BISMARCK, N.D. (BVM) — The Bismarck Larks are part of the Northwoods League, one of the best summer developmental college baseball leagues in the country. The league is based in the Midwest with 22 teams, many of which have included future MLB players. Since their inaugural season back in the summer of 2017, the Larks have become a beloved part of the Bismarck community.
“I never could have expected in a million years how amazing and supportive the Bismarck and Mandan communities are,” Larks general manager John Bollinger said. “I mean they love their baseball, they love their sports, but they also love their community; they love their town.”
They have also helped the Larks sell out of a majority of their home games each season.
“In our first year we sold out 27 our first 36 games,” Bollinger said. “Last year, we sold out 97% of every single ticket we had.”
Along with the support of the community, the Larks can attribute their success to quality baseball and a focus on making sure their fans have fun.
“We’re in the fun business,” Bollinger said.
And right now, their work is needed. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Larks are trying to help the community that has welcomed them with open arms.
”Our job is how we spread the fun and that’s been our campaign,” Bollinger added.
On March 31 they hosted their Winter Warm Up event on Facebook live with guest Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter.
“We ended up having in 24 hours over like 2,100 views on that which is even more than a large game,” Bollinger said.
Since then, they have continued to try and give families alternative options for entertainment as people stay in their homes and away from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ve hosted events like ‘Hamster Ball Bingo’ on their Facebook page and have done a puzzle challenge.
“It’s going digital to keep fans entertained and the second thing we are doing is working with our sponsors and saying ‘hey fans help them out at this time’,” Bollinger said. “We are trying to use fun to make a difference.”
Not only have they ordered food from local restaurants, they have also done campaigns that were planned for the summer in April to help restaurants have a little more cash available for this troubling time.
“All of this is helping our community get through this together,” Bollinger said.
The Northwoods League is still planning to start their season on time on May 26, but is prepared to adjust that based on health officials suggestions. Either way, this season is already gearing up to be a unique one, and not just because of the pandemic.
Each team is being allowed an extra five players on their rosters, making the roster 35 players deep. These are going to be collegiate players that have completely missed their baseball season because of the pandemic. They’re hungry for some playing time and for many it will be a chance to showcase their talent for the MLB or have that final season that seniors may have just missed.
“You can tell guys just want to play,” Bollinger said. “Players want to be here, they want to get at bats and they want to get throws in; they want to get ready for fall ball or to get looked at by scouts. … If we can be there to help them get that experience and get that playing time, that’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we get the season in.”
Of course, the season is not guaranteed, but even with the uncertainty, the Larks are hoping for the best and planning for the worst. No matter what happens, they know that they will get through this together.
“We know our community will be there for us,” Bollinger said. “And I think with this whole thing what it has shown me is while this stinks for everyone that has been affected, if we all do the right thing and we stick together we’re going to get through this and we’re going to be stronger.”