There is a new baseball team in town.
The Southland Vikings. And they are looking to make some noise.
The Vikings launched their inaugural season in the Midwest Collegiate League earlier this month. They play their home games at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
The Vikings are part of a summer wood bat league. And they compete with three other teams–Chicago Zephyrs, Rockford Foresters and the Will County CrakerJacks.
The league hopes to attract some of the top collegiate players in the country where scouts and college coaches can come and look at prospects. The Vikings’ general manager is Flossmoor resident Don Popravak.
Popravak created the league earlier this year and serves as the commissioner.
“As the commissioner, I hope to grow the league by adding more franchises and also do an effective job marketing and advertising what we offer,” Popravak said. “We hope to get some of the top talent across the country to play in our league.”
As for overseeing the Viking franchise, Popravak wants to build a good product that attracts a fan base while at the same time having integrity. He brings a wealth of experience to the league as he has been in the advertising sales and marketing business for more than 30 years.
Popravak also has been involved in management positions with baseball teams since the 1970s.
“I feel if we put the right product on the field with the proper marketing and advertising, it can become a viable entertainment vehicle," he said.
Popravak’s knowledge showed in the hiring of his coaches. He chose Chris Cunningham to manage the team.
“Chris is a great teacher,” Popravak said. “He is one of the most prolific hitters the Southland has ever seen.”
Cunningham was a standout baseball player in high school at H-F and went onto have a stellar collegiate career at South Suburban College. He earned All-America honors before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. He spent five years in their minor league system.
In addition to leading the Vikings, Cunningham also will continue in his role as an assistant coach at South Suburban College.
“Chris (Cunningham) has a lot he can teach and he brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge on both the professional and collegiate levels," Popravak said.
Marvin Freeman will be the pitching coach for the Vikings. Freeman played 12 years on the major league level, including in the early '90s with the Atlanta Braves.
“Marvin (Freeman) brings a tremendous amount of experience,” Popravak said. “He is a big-league caliber coach.”
How the Southland Vikings Were Built
The Vikings have a 23-man roster, featuring players from the local area that are freshmen or sophomores in college. All play baseball in junior college, Division I or Division II settings.
A player must be on a college roster or have signed a letter of intent to play at a college in order to be on the team in the Midwest League.
“We have a diversified group of kids on our roster,” Popravak said. “We have guys from right here in the H-F area, city kids and kids that live on the South Side. There is so much talent in the Chicago market that we should be able to field a competitive ballclub.”
The season began at the beginning of this month and will conclude at the end of July. The Vikings will play 36 regular season games, and there will be playoffs during the first week of August.
With the advent of a new league comes goals and desires, and Midwest Collegiate League officials have just that, hopes and desires. They hope to double the size of the league from four to eight teams next year and hope to have a team in Michigan the year after.
The league hopes to model itself after the Northwoods League that is played in parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Last season, the Northwoods League drew 1.5 million people to watch their games.
“We want to follow their approach to business by making it a family fun experience to come to a game,” Popravak said. “We have great prices for tickets and concessions and hope to field a competitive team.”
Midwest Collegiate League Wants to Take Over I-80 Corridor
The ultimate goal for Popravak is to have all the teams in the league positioned within a two-hour drive and to have all of the teams located just off of Interstate 80.
“We hope to go from Davenport all along I-80 into Northwest Indiana,” he said.
In the future, the league hopes to set-up housing programs for players that don’t live in the area. The league already has gained a bit of a foothold. About 170 players filled out applications to join the fun this season.
With Popravak’s experience leading the way, the Vikings will try to gain a fan base and support from the community. The price to go to a game will range from $5 to $8. He vows to keep concessions prices reasonable, too.
The Southland Vikings have a Facebook page. Some of their games will be broadcast on AM-1470. There are seven interns currently working with the team helping with all facets of organization.
The Vikings currently are not sponsored by anybody, but are already attempting to get some sponsor,s especially for the radio broadcasts. Within the community, the Vikings have invited youth from the H-F neighborhood's to check out a game.
“Flossmoor and Homewood baseball have good programs, and we hope to do much more with them in the future,” Popravak said.
Ideas include a baseball buddies program, free clinics and highlighting a Little League game each week. Moving forward, the ultimate goals for the Vikings in the eyes of Popravak come down to development.
“We want to develop into a brand name, drive revenues and sales and develop a fan base that sees we are putting out a good product the will be enjoyable to all," he said.
For more information about the Southland Vikings and the Midwest Collegiate League, including schedules, stats and other news and notes please check out their websites: www.midwestcollegiateleague.com http://www.southlandvikings.com/