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Local players ecstatic to be back in the Northwoods League 'grind'

Growlers, Bombers kick off 2021 season
Kalamazoo Growlers, Battle Creek Bombers open 2021 season
Posted at 10:29 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 08:12:08-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Playing 72 games in 76 days isn't easy on young baseball players in the prestigious Northwoods League.

The summer collegiate league is home to some of the top college players in the country and even some of the best high school standouts as well.

Northwoods League Opening Day

On Monday evening, that summer grind began for the Kalamazoo Growlers and Battle Creek Bombers as the two teams met at CO Brown Stadium.

"Opening Day is always exciting, it's the berth of the new season," said Hudsonville high school alum and Lake Michigan College pitcher, Payton Carney, who is playing for the Bombers this season.

Brian Colopy is the managing partner of both franchises and couldn't be more excited for the season ahead.

"It's so cool to have two teams this close playing together it's a good rivalry, it's very special," he said.

Nobody knows the Northwoods League better than Hackett Catholic high school alum and Trine University graduate Adam Wheaton, who started his fourth summer in the league on Monday.

"It's 72 games in 76 days or whatever, it's a grind but it really teaches you," Wheaton added, "this is what professional baseball will be like. It just teaches you that's what the grind is going to be."

Adam Wheaton of the Kalamazoo Growlers
Hackett Catholic high school alum Adam Wheaton warms up in the bullpen prior to Monday's Opening Night game against Battle Creek.

Portage Northern high school alum and University of Kentucky freshman Nolan McCarthy is a teammate of Wheaton's this summer on the Growlers and is getting ready for his first taste of the league.

"I've heard it's a grind," he laughed, "it definitely means a lot to be here. It's great to be back home for a summer and maybe next summer too, whatever happens with that, I'm super excited for it."

Meanwhile for Hudsonville high school alum Payton Carney, he's just over an hour away from home playing this summer in Battle Creek.

Payton Carney of the Battle Creek Bombers
Hudsonville high school alum and Battle Creek Bombers pitcher, Payton Carney.

While it'll be fun to be around family, he knows the challenge he's in for.

"There are some ball players out here," he laughed, "it's also a lot of consecutive days, a lot of work, lot of hours and competing but I'm very excited to be a part of that."

Most of the players got into town less than 48 hours prior to first pitch on Monday, which can be overwhelming showing up in a brand new city with new faces at such a young age.

"A little jitters meeting the new guys," Carney admitted, "it's also a new atmosphere but I'm just very ready to play baseball."

Colopy says it's interesting seeing the player's relationships grow throughout the summer.

Nolan McCarthy of the Kalamazoo Growlers
Portage Northern high school alum and Kalamazoo Growlers infielder Nolan McCarthy.

"Guys come in from all over the country, they don't know each other, they show up on the weekend then they're playing a day or two later and suddenly they're teammates, sometimes they were rivals in school now they're best buds."

As for Opening Day, the crowd enjoyed the sights and sounds of the league, which is back in a much more normal capacity this summer after a different three-team pod last summer with no travel.

"Families and people come out here to forget about their troubles," Colopy explained, "people have lost jobs, lost lives, this is a place for people to forget about that, so we're excited to do that for people this summer."

Adam Wheaton would strikeout 12 hitters on the mound on Monday night to lead Kalamazoo to the 6-2 win over Battle Creek but it's only the first of 12 meetings between the two teams this summer.