August 6, 2015
By Mike Killeen
In football, the last line of defense is the safety. In the Northwoods League, the last line of defense for a franchise is the team owner.
Marc Jerzak knows that better than anyone. The 2001 graduate of Saint John's University was a two-year starter at safety for John Gagliardi and the Johnnies. Now, he co-owns the Willmar Stingers baseball team, one of 18 franchises in the Northwoods League.
"You look at things a lot differently (as a co-owner)," Jerzak said. "The buck stops at being an owner. If someone has a question or has an issue, there's nowhere to go. It's you.
"You're responsible for everything - everything an intern does, a player does, anybody on your staff is a direct reflection of yourself and your organization as an owner. And so, that has been an adjustment that you make as you go through the ranks," Jerzak said.
The Milaca, Minnesota, native has had an interesting climb to becoming a co-owner of the Stingers with Ryan Voz.
Jerzak was getting set to graduate from SJU with a management degree, and really wasn't sure what he wanted to do. But he did know what he didn't want to do.
"I wanted to do something that I would enjoy," he recalled. "I didn't want to sit behind an office desk. I wanted to potentially be in sports and be part of the rollercoaster of winning and losing and being part of a team. So, I sought out summer internships to get my foot in the door and try to make some connections."
An internship opportunity with the St. Cloud River Bats was full, but the Alexandria Beetles were starting play that summer (both teams were owned by Joel Sutherland).
Voz, who was then the general manager in Alexandria, interviewed Jerzak and hired him as an intern. "Fast forward 14 years later, and we're business partners in Willmar. That's where it all started," Jerzak said.
In 2002, Jerzak became assistant general manager of the River Bats, and was promoted to general manager in 2005. In 2009, when Sutherland bought the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers, Jerzak and Voz ran both teams. Both Jerzak and Voz resigned after the 2009 season to become co-owners with the expansion Stingers, who started play in the league in 2010.
"When Ryan and I started the Stingers, we wanted to be owner operators. There's a lot of teams in our league where the owner has a different job and another income," Jerzak said. "When Ryan and I decided to take on this venture, we were really buying ourselves a job. We wanted to be owner operators, and really run this team exactly the way we wanted it run and do things in the community exactly how we wanted it to be.
"We're there every single day, through the day-to-day things alongside our staff. We're there every single home game in the morning until the last light is shut off at night," Jerzak said. "That's a little atypical from a normal Northwoods League owners scenario."
And, he's still having fun at the ballpark.
"Every day you wake up and get to go to the ball park. There's a lot of jobs that people can't stand to go to. I'm fortunate enough that I enjoy it. I enjoy going to work every day for the Stingers and trying to make it better at the end of the day."