Willmar Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz has kept his ties to Alexandria since the city lost its Northwoods League Baseball franchise after the 2015 season.

The Alexandria Beetles played in the NWL from 2001 through 2012 before an ownership change resulted in a name change to the Blue Anchors in 2013. The Blue Anchors lasted a few seasons before Alexandria lost its NWL team shortly after the 2015 summer.

Voz is part of Beetles’ history as the franchise’s former general manager in Alexandria. Last Friday, he had his Willmar players don Beetles jerseys at Knute Nelson Memorial Park in front of the Alexandria faithful for a fifth straight season in an exhibition contest.

With the COVID-19 uncertainty surrounding sports over the last few months, the Northwoods League wasn’t sure if it was going to have a season. On July 1, college athletes from around the country filed into their NWL teams for a shortened schedule.

“Teams are separated into pods according to region, so we are in a group of five teams in Minnesota and Iowa that we are playing this summer through late August,” Voz said. “There isn’t going to be a playoff this year. Instead, the champion of each division will be the team with the highest winning percentage.”

Baseball fans space out in the grandstands at Knute Nelson Memorial Ballpark on July 17 in Alexandria to watch the Willmar Stingers' players compete in an exhibition game. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)
Baseball fans space out in the grandstands at Knute Nelson Memorial Ballpark on July 17 in Alexandria to watch the Willmar Stingers' players compete in an exhibition game. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

The Beetles played an intersquad exhibition game on Friday in front of about 250 fans, the maximum capacity allowed with COVID-19 restrictions. Official game stats were not kept.

The point of returning to Alexandria for one night each summer is more about giving supporters of the former franchise a chance to see some talented college-level players again.

Voz appreciates Alexandria citizens and their support every time the Stingers make their trip to Knute Nelson Ballpark.

“It’s always a fun time being back here,” he said. “It was different this year with everybody spaced out with social distancing, but I thought the fans did a good job doing their part. The people who wanted to wear masks did, and the others who didn’t stayed apart. There’s a nostalgic feeling watching these kids play at Knute that I look forward to seeing.”

Voz is now a fixture with the Willmar organization, and the Stingers are currently 12-3 and at the top of the Minnesota-Iowa division. While the top priority is getting back to a semblance of normalcy in a safe way, the players appreciate having a jersey to wear this summer.

“These guys didn’t have a fall season, so they’re excited that they get to play in one of the three nation-wide leagues that are offering baseball,” Voz said. “I think this season is going really well so far. We are playing good baseball with a talented team. It feels different starting so late and not having payoffs to look forward to, but it makes every game feel more important.”

For Voz, the best part about coming back to Alexandria is seeing familiar faces of the past.

“I walk around the stadium, and I see old season ticket holders and Beetles fans that I’ve come to know,” he said. “It’s a cool experience to still be able to share this team with Alexandria even though we aren’t here all summer. As long as Alexandria continues to have us back, we’ll be here.”