Published in Economic Development
The former Battle Creek Bombers are now known as the Battle Creek Battle Jacks. The former Battle Creek Bombers are now known as the Battle Creek Battle Jacks. COURTESY PHOTO

FROM INTERN TO OWNER: Colopy takes reins of amateur baseball teams in Kalamazoo, Battle Creek

BY Sunday, January 30, 2022 06:38pm

After serving as a college intern for the Northwoods League, Brian Colopy now owns two franchises in the collegiate summer baseball league.

Colopy — who was in an executive role for the Battle Creek Battle Jacks (formerly the Battle Creek Bombers) for more than a decade and was instrumental in launching the Kalamazoo Growlers in 2014 — purchased both of the franchises during this offseason. His goal is to help shape a new era of amateur baseball in Southwest Michigan.

“This is something I never thought would happen,” said Colopy. “A lot of people would ask me if I thought I would eventually work in higher levels of minor league, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

“In this league, we get to be involved with the players and the on-field game,” he added. “But it also involves all the crazy fun things you don’t get to do at the higher levels. I love this league and everything it stands for.”

New era

Transitioning ownership to Colopy should be fairly seamless since he has been central to the daily operations at both organizations for several years. 

Both the Growlers and the Battle Jacks were previously owned by Northwoods League co-founder and Chairperson Dick Radatz Jr. and his wife Kathy, who serves as treasurer. By default, the couple owns clubs that don’t have individual ownership. The Rockford Rivets is the remaining team that the couple owns.

Colopy worked for both organizations long enough to eventually earn the equity to purchase the teams.

While Colopy stressed that he didn’t intend to take either of the teams in a completely new direction, he gave the former Bombers an immediate facelift by renaming and re-branding the team. The newly minted Battle Jacks have also re-upped their lease at C.O. Brown Stadium through 2026.

Colopy and his team accepted name suggestions from members of the community and ultimately left it up to a community vote. Results were announced on Jan. 26.

“If you can focus on the fans and focus on fun, you’ll be alright in this league,” Colopy said. “And every decision we’re making — from stadium improvements, special events, staffing — is going to be based around fun for the fans.”

Colopy was named Executive of the Year in 2020 by the Northwoods League after guiding his organizations through the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when virtually all other sporting events were canceled indefinitely.

“I think his innovation and creativity won him the Executive of the Year during COVID when he went to the five-inning games (to fit more games in a smaller period of time),” Radatz Jr. said. “When he brought that idea to me, I’m more of a baseball purist and I don’t want to mess with the rules if I don’t have to. So, that was kind of a stretch for me, but we allowed him to do it and I think his peers saw the innovations and the restrictions he was working under.”

Baseball and a show

Colopy walks the line between providing players with the resources to develop as athletes while making game day a family friendly production.

“We’re trying to be different in fan experience when they come to a game — how the food tastes, the show we put on,” Colopy said.

And that’s an area where Colopy and his staff have thrived, grabbing national media attention for a few of their promotions and activities.

In 2019, the Growlers introduced “Coach Drake,” an honorary 6-year-old coach who did everything from visiting the pitcher’s mound during the game to arguing with the umpires. The schtick gained nationwide attention.

In 2013, the then-Bombers unveiled its Twinkie hot dog, and Colopy appeared on Good Morning America to show off the creation.

“If you follow any of their social media stuff, the things they do, (Colopy) is definitely one of the top marketers in the league,” Radatz Jr. said.

For Brian Persky, director of sports development for Discover Kalamazoo, this media attention and entertainment option is helpful in selling the area to potential visitors.

“I think Brian and his team over there just bring a lot of energy and creativity and innovation to our sports community in general,” Persky said. “They’re playing baseball games but they’re doing special events and they’re making upgrades to the facilities and that helps us recruit events to the area and helps us sell Kalamazoo.”

Kalamazoo in particular has had an on-and-off relationship with amateur baseball. The Kalamazoo Kodiaks of the Frontier League called the city home from 1996 to 1998. Kalamazoo was also home to the Kalamazoo Kings — also of the Frontier League — from 2001 to 2010.

“We’ve gone through different iterations of semi-professional baseball in Kalamazoo,” Persky acknowledged. “It’s no knock on any previous ownership, but Brian and the team he has over there, from the day he’s managed that ballpark and that team, he’s been awesome to work with. They’re very community-minded. With Brian taking the reins, we’re really excited and I think the community is equally as excited.”

The Northwoods League is a wooden bat league for collegiate baseball players. The players are unpaid in order to retain their amateur status while getting a taste for the grind of minor league baseball.

For that reason, the league and its general manager work to simulate a professional experience to attract the best possible talent.

“That’s why we play 72 games, which is unheard of in other leagues,” Colopy said. “It’s less about the financials as it is about giving players the experience — playing every day, going on bus trips, playing injured or playing tired. That’s what you have to get used to.” 

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