Mankato’s ISG Field hosted the Northwoods League All-Star Game Tuesday for the first time since 2007, as players in the Great Lakes and Great Plains divisions faced off on a humid evening in southern Minnesota.
Parking lots were full 90 minutes prior to first pitch, and an overflow crowd of nearly 3,000 attended, a ballpark record.
Like the NCAA Frozen Four, fans of teams from Bismarck and Willmar to Kalamazoo and Traverse City traveled to represent their squads in colorful jerseys. Minnesota Vikings All-Pro wide receiver and Mankato sports hero Adam Thielen threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
And then the Granite City gang got to work. Fresh off their ninth shutout of the season Sunday, the first half Great Plains West Champion St. Cloud Rox (34-12) sent five players and its entire coaching staff 120 miles south to the Mid-Summer Classic.
Batting cleanup, St. Cloud catcher Caleb Ricketts singled and scored the game's first run in the second inning, and the Plains team rolled to victory from there, 7-3.
It wasn’t only Ricketts, though.
Rox pitcher Hunter Dollander tossed a scoreless frame to earn the win, while Kevin Davis closed out the game in the ninth. Meanwhile, St. Cloud second baseman Otto Kemp homered in the sixth inning and was named the game’s MVP.
Coaches from the first half Great Lakes West champion Fond du Lac Dock Spiders (31-17) were in the dugout for the visiting squad.
The Great Plains team also won Monday’s Home Run Derby, with Lakeshore’s Griffin Doersching taking the individual crown.
MoonDogs owner Chad Surprenant said the event was everything he hoped for.
“You know, it was kind of a two-way street,” he told the Mankato Free Press. “We had to bring this event to the people, and it was a little bit off script. We’re used to selling the big things, the full season, so we had to change the way we do things to adapt to a one-time event.”
The league now heads into its final three-and-a-half weeks with much still at stake before the playoffs commence Aug. 15.