August 6, 2015
By Mike Killeen
Mike Johnson and Nick McCallum share more than just a friendly rivalry in the Northwoods League.
They once were neighbors in Saint Thomas Aquinas Hall at Saint John's University.
"At the time, we didn't really know each other - we knew of each other," said Johnson, the assistant general manager of the St. Cloud Rox baseball team. "We lived on the same floor freshmen year, in Tommy Hall, with Fr. Rene (McGraw).
"We've gone from living on the same freshmen floor to now, we're kind of rivals," said Johnson, a 2008 graduate of SJU.
That's not unusual. The Northwoods League has five Saint John's graduates working on front office staffs of four teams — Johnson; McCallum '08 (general manager, Willmar Stingers); Sam Hollis '14 (director of ticket sales and operations, Wisconsin Woodchucks); Kyle Mrozek '01 (vice president, Mankato MoonDogs) and Marc Jerzak '01 (owner, Willmar Stingers).
The Northwoods League is an 18-team baseball league with teams in four states and one Canadian province. Teams, made up of college players with eligibility remaining, play 72-game seasons from late May to mid-August. In 2014, the league became the first summer-collegiate baseball league to draw over a million fans in a single season.
The mission of the league is to provide the "finest environment for the development of collegiate baseball players" as they prepare for a possible career in professional baseball. Players do not receive a salary when in the Northwoods League and stay with host families.
In a sense, the liberal arts education at Saint John's and the College of Saint Benedict helped prepare the SJU graduates for the busy life of 16-hour days at the ballpark.
"I think the best way they (CSB and SJU) prepare you is that you learn to think," Mrozek said. "The classes prepare you for the real world and of critical thinking and learning to make decisions and a lot of those things that I think once you get into the job, you see the corollaries between what your professors are teaching you and what's exactly happening."
"Thinking back to the classes I had, using your problem-solving skills is huge for what we do," McCallum said. "Being able to think on your feet and make decisions quickly that are the right ones is huge in what we do."
"CSB and SJU did a great job of teaching both time management and problem solving, two things that you need in any career," Hollis said. "The course load mixed with the high-achieving atmosphere of CSB and SJU makes you want to be better. Developing that high-achieving attitude will get you the places you want to be both in your personal and professional lives, and that's something I can thank CSB and SJU for."
"The term we use, and I don't know where it came from, but everywhere I've worked in baseball, in this industry you have to wear a lot of different hats. Coming from a liberal arts background, that prepares you for a lot of different scenarios," Johnson said.
"The values we were always taught at Saint John's, the liberal arts, in essence, is kind of reflective of how my job is," Johnson said.