Willmar Stingers' co-owner Ryan Voz is continuing a tradition in Alexandria that is bringing Northwoods League baseball back to town, even if it's just for one night.
The Alexandria Beetles played in the NWL from 2001 through 2012 before the team was changed to the Blue Anchors in 2013. The Blue Anchors lasted only a couple of seasons before Alexandria lost its NWL team shortly after the 2015 summer season.
Voz was a Beetle's assistant general manager during part of their time in Alexandria, and he had the Stingers play a home game at Knute Nelson Memorial Field this past Friday night against the La Crosse Loggers.
"We've done this the past four years now and it's been a fun night back where it all started," Voz said. "I had a woman come up to me and tell me that to her, it felt like she was at a Beetles game 15 years ago. That's why we do this."
Over 1,300 fans packed the ballpark to watch Willmar, which wore the Beetles' jersey tops in the game, beat the Loggers 14-4. A five-run fifth inning helped fuel the win. Tyler Bosma, a lefthander from Miami-Ohio University, started on the mound and threw six scoreless innings.
"It was really fun to come here and do something different," third baseman Sam Baier said after a three-hit night. "It's weird playing a home game in a different city, but these fans were incredible all night and I'm glad we got the win for them."
Playing a home game on the road isn't ideal. But Voz stressed the importance of keeping things fresh in the long summer schedule.
"We play 72 games in 76 days," he said. "Getting different experiences is something we have been trying to do more of. The fans enjoyed it, and it was a great night."
The Northwoods League is a midwest summer baseball league that showcases some of the best college players from around the country. Baier, a Springfield native, grew up watching the same level of baseball he plays now.
"I was about an hour away from Mankato and Willmar so I got to see the Northwoods League teams all the time in the summer when I was little," he said. "It's a great atmosphere everywhere we go. It's cool to see it come full circle for me."
Baier is a starting shortstop at Augustana University.
For the remainder of the 2019 season, the Beetles will go back to being the Stingers and play the rest of their home games in Willmar. However, this isn't the last time we will see them back in Alexandria.
"We plan on coming back next year," Voz said. "I think we are doing really well as an organization. It's important for us to keep this tradition. One of my favorite parts is talking to people from Alexandria and seeing how excited they are. We are looking forward to coming back."