Wausau Woodchucks’ Mark Macdonald is looking forward to his 11th season as owner. The season is set to kick off on the road May 30, with the first home game scheduled for May 31.
This season will mark the Woodchucks’ 29th season as a collegiate summer league team competing in the Northwoods League along with 21 other teams.
Each year, 35 college students with aspirations to enter major league baseball join the team and play more than 70 games between Memorial Day and midAugust.
The Northwoods League also offers the opportunity for new umpires fresh out of umpire school and coaches aiming to become future head coaches of NCAA or MLB teams to gain valuable experience.
The Woodchucks organization, in conjunction with the city of Wausau, has been busy making renovations to the park over the last nine years to continue improving the fan experience.
I don’t really own the Woodchucks. I think Wausau owns the Woodchucks. It’s a community asset; it’s just in my care.
— Mark Macdonald,
owner, Wausau Woodchucks
Luxury seating was added in 2014, the third baseline saw the addition of a large deck in 2016, the Leinie’s Lodge was added in 2017 in far-right field, and the Dugout Club near first base was added last year.
Blending new, more comfortable seating with the historical venue is important to the team. “When I purchased the team, everyone was sitting on a bench seat,” Macdonald said. “Fans want to be comfortable.”
One of the final touches on the string of renovations is this season’s rebranding of the team, which was announced in February.
Formerly known as the Wisconsin Woodchucks, the team is now called the Wausau Woodchucks. Their logo has been updated to feature the Wisconsin River and trees to highlight Wausau’s features as well as a more modern-looking Woody Woodchuck and prominent vivid blue coloring.
“People have always asked, ‘why aren’t you the Wausau Woodchucks?’ ” Macdonald said.
The rebrand is a way to feature the city of Wausau. “As we travel all around the Midwest, the team will have Wausau across its chest,” Macdonald said. “It will do a lot to promote the community.”
The unique atmosphere at Athletic Park brings in about 40,000 fans each season. Along with the historical aspects of the field, which has been around since 1912, there are plenty of amenities such as premium seating and fun events that draw a crowd.
“It’s one of the most unique ballparks in the League,” according to Macdonald. Businesses come to mingle with clients and coworkers and families come to partake in the between-inning activities and events like “Team of the Night,” where a Little League team is honored and runs onto the field with the Woodchucks’ players.
The free community park that is located inside the gates is open to the community continuously when games are not in session.
While attendance for the 2021 season returned to about 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the organization took a hit during the 2020 season. At that time, the COVID-19 pandemic limited attendance to 250 people per game. “It was the only year that the stadium sold out every game,” Macdonald said. That year, revenues fell by 80 percent, and there’s been a change in group ticket sales since then.
“We do a lot of employee outings,” he said. “Some businesses (or their clients) still don’t feel comfortable getting together in large group settings. So, rather than groups being 150 people, they’re now 95.”
However, for Macdonald, who completed a 30-year career in investments prior to retiring and moving back to Wisconsin, owning the Woodchucks is “more of a passion than an investment.”
We do a lot of employee outings. Some businesses (or their clients) still don’t feel comfortable getting together in large group settings (because of COVID). So, rather than groups being 150 people, they’re now 95.”
He wanted to return to the state where he was raised so he could get back to his roots and live in a community where he could have an impact.
That impact includes employing four fulltime staff, players, umpires and coaches, The payroll also supports 65 to 70 summer staff, who range from 14 to 70 years old for reasons ranging from gaining a first employment experience to having fun in retirement.
Macdonald says the organization hasn’t struggled with being able to find quality staff, even considering current workforce shortages: “We’ve been really aggressive in raising pay,” he said.
The Woodchucks also take on more than 20 summer interns each season — college students looking to gain experience in marketing, sales, broadcasting, ballpark operations, event planning and more.
The Woodchucks have helped launch the major league careers of a number of baseball players including Ben Zobrist, an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs who wone the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player award. He played for the Woodchucks in 2003. Paul DeJong, the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, was on the team in 2014.
Players live in the homes of community families during the season. Both emptynesters and families with children are eager to host players during the season, forming bonds and connections that last a lifetime.
“It’s pretty common for host families to travel south to watch their player play college baseball,” Macdonald said. “We’ve also had hosts attend the wedding of their player.”
With the Wausau community ready for another season at the ballpark with the team that now boasts their city’s name, Macdonald describes the Wausau Woodchucks accurately when he says, “I don’t really own the Woodchucks. I think Wausau owns the Woodchucks. It’s a community asset; it’s just in my care.”