D-III World Series to find new home

Fox Cities Stadium has been the host to the D-III World Series since 2000.
UWO athletics photo

By Austin Walther

The NCAA Division III Baseball Championship will have a different host and a new venue in 2019 after the city of Appleton has held the event since 2000 with the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Lawrence University and the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau as the hosts.

For 17 years, the DIII Baseball Championship has been played at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton.

The change in 2019 will end a 19-year tradition, which is the fourth-longest of an NCAA championship at one site. The top three includes the Division I Baseball Championships in Omaha, NE. since 1950, Division I Softball Championships in Oklahoma City, OK. since 1990 and the Division III Football Championship game (Stagg Bowl) in Salem, VA. since 1993.

Appleton is the fifth location to host the NCAA DIII Baseball Championships and it currently holds the longest consecutive streak to have the championships.

The DIII Baseball Championship is expected to make a few major changes for the 2019 tournament.

UWO Sports Information Director Kennan Timm said they expect it to mirror that of the DI and DII Championships, which would force the Timber Rattlers to be on the road for an extended period of time.

“The NCAA Division III Baseball Committee voted and it was approved to have regionals and super regionals beginning in 2019,” Timm said. “With the championship moving off of Memorial Day Weekend, we went to the Timber Rattlers and the new schedule fell too close to the [Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association] State Baseball Tournament, the Jordy Nelson Softball Classic and other previously scheduled events. With that, scheduling the [Timber Rattlers] would be gone for a few weeks. With no facility, we couldn’t host, and that’s what it came down to.”

The championship dates normally run five-to-six days at the end of May during Memorial Day weekend. The NCAA changed the dates for the 2019 championship, pushing it back into the first week of June, which will prohibit Fox Cities Stadium from being able to host.

“We had a local organizing committee meeting and talked for length about the situation and the upcoming bid process,” Timm said. “In the end, we decided that we couldn’t bid for the hosting rights of the championship for 2019-23.”

Timm joined the UWO athletics staff as SID in 1985 and for the next two decades the Titans’ baseball team made annual appearances at the DIII Baseball World Series.
When the bid came to host in 1999, Timm said he knew it would be a great event for UWO, Fox Valley and all of Division III baseball.

“The success that UW Oshkosh baseball had during the 1980s and 1990s was rivaled by few around the country,” Timm said. “Fox Cities Stadium was relatively new, our baseball team was doing very well, and as a university we thought that putting a bid in to host the 2000 championship was the right thing to do.”

In 2003, Lawrence University joined as a co-host and the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau became a major host partner in 2008. With an outstanding partnership of public and private colleges, the three hosts have made Appleton a baseball hotbed.

“Over our 17 years of hosting, we have helped shape this championship event,” Lawrence University Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray said. “We are extremely proud of our community – all of the organizations, companies and volunteers who make the championship as meaningful as it is.”

In 2003, the Titans were back in the World Series and they had the opportunity to play in front of their home fans. Timm said it was a great experience for everyone – players, coaches and fans.

“When UW Oshkosh was in it in 2003, the Titans’ opening round game against Chapman University set the record for attendance [3,868 fans],” Timm said. “The stadium was packed. The opportunity our team had to play in front of their families, friends and fans was something special. We had a lot of support.”

Schools from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference have made frequent trips to the World Series in Appleton including UW-Whitewater. Current UWO baseball head coach Kevin Tomasiewicz played for the Warhawks from 2002-05. They won the national title in 2005 and he was named MVP of that year’s championship.

Tomasiewicz said it was one of the better baseball memories he has ever had and Appleton will always hold a special place in his heart.

“What Appleton did was make you feel like a superstar,” Tomasiewicz said. “Between staying at the Paper Valley Hotel, the opening ceremonies and the tremendous support from the fans, you felt like a Division I baseball player.”

Baseball committees of the past continued to choose Appleton as the host for the Baseball Championships even when the bid cycle was on a year-to-year or every other year basis.

NCAA Assistant Director of Championships and Alliances J.P. Williams said Fox Cities Stadium has a quality facility that made going back each year an easy decision.

“It says a lot for the community,” Williams said. “It says a lot for the Timber Rattlers, UW Oshkosh, Lawrence University and the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau as the hosts.”

At the end of the 2016 NCAA DIII Championship, there were talks about a change in format for the future and Timm said the process was already underway for Super Regionals.
“The coaches make a recommendation,” Timm said. “The recommendation then goes to the Division III Baseball Committee and from there to a few more management levels where a final decision is made.”

Even though the bid finalists to host the championship from 2019-2023 won’t be announced for a while, Timm said he wanted to announce the decision so there wasn’t any confusion.

“We kind of talked about it after the championship ended because we knew what was coming,” Timm said. “With the championship hosts of the 2019-23 championships being announced in December we felt we had to make an announcement to avoid blame being placed on anyone. We, as a local organizing committee want to host this championship, but without a facility, we can’t host.”

With Super Regionals in play, teams will be able to host a four-team regional on their campus, which won’t be as expensive. From there, each regional winner will be paired to play another regional winner in a best of five series to determine who makes it to the Championship round.

“UW Oshkosh could host a regional with Whitewater, Ripon and St. Norbert on our field with very little expense,” Timm said. “Then we would play, say the Illinois Wesleyan Regional champion and play a best-of-five series. A lot of the costs are eliminated. It’s going to be geographical, eliminate a lot of airline flights and reduce a lot of costs.”

Eight teams will still end up in the championship round and Timm said this format will be good for DIII baseball.

“I think it’s going to be exciting and that’s the way it should be,” Timm said. “It’s going to be easier to get to the Super Regionals because you’re only talking four teams in the regional instead of six or eight. The best-of-five Super Regionals should be pretty intense.”

Despite only being with Lawrence University for a year, Abaray said the teamwork involved with putting together the championships showcases everything they have to offer.

“It’s been very collaborative,” Abaray said. “We’ve all worked together incredibly well, supporting each other, making sure we’re representing the Fox Cities and the Valley the way we would want to be represented.”

Williams said Timm has played the biggest role in keeping the championship thriving in Appleton for so long, but he hopes this isn’t the end with him.

“Obviously [Timm’s] going to be a part of our championship team as long as Mr. Darryl Sims allows him to,” Williams said. “It’s a huge loss for the community, but obviously business gets in the way of our feelings and we just have to figure it out. You never know, Appleton may be back in the next bid cycle.”

The location and format change won’t go into effect for another two years, but there’s a lot that has happened since the championships have moved to Appleton.

Timm said several people, including the nearly 150 annual volunteers from the Fox Valley, have played a role in making this a great experience for everyone who has ever attended the event.

“It’s stayed in Appleton for all these years because of the work everyone has done,” Timm said. “Our media relations, medical and event management staffs along with our grounds crew and host families should all be proud of what they have done for intercollegiate athletics. It’s been a great relationship with the Division III baseball community, and it’s going to be sad when the final pitch is made in 2018.”