All You Can Eat Seats? Little League Mondays? Rochester Magazine Night?
The Honkers—Rochester’s Northwoods League baseball team—has new ownership. And along with it, more than a few ideas to “bring a new feel of family and fun and excitement into Mayo Field.”
We sat down with team president Chris Goodell to find out what you can expect this season.
RM: What do we need to know about the new owners?
CG: We’re a five-member ownership group that also has the La Crosse Loggers and the Mankato Moondogs. Three of us are from La Crosse and we have two members from Mankato. The Honkers’ owners Dan [Litzinger] and Kim [Archer] were looking to move on after 25 years, so we dove into discussions with them. On December 5, we took over ownership of the Honkers, and here we are.
RM: What does this new ownership mean for fans?
CG: You’re going to see a different atmosphere, a different feel. New sets of promotions, new offerings in the ballpark, new offerings on the menu. And you’re going to see a whole new culture. We’re inviting you to our home, and we’re going to do everything we can to take care of you so you’ll continue to spend more nights with us throughout the summer.
One of our main missions, and there are a lot of them, is to grow the number of people who come into Mayo Field. The numbers haven’t been there, but there was a time when it was pretty darn good. One of our main missions is to get that atmosphere back up and we have some creative ways to do that. It’s going to become a pretty fun place.
On a bigger-picture side, we’re diligently working on facility upgrades. We’ve had some encouraging meetings with city administrators and folks to talk long-term. In the short term, we’re going to put some lipstick on some things while we continue to have those long-term discussions.
RM: What does this long-term plan look like?
CG: We want to work hard to partner with the city to find a way to turn Mayo Field into a facility that everyone’s proud of. Other facilities in the Northwoods League are pretty impressive. There’s turf and suites and a whole variety of amenities. In La Crosse, we host 20-plus non-baseball events a year, including major country concerts, family movie nights, a chili fest, Oktoberfest, a food truck festival. And we hope to bring entertainment options like that in the future here.
Mayo Field will always be about baseball first and foremost, but it can also be an entertainment venue. We’re starting on a smaller scale this summer, August 23, with dueling pianos at the ballpark. ONB Bank is partnering with us on that, and half of the ticket proceeds will benefit Bolder Options.
RM: What are some of the new promotions?
CG: There’s a whole slew of promotions almost any given night. We’re going to have Little League Mondays (Kids in Little League jerseys get in free with a paid adult, and concessions will be serving $1 hot dogs). We’re going to have $20 all-you-can-eat seats, reserved right behind home plate. For the first 90 minutes, it’s all you can eat.
RM: How are you tackling the problem of long lines for concessions or restrooms?
You’re going to see a different concourse setup. We’re expanding, with extra outlets and specialty areas for getting your core ballpark delicacies. There will be beverage stands, so if you want a beer you don’t have to stand in line with everyone else to get it. Just want ice cream? Popcorn? Snacks? You’ll be able to get those more quickly. We’re also aware of the restroom situation and will be doing our best job to enhance those kinds of things.
RM: Why Rochester? Why the Honkers?
CG: We’ve been coming to Rochester as opponents for 20 years, so we’ve gotten to see this team from afar. When the Honkers beat the Loggers in 2009, I was on this patio right here. And this market is really what draws you—to watch the growth of Rochester and to talk to people in this city? That’s exciting. We’re aware of the passionate fan base here. We’re well aware of the history. But we’re also aware of the opportunity here with this tremendous and growing market. We like to dive into communities, because when it comes to ballparks, it’s communities that make the team go.
RM: What does that community mean to you?
CG: Our beliefs and philosophies are that you get involved in the community that supports you—from the Little Leagues to the non-profits. We believe in long-term relationship building, and we’re excited to be able to do that. We’ve only been here since December, and every day is a new opportunity to meet new people and form those relationships.
RM: Tell us about the team?
CG: Our field manager, Thomas Walker, and GM, Jay Fanta, really build a good roster. We’ve got some guys from big-name schools, real college powerhouses, ranked top in the country. The guys coming through here are all trying to get into pro ball. This is a means to an end for them. This is their exposure.
There are five former Honkers on Major League rosters right now and that number keeps going up. In the Northwoods League itself, there were more than 200 players drafted from 20 teams into professional baseball last year. That’s just last year. On any given roster, there are a double-digit number of guys that are future pro baseball players. You don’t know when you’re going to see one next.
RM: How many games will they play?
CG: Seventy-two games in 77 days this summer. That’s just five off days. The whole idea is to get them ready physically and mentally for pro ball. We’ll go up to Thunder Bay, drive home and get in at 4 a.m., and turn around and play the next day. It’s the same thing in professional baseball, and this prepares them for that.
RM: Why should Rochester embrace the Honkers?
CG: It’s fun to be part of something that is moving forward and growing. We are going to bring a new feel of family and fun and excitement into Mayo Field with new offerings on an every night basis. And we’re going to welcome you with our arms wide open, treating anyone who supports the Honkers like gold. It’s all about fun. It’s an opportunity to forget about everything else in life.
This is true baseball, played in its purest form, with a level of fun and excitement and promotion. This is Northwoods League baseball at its finest, and we’re looking forward to rolling the red carpet out. We have a bigger, grander master plan and hope that folks will want to come along for the ride as we build this into a new era.
When to go: The Honkers’ regular season runs through August 11. Check out northwoodsleague.com/rochester-honkers for a full schedule.
Where to go: Mayo Field at 403 E. Center St.
How much: Single ticket prices start at $8 and go to $30 (ticket plus all you can eat and drink on the Riverwalk Apartments Flight deck). A number of packages (including tickets, food, and even Honkers’ caps) are available.
Don’t miss: We are Family Wednesdays, presented by Rochester Magazine. Get a four-pack of tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas, and reserved seats for $32.