Future Solidified: New Era for Timber Rattlers Baseball
GRAND CHUTE, WI - Third Base Ventures, LLC is pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement to purchase the assets of Appleton Baseball Club, Inc with an anticipated closing as early as January 1, 2021. This purchase will bring the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders under new, local ownership. The sale is a result of the unprecedented pandemic that continues to create much uncertainty throughout the country and the world.
Third Base Ventures is a new entity comprised of principal owner Craig Dickman and minority owners Rob Zerjav and Brad Raaths. All three members of Third Base Ventures are natives of Northeastern Wisconsin and are excited to continue the tradition of professional baseball in this area.
Dickman, an experienced business executive, is currently the Managing Director of Titletown Tech, a venture partnership formed by the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft. He has also founded and served as CEO of Breakthrough Fuel, an industry leader in transportation energy management, Owner, President, & CEO of Paper Transport, Inc., a top 150 transportation provider, and Vice President, Information Technology for Schneider, one of the largest transportation companies in North America. Dickman, who has a passion for innovation, entrepreneurship, and baseball, served on the Appleton Baseball Club Board of Directors from 2001 through 2009. He currently serves as a member of the Green Bay Packers Board of Directors.
"I am excited to rejoin the Timber Rattlers and be part of this exceptional organization," said Dickman. "We are looking forward to welcoming fans back in 2021 and building the next chapter of professional baseball in Wisconsin."
Zerjav, the current President of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Fond du Lac Dock Spiders, is in his 24th year with the organization. He began as an unpaid intern and has served as the Timber Rattlers President and General Manager for the past 18 years. Zerjav is a three-time Midwest League Executive of the Year and the team has been recognized with multiple Minor League Baseball and Midwest League awards under his leadership.
Raaths is a partner in the Madison-based law firm of DeWitt LLP where he focuses on corporate law and serves as outside general counsel to many of his clients. A lifelong baseball fan, Raaths grew up in the Fox Cities and played youth and high school baseball in the area.
Appleton Baseball Club started in 1939 as a non-stock, not-for-profit corporation when the group was granted a franchise in the Wisconsin State League. The first membership drive began on September 11, 1939 with certificates available for $5 in a public campaign to get the Appleton Papermakers off the ground with C.O. Baetz as the temporary president.
Appleton Baseball Club, led by a volunteer board of directors, stayed active through the Wisconsin State League's shut down for World War II from 1943 through 1945 and brought the Papermakers back in 1946. The organization again stayed together when the WSL folded after the 1953 season. They were reactivated to bring baseball back to the Fox Cities in 1958 with a team in the Three-I League.
The group also navigated the franchise through several changes including the move to the Midwest League for the 1962 season, the decision to leave Goodland Field and build Fox Cities Stadium, a change of the team name from Appleton Foxes to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers for the 1995 season, a major renovation to the stadium before the 2013 season, and starting the Dock Spiders as a member of the Northwoods League for the 2017 season.
The organization also oversaw several affiliation switches from the Washington Senators (1958-59) to the Baltimore Orioles (1960-65) to the Chicago White Sox (1966-86) to the Kansas City Royals (1987-1992) to the Seattle Mariners (1993-2008) to the Milwaukee Brewers, the current parent club of the team.
However, the challenges due to COVID-19, which included losing the entire 2020 baseball season along with many of the key revenue-generating events held at the stadium each season, put the team in an unprecedented financial situation. To save the franchise, the current board of directors made the decision to sell the team to Third Base Ventures and a couple of familiar faces in Dickman and Zerjav to make sure that professional baseball stayed in the Fox Cities.
"At the beginning of the year, we understood there would be major changes made in the baseball world, but, when COVID-19 caused the economic shutdown and we lost the entire baseball season, we knew it would be difficult for the team to survive moving forward," said Zerjav. "I have known Craig for almost twenty years and his track record speaks for itself. I truly believe our new ownership group will allow the team to not only survive this pandemic but thrive for many years to come."
The new ownership group has also reached an agreement to purchase Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium from the Fox Cities Amateur Sports Authority. The combination of the team and the stadium will allow for a cohesive unit moving forward which will provide a state-of-the-art facility and top-notch fan experience for residents of Northeastern Wisconsin for years to come.
"The Fox Cities Amateur Sports Authority was formed in the early 90's to build Fox Cities Stadium, a necessary requirement to save professional baseball in Appleton at the time," said Dickman. "We would like to thank the Sports Authority and their board for working with Third Base Ventures to once again assist in saving the team almost 30 years later."
Fans will see virtually no changes to the day-to-day operations of the clubs as Zerjav will remain as Team President and CEO with the entire staff remaining in their current roles. The Timber Rattlers have been invited to remain as an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system under the new Player Development License system put in place by Major League Baseball. The Dock Spiders will continue to play at Herr-Baker Field on the campus of Marian University in Fond du Lac.
Appleton Baseball, Inc. has been a successful organization both on the field and off the field.
The various teams have combined to win a total of twelve championships. The Fox Cities Foxes won the Three-I League championship in 1960 with Earl Weaver as the manager. The Foxes went on to win Midwest League pennants in 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1978, 1982, 1983, and 1984. The Timber Rattlers were the Midwest League champions in 2012. The Dock Spiders, who started in 2017, were Northwoods League champions in 2018 and 2020.
In recent years, the front office has also won numerous awards. The team was the Baseball America Bob Freitas Award winner in 1995 and Minor League Baseball's National Larry MacPhail Promotional Award winner in 2012.
The Midwest League named the Rattlers as their MacPhail Award nominee in 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 and the John H. Johnson President's Award nominee in 2005, 2018, and 2019.
The organization has also received recognition as The Post-Crescent's Small Business of the Year in 2012, Marian University's Business & Industry Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017, one of Front Office Sports 2019 Top 50 Best Employers in Sports, MiLB's Golden Bobblehead winner for Theme Night of the Year and Promotion of the Year in 2019, and Insight's Innovation Award for Marketing in 2020.
Additionally, Timber Rattlers merchandise has been among the Top 25 sellers in all of Minor League Baseball 18 times since 1995. In the most recent list, the Rattlers were the smallest market and one of just three teams below Double-A to make the list.
Individual honors bestowed on members of the front office include five Midwest League Executive of the Year awards (Steve Malliet in 1995, Mike Birling in 1998, and Zerjav in 2007, 2012, and 2018), five Midwest League Female Executive of the Year awards (Sherri Valitchka in 1996, Becky Batley in 2001, Angie Ceranski in 2003, Nikki Becker in 2004, and Laurie Schill in 2005), and a Northwoods League Executive of the Year award (Ryan Moede in 2018).
"Our people are what make us such a successful organization and it was a top priority to figure out how we could keep this group together," said Zerjav. "We all look forward to continuing to create great memories for our fan base and to create an even better experience, both on and off the field, moving forward."
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