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No Northwoods League team in Mitchell in 2018

It’s shaping up to be a dull year for baseball fans in Mitchell.

The city of Mitchell Parks and Recreation Department announced Friday that the Northwoods League, a college wood-bat summer league, will not play in Mitchell in 2018. The city will also be without the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Tournament this year, as the event will be held in Sioux Falls.

The city announced the league wouldn’t field a team via fax Friday morning, making it crystal clear the league wouldn’t play at the Cadwell Sports Complex’s Drake Field. But the city didn’t close the door to future opportunities.

“Expansion is possible for 2019 but expansion will not be determined until a later date,” said Mitchell Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell in a statement.

But it’s not all bad news for Mitchell’s baseball fanatics.

Northwoods League co-founder and chairman Dick Radatz Jr. said Mitchell is still on his radar, but the league decided not to expand this season. As Radatz explained, the league must expand by an even number of teams — and the stars simply didn’t align for the league’s 25th season.

“We didn’t expand this year, and obviously you need more than one team to expand,” Radatz told The Daily Republic. “We had a couple prospects, but it came down literally to the last minute.”

Having cut through the bureaucratic red tape in Mitchell, at least, the league and city remain on track for a potential partnership in the future. The three-year option agreement was approved last May, and it allows the league to field a team for up to 40 games per year at Drake Field in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

“I think the underlying theme is Mitchell’s on our radar, no question, it’s just a matter of all these other components,” Radatz said, citing lease agreements and finding potential team owners.

For now, area baseball fans will have to do without the Northwoods League — and the top-tier talent the league attracts. Northwoods alumni include back-to-back National League Cy Young Award winner and Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale and 2016 World Series MVP for the Chicago Cubs Ben Zobrist.

If the league comes to Mitchell, it would mark a westward shift for the NWL.

Bismarck, North Dakota, is currently the team’s westernmost city, followed Willmar and St. Cloud in Minnesota. But Mitchell could eventually be a key piece to the league transition westward.

“Obviously, we look at Mitchell as a possible stepping stone to alleviate some of those teams that are out on an island, like Bismarck is a bit at the moment,” Radatz said.

As for Mitchell, there may be a small silver lining in the Northwoods decision.

Mitchell City Councilman Jeff Smith said some have expressed concern about the league’s use of the Cadwell Sports Complex fields. Some wondered if local organizations would see diminished baseball diamond availability.

“We don’t have to take that into consideration now, I guess,” Smith said. “But that was a concern that was brought up to me.”

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