TRAVERSE CITY — An independent baseball team from Traverse City has sold to the ownership group of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Detroit Tigers’ Class-A affiliate.
The Traverse City Beach Bums, who have played in the Frontier League since 2006, were acquired this week by Traverse City Baseball, a group comprised of investors from West Michigan and the Traverse City region, executives confirmed to MiBiz.
The deal included the property at Wuerfel Park, the home of the Beach Bums, which is located in Blair Township near Chums Corner south of Traverse City.
According to Whitecaps CEO Joe Chamberlin, Traverse City will play as a Northwoods League team starting in May 2019. Other teams regionally in the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer wooden-bat baseball league comprised currently of 20 teams, include the Battle Creek Bombers and Kalamazoo Growlers.
According to Chamberlin, “the facility is beautiful” and has “a bunch of potential.”
“We’ve been doing minor league baseball in West Michigan for 25 years,” said Chamberlin, who will oversee operations of the new Traverse City baseball team. “When John and Leslye (Wuerfel), the sellers, built Wuerfel Park in 2006, they were in touch with us and picking our brains about what works, what doesn’t work, and how do you put a facility together.”
Chamberlin, who’s known the sellers “for a long time,” said his group of investors pursued the acquisition of the Beach Bums for 24 months before finally reaching a deal with the Wuerfels.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The new owners’ playbook for growth in Traverse City — which has a “fantastic ball park that’s underutilized,” according to Chamberlin — shares similarities to what they’ve used in Comstock Park with the Whitecaps.
“We see a market up there that is a great baseball market, a community that’s asking to be involved and asking to be embraced,” he said. “We think that our brand of baseball, in that ballpark, in that market, has potential to do a lot of exciting things in Traverse City and the Northern Michigan region.”
The new owners are taking over as sales and attendance have dipped at Beach Bum games in recent years. According to Ballpark Digest, Traverse City averaged 2,261 fans per game in 2018, a drop from 2,717 fans in 2017.
Despite the drop in attendance, Chamberlin sees promise in the Traverse City organization, which the investors hope to turn around by running promotions such as concerts and festivals to better utilize the venue.
“If you follow the Beach Bums, attendance has been trending the wrong direction in the last few years,” Chamberlin said. “We understand that we are getting into this ballpark and this franchise at a point where it needs a little bit of love. It’s a little bit of a refresh and a rebrand, but that’s the work we are excited to do.”
As part of the deal, the new owners are renaming the Traverse City team via a public contest that runs through Oct. 15
According to Chamberlin, the organization also is seeking a naming-rights deal with a corporate sponsor for the field, and has started the search for a new manager after Dan Rohn said he’d no longer run the team.
The team initially is considering internal candidates and will probably name a new manager “in the next month or so,” Chamberlin said.
“The talent that comes from this (Northwoods) League is legit,” said Chamberlin, citing data that roughly 80 Northwood League alumni are playing in Major League Baseball. “These are top-tier college players that are spending their summers getting experience with a wooden bat to increase their draft prospects. … We are pretty confident that in four or five years, maybe we are going to have (Traverse City) alumni in the major leagues.
“As a baseball fan, we think people in Traverse City want to see this.”