GREEN BAY – Operating a baseball team at any level can be expensive when you don’t charge admission to games.
Just ask Green Bay Storm general manager Bruce VandenPlas, whose amateur team is preparing for its 14th season in the Northeastern Wisconsin Baseball League. The team joined the NWBL after its inaugural season in 2004.
The organization’s revenue has dwindled in past years. It can’t sell tickets to games because of the location where the team plays — home contests are at Green Bay Southwest High School — and the bank account has reached the point where operations will be difficult to sustain.
VandenPlas insists shutting down the program won’t happen. He will figure out a way to make sure the Storm can operate. The team always has been able to pay the bills and break even each season, and he doesn’t see it changing.
But things could be so much easier.
Which is why the Storm is trying something different in 2018. Players have been charged a minimal fee in the past to play, while the team also is supported by several sponsors.
“We are still at the very beginnings and getting team members involved,” VandenPlas said. “Hopefully, everything goes fine from here on out.
“It’s extremely difficult, because we depend on sponsorships for the team. … We are trying a GoFundMe page this year to try to build some capital and some equity in this thing so we don’t have to try and fight every year and be able to start the year ahead of the game instead of trying to catch up a little bit.”
The Storm offers players who have completed their high school and American Legion careers an avenue to continue playing. The roster always features area standouts from high school or college, and this season will be no different.
Among those expected to suit up include former St. Norbert College players Derek Klegin and Hunter Larson, SNC and Southwest alum Tyler Brown and Green Bay Notre Dame’s Chris Wolcanski.
“I think it’s huge, because that’s why we started the program to begin with,” VandenPlas said. “It actually started because players came to me saying we have to do something because we don’t want to stop playing baseball right now.
“We have got new kids every year. We just got two kids off the Southwest Legion program. I think it’s huge for these kids to have an opportunity, the ones who are staying around here or maybe have gone off to school and come back for the summer and maybe want to continue what they have done for a number of years.”
Perhaps the best part of the league is that it doesn’t just have to be for players in their 20s. The Storm features a notable player-manager on its roster in former big-league pitcher and De Pere native Paul Wilmet.
The 59-year-old pitched 2⅓ innings over three appearances with the Texas Rangers in 1989 after signing an amateur contract with the New York Mets in 1981 and fighting his way through the minor leagues.
Wilmet attempted a return to the majors after his stint with the Rangers, but the right-hander had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm in July 1990.
He was invited to an open tryout with the Baltimore Orioles just seven months after the procedure and struck out the first five batters he faced during his appearance in an exhibition game, but the first pitch to the sixth batter blew his arm out and ended the comeback attempt.
He’s pitched some innings for the Storm in each of the past few seasons.
“I’ll tell you what, I anticipate seeing him pitch even more this year,” VandenPlas said. “He looks pretty good.
“You can still see that he played in the majors based on his mechanics. Obviously, he’s not throwing as hard as he did when he played. But he’s still got a pretty good breaking ball, and his mechanics are flawless.”