The current major league leader in doubles, Matt Chapman, is a former La Crosse Logger.
The 2021 Home Run Derby champion, Pete Alonso, is a former Madison Mallard.
The 2019 Silver Slugger catcher while with the Twins, Mitch Garver, is a former St. Cloud River Bat.
As of May 6, when former Kalamazoo Growler Matt Mervis made his debut with the Cubs, 325 players from the Northwoods League had reached the majors as it has cemented its place as a summer developmental league for college players.
After 30 years, the Northwoods League is embarking on a new endeavor that reflects the growing impact of women's softball: the creation of Northwoods League Softball, a league for women players with college eligibility.
The arrival of Northwoods softball is remarkable in that college players will have an outlet to compete and work on their game during summer. It's reflective of the growth of the sport in the country and in this region. Locally, it will debut two years after the Minnesota Aurora, a community-owned, women-led preprofessional women's soccer team, was a smash hit in its first season in the USL W League.
It's also remarkable that this wasn't done sooner.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 340,000 girls played softball during the 2021-22 school year, trailing only track and field, volleyball, soccer and basketball. The Amateur Softball Association reports it registered more than 83,000 girls fastpitch teams. The sport is popular in Minnesota, where you don't have to look far to find a family planning trips to watch daughters and sisters play travel ball. Many of those players move on to college to play.
For those who desire to develop skills during the offseason, summer options have been limited and can be costly when room and board costs are considered. The Northwoods League is convinced its model can work for softball. Dan Kapanke, the owner of the La Crosse Loggers, came up with the idea to add summer softball. Northwoods League leaders feel they can repeat history and do for softball what they did for baseball in this region.
"I thought, 'Why hasn't someone else thought of this?' " said Dick Radatz Jr., the league's chairman and co-founder. "The conclusion that I came to is that there are no facilities. When we went into baseball, minor leagues were prevalent across America with the history of baseball, so there were facilities outside of the college ranks. But there's not a great deal of softball facilities.
"At least within our league, we are going to play softball in our baseball facilities, some of these venues that have AstroTurf."
Northwoods League Softball will debut next year with five to eight teams, Radatz said. The teams could be named before the end of July. It's unclear how many will be in Minnesota. The goal is to have a 40-game season from mid-June through the first week of August. If a player aspires to excel for her college team, be named to an Olympic team or to play on the next level — such as Women's Professional Fastpitch — Northwoods League Softball is an option.
Gophers women's softball coach Piper Ritter believes the league is a good idea and met with Northwoods League Softball officials as they did their due diligence. A handful of Gophers players will participate in leagues elsewhere this offseason, but summer is their time away. She laughed when asked if she will start watching livestreamed Northwoods League Softball games while on the recruiting trail. She sees plenty of games during the college season.
She said players will find varying value from Northwoods League Softball.
"Some of them just need a break, depending on what the season was like or if they get beat up," said Ritter, whose team will take on McNeese State in an NCAA regional game on Friday in Seattle.
"Sometimes pitchers have asked if they should play if they haven't gotten a lot of innings during the season, and I say yes, absolutely. But if they have pitched a big number for us then I say only if you want to play. Because summer is about [taking a] break."