to be noticed. In just the team's first two years of existence, Major League baseball clubs have drafted 27 Chinooks. It might not hurt, that the team's 14 investors include Milwaukee Brewers all-star Robin Yount and announcer Bob Uecker.
This season is pitcher Joe Pavlovich's second with the Chinooks. During the school year, he plays for UW-Oshkosh.
“Last summer I was looking for a place to play, the Chinooks were the first one to response and have me come to a tryout and ever since then, I’ve wanted to be a Chinook,” Pavlovich says.
On Tuesday evening, the team's home field - Kapco Park at Concordia, will host the All-Star game. It’ll feature the best players from the Chinooks' league, the Northwoods League.
The baseball players won’t be the only college students working. The team brings aboard other interns to help create and market the fun.