BY STEVE KRAH
For the better part of two decades, Craig Wallin and his partners have attempted to get pro baseball for the place where he lives.
The longtime broadcaster who called games for the South Bend (Ind.) White Sox and Notre Dame and has been the voice of NorthWood High School sports in recent years announced that the Elkhart County Miracle are finally going to take the field with games airing on Federated Media stations (mostly on 101.9 FM or 1340 AM with Saturday night games will air on 95.3 MNC according to News/Talk 95.3 Michiana’s News Channel program director John Zimney).
The franchise in the Northern League — a six-team wood bat circuit comprised of teams with rosters of amateur and professional players. Other clubs include the Griffith (Ind.) Generals, Indiana Panthers, Lake County CornDogs (Crown Point), Northwest Indiana Oilmen (Whiting) and Southland Vikings (Hammond).
Oil City Stadium in Whiting was host to the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game.
While the Panthers are a traveling team, the others are in Lake County with Elkhart County being around 80 miles to the east.
“What we’re trying to build from the (Illinois-Indiana) border to Elkhart and developing all the markets in-between in inter-city tourism,” Popravak said, noting that the footprint of the league is about 100 to 120 miles wide and 50 to 75 miles long. “There’s 1.5 million people that live within that geographic area.”
The inaugural Miracle season is slated to open Friday, May 31. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. on the turf at the new NorthWood Field of Dreams in Nappanee, where the team will call home for its first few seasons.
The regular season is to close Aug. 3.
“We’re pumped about this opportunity,” Miracle founder and president Wallin said at a press conference Tuesday, March 24. “(Ron Bedward) and I started talking 16 years about bringing a minor league team to Elkhart County. We’ve been working diligently on plans.”
Northern League president Don Popravak talked about the niche independent minor league baseball plays in 2023.
“It is very important because in 2020 Major League Baseball took control of affiliated minor leagues,” Popravak said. “It used to be run as an independent operation.”
The first month or so with MLB in charge, the affiliated minors were trimmed of 40 franchises down to 120.
“Forty franchises translates to 1,200 playing jobs along with managers, coaching staff and everything else,” Popravak said. “We felt that it creates a great opportunity for a league like us.”
The MLB First-Year Player Draft is now just 20 rounds. For years it was 40.
The Northern League (which has a linneage dating back to 1902) seeks to attract talent overlooked by MLB.
“It gives a young player another chance to prove himself and develop,” Popravak. “That’s what we’re all about — developing talent.”
The Miracle will carry a roster of 30 to 35 players with many staying with host families. Some will be professionals and college players may earn through Name Image and Likeness (NLI) agreements.
Popravak, who has a broadcast background, notes that the Northern League has sent many young person working on league productions on to ESPN and minor league teams all over the country.
“It’s another part of developing talent for the next level,” Popravak said.
Former Notre Dame football and baseball player and Seattle Mariners minor leaguer Evan Sharpley is Director of Player Operations for the Miracle.
Former Baseball America Executive of the Year John Baxter is senior advisor for the Miracle. As South Bend White Sox, he hired Wallin in 1988.
Wallin said the field manager will be introduced soon.
Popravak said the league has been exploring more than a dozen markets across northern Indiana for expansion.
According to Wallin, tickets will be priced at $10, $8 and $6.
“It’s all about affordable family fun,” Popravak. “It’s about families and putting smiles on the faces of younger people and having them come out to the ballpark.”
Bill’s Bar-B-Que in Elkhart will be a concession partner.
Wallin said a 10,000 seat facility with a retractable roof that can house baseball and professional soccer is being planned. It will be adjacent to a 5,000-seat arena for ice hockey and minor league basketball.
Wallin shared a rendering by the Troyer Group Tuesday.
At the present, the complex would be near on a tract near the C.R. 17 exit off the U.S. 20 By-Pass in Elkhart. It’s one of the places Wallin and his group have had land contracts off and on over the years as they have worked to bring baseball to the county.
Plans for a new stadium and team were revived in 2013 and a stadium was to open in 2014, but that never came to pass.
Why Elkhart County?
“We chose Elkhart County because it’s been home for me for (about 45 years),” Wallin said.
Bringing in the baseball team is a way of adding to the quality of life to the Elkhart/Goshen area.
The seven stars in the Miracle logo represent seven Elkhart County cities or towns.
It’s been more than a century since the county had a team with professionals. The 1910 Elkhart Blue Sox were part of Organized Baseball and played in the Class D Indiana-Michigan League.
The independent Indiana State League of 1888 and a reorganized ISL of 1890 featured teams from Elkhart.
For more information on the Elkhart Miracle visit elkhartcountymiracle.com, call (574) 309-7176 or email email@example.com.