If there was ever a time for a breakout year for the Brainerd Mighty Gulls baseball team, the 2000 season might be the one.
Owner Perry Platisha has acquired 100 percent of the team and has numerous additions and improvements in mind when the season starts June 2 with a road game against the St. Cloud River Bats. When Platisha acquired the team in 1998, he owned 35 percent, while the Northwoods League owned the rest.
"We wanted to make sure the league is strong and we were comfortable owning a team," said Platisha, who gained full ownership in August. "Our hands were tied the last couple of years, but now we have more control of what goes on.
"We have a good product and are comfortable about selling it. You don't have to wonder whether the team is going to play or not."
And that has been a problem in recent years.
In 1994 the Brainerd Bears began their trek in the North Central League and the independent professional team lasted only 1 1/3 seasons, disbanding in 1995. Out went the Bears and in came the Brainerd Bobcats, who fared even worse. The Prairie League team folded in the first month in the summer of 1996.
After no team occupied Mills Field in 1997, Platisha moved the Gulls into town in 1998. And the improvement has been evident. The team was 21-43 and averaged a league-low 287 fans per game in its first season. Last year they finished 35-28 and lost 8-7 in 12 innings to the River Bats in their first playoff series. They also upped their average attendance to 351 fans per game.
"I think we've been a little subtle about sales and promotion because of how the other teams came and went," said Platisha, who also serves as president and general manager of the club. "We didn't want to push people for advertising. Now, we're more comfortable. We're going to do a lot more things to bring people out to the park."
Platisha said attractions such as a Blues Brothers act and an appearance by former Twins players such as Kent Hrbek are possibilities for 2000. He is also planning a huge bash for opening day on June 3.
Aiding Platisha this year will be new assistant general manager Chuck Carstensen and sales and promotions manager John Brabbit. Eric Coleman will again be the field manager, but he will have two new assistants in Sonoma State's Matt Markovich and Kyle of Northwestern Louisiana.
In addition to improved promotions and entertainment, the product also keeps getting better. The Gulls will probably have all Division I players this season and that is a direct result of the league's popularity.
"The Northwoods League is the only summer collegiate league that mirrors minor league baseball in terms of the number of games played," Platisha said. "Pro scouts say, 'We're going to draft him and we want to know how he handles the wooden bat and how he handles playing every day.' And the guys like the league because it ups their stock and their opportunity to play at the next level."
The Northwoods League, which also may receive funding from both the NCAA and Major League Baseball in the future, is in its seventh season, plays 64 games and consists of two divisions with four teams apiece. In contrast, the Cape Cod League, a college league that has been around since the late 1800s, plays 44 games.
Platisha said the Gulls have signed 18 players. They likely will have three Minnesota Gophers, two players from Illinois, two from Iowa State, one from Stetson and the majority of the rest of the roster coming from Arizona and California schools.
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