Despite dearth of D-I players, Bullfrogs finding success

GREEN BAY -- If you just look at the colleges represented on the roster, you might think the Green Bay Bullfrogs are at a disadvantage in the Northwoods League. They disagree, but they’re fine with you, and opponents, overlooking them.

“They're all the guys you see on TV and we aren't,” said Bullfrogs outfielder Brian Celsi. “We want to beat those guys.”

Celsi is one of just ten Bullfrogs who play their college baseball for Division-I schools. Compare that to other rosters around the league, like the St. Cloud Rox who have 24 D-I players, the Madison Mallards with 27 or La Crosse featuring 23 players from the highest level of college athletics.

“Football and basketball, I don't know you could take a team of guys from tiny schools and compete against kids from the ACC or Big Ten,” said Green Bay field manager Darrell Handelsman. “In baseball, you get the right group of kids with the right mentality, you really can compete with anybody on any night.”

“They're all the guys you see on TV and we aren't.”
—Brian Celsi, Bullfrogs Outfielder

Handelsman’s team is certainly competing. Their record is hovering around .500 for the year and the team leads the Northwoods League in on-base percentage. The pitching staff has the 7th best team ERA out of the 18 clubs. Handlesman says he likes this type of team, one that plays with a chip on their shoulder – a chip he made sure was in place early on.

“Day one when we got here, [Handlesman] asked us how many guys were D-I, how many guys were D-II, D-III, whatever it may be,” said infielder Matt Beaty who plays for Division-I Belmont University during the school year. “The majority of the guys were not D-1. That's what he likes.”

The small school make-up of the team was not entirely on purpose. The Bullfrogs new ownership group took over the team, and installed Handlesman as manager, in late-November of 2013. Most teams have their rosters somewhat set by then, so the team got started a little late. That might mean future teams with these owners and this manager could feature more big school players, but that’s not always what they’re looking for.

“It's great to have 30 D1 guys, but there's no guarantee those 30 D-1 guys are going to get you in the playoffs either,” said Bullfrogs co-owner and general manager Liz Kern.

The players say their roster is an advantage, not a disadvantage. They can play underdog, but also play as a team, instead of focusing on their own at-bats in preparation for high-pressure college seasons.

“Just because we don't have big-time guys doesn't mean it's not a good baseball club,” said Celsi. “Trust me, it'll be a lot easier to win when you're all on the same page than someone with 25 big guys all doing their own program.”

Green Bay’s roster does feature a few players hoping to, or soon to, transfer to Division I schools, including pitcher Corey Fischer, a Denmark High School graduate who will be moving from Madison College to Kansas State this year.