MANKATO — 

With the demands of his day job and other professional pursuits, and helping his children participate in youth baseball leagues, Chad Surprenant hasn't been to many Mankato MoonDogs' baseball games over the last 18 summers.

But as a new part-owner of the Northwoods League baseball franchise, Surprenant might find his way to Franklin Rogers Park a little more often.

"I think we'll have to schedule those Royals practices a little differently this year so we can to get to more games," said Surprenant, president and CEO of ISG architectural firm. 

Surprenant and Kyle Smith, director of development for the Tailwind group, combined with minority partners from the Northwoods League franchise at La Crosse, Wisconsin, were introduced at a festive gathering Thursday at the Verizon Center.

About 100 family, friends, employees and business leaders gathered to meet the new ownership group, as well as witness the unveiling of the MoonDogs' new logo and a presentation of upgrades being made to Franklin Rogers Park.

"Hopefully, we can fill the void of losing the Vikings (summer training camp)," Smith said. "It's become a hot ticket, and this was an opportunity to keep local ownership." 

The Mankato franchise of the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer baseball league, began in 1999 as the Mashers. The team was renamed the MoonDogs in 2002 and has had two ownership groups since then.

Last summer, Smith was discussing other business interests with Mark Ogren, who bought the franchise from Joe Schwei in 2013, when Ogren asked Smith if he was interested in purchasing the MoonDogs. He brought Surprenant into the conversation, and the two started checking into the opportunity.

Eventually, the Northwoods League offered some assistance, with ownership of the La Crosse Loggers, which made the purchase possible for Surprenant and Smith in October.

"We loved the idea, but with both of us being super busy, it just wasn't going to work," Surprenant said. "We met (the La Crosse group) and loved them. They're top-notch people, and that was the game-changer." 

Franklin Rogers Park has seen several improvements since the franchise has played there, including a new press box, roof over the grandstand, lights and hospitality decks along both sides of the playing surface. But the ballpark will have a dramatic new look this summer, with an artificial playing surface, new dugouts and concessions area, upgraded hospitality area and some different viewing options.

There is also a plan to add a video scoreboard in the future.

"There's so much energy at the ballpark," Surprenant said. "There's a lot of good stuff happening there."

The new logo is a sleeker, less-cartoonish drawing of a dog holding a bat. The logo will be available on new uniforms and merchandise.

New general manager Austin Link, who had held an interim position since July, was introduced, as well as Ryan Kragh, who will continue as the field manager.

The MoonDogs open the season May 29 at home against Duluth.

"The ballpark is a great place for people to come together and have a lot of fun," Surprenant said. "It will great to hang out and watch people and be part of the group that helped bring improvements to the park. There are plenty of opportunities to do things differently."

Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier 

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