The Northern League has announced the addition of a new franchise located in Crown Point, IN. that will begin competition during the summer 2022 season.
The team will be owned by Ralph Flores, who has significant sports marketing experience and previously served as a basketball agent and managed foundations for NBA players for a 12-year period. The 21st century Northern League, previously known as the Midwest Collegiate League, will continue its goal of providing affordable family experiences at its ballparks while maintaining a tight geographical footprint.
“We are thrilled to add a South Lake County franchise to the Northern League,” Commissioner Don Popravak said. “We believe the Crown Point community will serve as a great location for our newest team. The Northern League will feature a new name, a wider talent pool, a new team and the same affordable family entertainment our fans have come to expect. I have a longstanding relationship with Ralph and know his leadership will lead to success for Northern League baseball in South Lake County.”
The franchise, which will compete at Legacy Fields at Center Ross Park, will hold a name-the-team competition to involve the community in determining the team name. For more information or to submit your name suggestions, visit lakecountyinbaseball.com.
“Crown Point has built their city around sports,” Flores said. “The vision of Mayor David Uran is building beautiful facilities in town and providing opportunities for young people to play sports. Their city is thriving, and one of the reasons for that is the population growth Crown Point has experienced in recent years. The mission of being a capital of youth sports is paying dividends for Crown Point, and we’re ecstatic to add a pre-professional franchise to a community that has embraced athletics.”
Crown Point Mayor David Uran said the city is excited to form a partnership with the Northern League to enhance the quality of life in Crown Point and Northwest Indiana as a whole.
“The City of Crown Point is thrilled to have a Northern League team in its very own backyard,” Crown Point Mayor David Uran said. “We look forward to a pre-minor league baseball team playing at our Legacy Fields and calling Crown Point its home field.”
Flores has announced that former Kansas City Royals pitcher Justin Huisman will serve as the manager of the Lake County franchise.
“In order to have a successful team, you have to have good people involved, and Justin will be a big part of that,” Flores said. “His resume speaks for itself, and the knowledge that he brings to the table is immense. He is also a high-character individual. Not only do we want to make our players better on the field, but we want to make them better people. Justin fits that mold 100 percent.”
Huisman reached the big leagues in 2004 to highlight an eight-year professional career that included time in the Royals, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros organizations. The Thornwood, Ill. native and Thornwood High School product was drafted by the Rockies in the 15th round of the 2000 MLB Draft out of the University of Mississippi. Huisman exited Oxford as the Ole Miss all-time saves king and still ranks tied for third on that list. He plans to impart his baseball wisdom upon a group of young players this summer.
“In summer ball, you want to have a good team and win, but you’re also focused on giving these players experience,” Huisman said. “Many of them may be young players who did not see a lot of the field or the mound during their spring seasons. This gives them an avenue to get quality experience against good competition. You want to be successful and develop talent while also establishing a good rapport with the players. I love the opportunity to build relationships, and I know that’s something I enjoyed when I was a player.”
Huisman, a Crown Point resident, is no stranger to the league as he served as the manager of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen from 2012-2014, the franchise’s first three seasons in existence. He posted an 87-52 record, leading his team to three postseason berths, two MCL Championship Series appearances and the 2012 MCL title in the team’s inaugural season.
“I did the majority of the recruiting with the Oilmen, and the first year compared to the next compared to the next, it was clear we were evolving as a league and as a team,” Huisman said. “Now, the league is a little bit more established. It will be easier to get local talent combined with some out of town players. This area has a lot of great baseball talent. Hopefully we can help those players recognize that they don’t need to go away to find good competition and they can play in a league close to home that challenges them to get better.”
Huisman also owns significant college coaching experience as he spent the last 13 years at Trinity Christian College, serving as the head coach for the bulk of that time. He currently works for Great Lakes Sports Hub in Crown Point, doing clinics and lessons.
Samantha “Sam” Salzeider will head up merchandising and gameday operations for the team. She has spent the last six years working in the Chicago Sky organization and was recently part of the team’s WNBA championship. Salzeider has served as Director of Retail Operations, Director of Sponsorship Operations, Director of Operations and Event & Marketing Coordinator during her time with the Sky after starting out as a community relations and operations intern. She graduated from Indiana University in 2015 with a degree in sports marketing and management.
Butler senior Andrew Mild, a Crown Point native, will serve as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster. He spent the 2021 summer doing pregame, postgame and play-by-play for the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League.
Flores believes that Lake County and the Northern League will both make perfect homes for his new franchise.
“I loved working in sports and I’ve always known that some day I would like to get back into it in some capacity,” Flores said. “I’ve followed the league closely for a number of years. I’ve had the chance to get to know Don extremely well. The opportunity seemed right at this particular time to move forward with getting back into an industry that I love.”
The team’s motto is “building community through baseball.”
“We are going to bring a passion for baseball to the city of Crown Point and South Lake County,” Flores said. “We’re going to give college and high school students opportunities to work for our team. The players are expected to be role models to the young children who are coming to games. Those are some of the things that we’ll be stressing with our ballclub.”