WATERLOO — The last time the Waterloo Bucks hosted the Northwoods League All-Star game, most of the players on the team’s current roster had yet to be born.
The year was 1996. Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. were terrorizing the American League for the Seattle Mariners, Mark McGwire was smashing 52 home runs for the Oakland Athletics and John Smoltz was winning 24 games and a Cy Young Award for the Atlanta Braves. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees was AL rookie of the year.
As for the Bucks, they were on their way to the franchise’s first Northwoods League championship in just their second season. Manager Eric Snider’s roster featured league MVP Jason Huisman, standout pitchers Jason Faust and Bill Tarajack and impact players like Mike Byas and Lance Burkhart.
Tuesday night at Riverfront Stadium, the NWL’s All-Star game returns to Waterloo with the Great Lakes Division taking on the Great Plains Division at 7:05 p.m.
It took 23 years to get the showcase event back to Waterloo and more than a year of networking, planning and coordinating by Bucks General Manager Dan Corbin and his staff.
“The first thing is just securing it,” said Corbin, who is in his 14th season as the club’s GM and his 18th year in the team’s front office. “There are a lot of conversations with the league as far as who wants to host it, the timing, all of that stuff.
“With 22 teams in the league, there is competition every year to host it. You’re trying to get approval and get the league to sign off believing you will host a good event.”
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All-Star festivities actually began today when many of the league’s front office personnel arrived in Waterloo. Tonight, there’s a banquet for the players and the Home Run Derby participants, who will be greeted by cutouts of Northwoods League alumni who have gone on to do great things at the Major League level.
“That’s a neat thing,” said Corbin. “It’s also the 25th All-Star game, so it’s a neat time to reflect on where we’ve come as a league.”
Tuesday afternoon, scouts from nearly every Major League Baseball organization will be on hand to put players through a combine on the field. At 5 p.m., the Riverfront Stadium gates open and players will be available for photos and autographs.
The Home Run Derby follows at 5:30 and the All-Star showcase takes the spotlight at 7:05 p.m.
“There are a lot of logistics to work through, from finding community partners to hotels, restaurants and the SportsPlex,” said Corbin. “It’s been a year or 18 months of work.”
Waterloo will be represented on the field by Alonzo Rubalcaba, Dylan Phillips, Patrick Ferguson and Jimmy Smiley.
“For the players, it’s an opportunity to shine on a regional stage,” said Corbin. “The scouts will be here and at the same time, someone walks out of here with the Home Run Derby championship and the MVP trophy.”