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Then and now: Midwest League

Everything old new again after last year's bump to High-A
March 30, 2022

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Welcome to the High-A Midwest League, where an empty seat is hard to find in Dayton, Juan Marichal high-stepped a path for legends from the Dominican Republic and Big Papi’s prodigious power etched his place in baseball folklore.

Midwest League

Established in 1947, known in 2021 as the High-A Central

East Division

Dayton Dragons: Cincinnati Reds, Day Air Ballpark – Dayton, OH
Fort Wayne TinCaps: San Diego Padres, Parkview Field – Fort Wayne, IN (Ballpark Guide)
Great Lakes Loons: Los Angeles Dodgers, Dow Diamond – Midland, MI
Lake County Captains: Cleveland Guardians, Classic Park – Eastlake, OH
Lansing Lugnuts: Oakland A’s, Jackson Field – Lansing, MI (Ballpark Guide)
West Michigan Whitecaps: Detroit Tigers, LMCU Ballpark – Comstock Park, MI

West Division

Beloit Sky Carp: Miami Marlins, ABC Supply Stadium – Beloit, WI (Ballpark Guide)
Cedar Rapids Kernels: Minnesota Twins, Veterans Supply Stadium – Cedar Rapids, IA
Peoria Chiefs: St. Louis Cardinals, Dozer Park – Peoria, IL
Quad Cities River Bandits: Kansas City Royals, Modern Woodmen Park – Davenport, IA (Ballpark Guide)
South Bend Cubs: Chicago Cubs, Four Winds Field – South Bend, IN (Ballpark Guide)
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers: Milwaukee Brewers, Fox Cities Stadium – Appleton, WI

2021 champion: Quad Cities River Bandits
Most championships, all-time: Lansing Lugnuts and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (nine)

Did you know? The circuit started exclusively in the state of Illinois in 1947, but the modern Midwest League plays host to 12 clubs across six states – three teams in Michigan (Great Lakes, Lansing, West Michigan); two in Indiana (Fort Wayne, South Bend); two in Iowa (Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities); Ohio (Dayton, Lake County); two in Wisconsin (Beloit, Wisconsin); and one in Illinois (Peoria).

Notable alumni: Juan Marichal, Paul Molitor, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Wander Franco, David Ortiz, Greg Maddux.

After ascending to High-A and getting a name change during last year's restructuring, the Midwest League is back in familiar form for 2022.

Starting as the six-team Illinois State League in 1947, the circuit changed its name to the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League two years later after a franchise in Marion, Illinois, relocated to Kentucky and became the Paducah Chiefs. The circuit added two more teams in 1954 and was renamed the Midwest League in 1956.

The circuit spent most of its existence in Class A, but is entering its second year as a High-A league following the restructuring of the Minor Leagues in 2021. All 12 current members have been members of the league for more than a decade, the most recent addition was the Great Lakes Loons in 2007. West Division rivals Wisconsin (established in 1958), Quad Cities (1961) and Cedar Rapids (1962) rank as the oldest franchises of the bunch.

There have been 13 members of the Hall of Fame to pass through the circuit. Juan Marichal, the first Dominican-born player elected to the Hall of Fame, was introduced to American baseball in the Midwest League. He posted a 1.87 ERA over 245 innings for the Michigan City Whitecaps in 1958. The most recently elected Hall of Famer, David Ortiz, has a unique place in baseball folklore from his time in the Midwest League. Then a 20-year-old Mariners prospect known as David Arias playing for Wisconsin, “Big Papi” put on a show in a 3-on-3 home run derby against Seattle’s Major League club, which featured Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez.

The Midwest League has four fewer members than its last loop in 2019. The Bowling Green Hot Rods now expand the High-A South Atlantic League into Kentucky. The Burlington Bees and Clinton LumberKings are members of the Prospect League, a collegiate wood bat summer league, and the Kane County Cougars play in the independent American Association of Professional Baseball, which maintains a partnership with Major League Baseball.

Some of the circuit’s characters have made a lasting mark on the Minor Leagues. Beloit pitcher Dakota Bacus assumed the persona of the Whitewall Ninja during games in 2013. Bacus dressed in a head-to-toe all-white getup and hid in fair territory in front of an outfield billboard while the game was going on. That same season, a trio of Timber Rattlers relievers found an in-game side hustle. They encouraged fans to toss quarters into a cup that had been set up inside the bullpen, and if they made the shot, they’d win a ball.

What’s new: Previously known as the Snappers from 1995 to 2021, Beloit rebranded as the Sky Carp going into the 2022 campaign, with the community choosing the moniker over such other candidates as the Moo, Polka Pike, Supper Clubbers and Cheeseballs.

What’s familiar: Quad Cities’ Modern Woodmen Park is entering its 91st season of operation, making it the fourth-oldest ballpark in Minor League Baseball. It opened on May 26, 1931 as Municipal Stadium. It was renamed John O'Donnell Stadium in 1971 before adopting its current name in 2008.

For the record: By the conclusion of the 2019 season, the Dayton Dragons had recorded 1,385 home sellouts in a row, a North American professional sports record. With COVID affecting the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the Dragons plan to resume counting the streak when they open the 2022 campaign at home against Fort Wayne on April 8. … Jim Ellis put together one of the all-time most impressive individual performances for Quincy in 1965. Playing against Dubuque in the first game of a doubleheader, Ellis not only pitched a one-hit shutout, but he clubbed three homers in a five-hit, seven-RBI effort during the 25-0 blowout.

Ben’s Biz Memory – Toilet paper first pitch for Timber Rattlers on “Salute to Paper Night”

"Appleton, Wisconsin, and the area surrounding that is and has been for a long time, a region that produces a lot of paper. There are paper mills all about. So they regularly have 'Salute to Paper Night.' When I went to the ballpark that night, they had toilet-paper pyramids stacked up at the entrance. Fans were getting their own rolls. Players were throwing rolls of toilet paper into the crowd. It was the most toilet paper-centric night that I've ever been a part of. And when they asked me to throw out a first pitch, it was not with a baseball, but with a roll of toilet paper. And just to be on the mound, delivering what I call a 'two-ply fastball,' and it was just another one of those moments where you stop and think and put it in context -- it's just like, what? Throwing out a roll of toilet paper as a first pitch? But it all made sense. And in 2016 when Topps contacted me to curate an insert set within their pro debut set -- I didn't want to focus myself too heavily in terms of pictures of myself -- but for my card, I thought, what a better illustration of what I do and what the Minor League fan experience is than throwing out a first pitch with a roll of toilet paper."

Things to look for in 2022: The Padres’ 2020 first-round Draft pick in Robert Hassell III will likely return to Fort Wayne after being called up to High-A in the final month of the ‘21 season. MLB Pipeline’s No. 43 overall prospect hit .323 with 65 RBIs in Low-A, but batted just .205 with 25 strikeouts in 18 contests for the TinCaps. In the West Division, Quad Cities enjoyed its first championship since 2014 and was one of two Royals affiliates to capture a title (Northwest Arkansas won the Double-A Central crown). The fourth overall pick of the 2020 Draft, Asa Lacy, will likely begin the 2022 campaign with the Bandits after an up-and-down 2021 season in which he posted a 5.19 ERA over 52 innings. It remains to be seen whether either of the Royals’ top two picks from the 2021 Draft – lefty Frank Mozzicato and righty Ben Kudrna – will make it to High-A in their debut seasons. Tigers’ third overall pick Jackson Jobe and 32nd overall pick Ty Madden may see time for West Michigan during their '22 debuts.

Stephanie Sheehan is an contributor for