This city of Wausau campaign is a continuing series that aims to highlight “what makes Wausau such a “wausome place.” It highlights stories and perspectives from people living, working and growing businesses in the city.
After 30 years of living on the West Coast and building a successful career in the investment world, Mark Macdonald was ready to retire.
“I retired in 2011 and now only work 14-hour days,” Macdonald joked.
For three decades, Macdonald had worked with investments. After earning his MBA from Portland State University in 1985, he started his career, which led him to California as an executive for American Funds. He married, raised four children and was successful in his profession. In retirement, he wanted to do something different.
“My job had always centered on investing in businesses,” Macdonald said. “In retirement, I wanted to run my own business.”
Macdonald always had a love for baseball. Growing up, his family owned a restaurant and golf course in North Bend, Wisconsin, which gave him familiarity with athletics and hospitality. As he explored options, he was attracted to the idea of purchasing a baseball team. His search led him to Wausau and Athletic Park, home to the Wisconsin Woodchucks, one of 20 teams in the summer collegiate Northwoods Baseball League.
“The Woodchucks were a perfect fit,” Macdonald said. “I grew up in Wisconsin, and I have always liked the people here. There is a genuineness to this community. I was excited to return to the Midwest and invest in a place like Wausau.”
Baseball certainly had a history in the city. The formation of the first city team dated back to 1871. The first baseball game played at Athletic Park, then known as Yawkey Park, was in 1912. Numerous minor league teams called the field home over the years, with the Woodchucks taking over in 1994. Macdonald’s purchase went through in 2012 and from the beginning, he was aware that the historic stadium required renovations.
“When I bought the team, I knew Athletic Park needed a lot of work. I went into this experience with my eyes wide open understanding a significant investment needed to be made,” he said.
The first major renovation in the park’s long history officially broke ground in 2014 and over the course of the next three years, Macdonald, through a partnership with the city, invested over $7 million to update the stadium and surrounding area. Improvements included new theater-style seating, a grandstand, concessions, lights, luxury suites, restrooms, group seating areas, a community playground, a bullpen social seating area and a tailgate pavilion. The goal: Bring back families and businesses to the ball field while providing a more comfortable, interactive experience for fans.
The plan worked. Not only did individual and group ticket sales increase, but the renovations lit a spark in the neighborhood. Families filled the free community park adjacent to the field, even on non-game days. Businesses started popping up in the neighborhood, including farm-to-table restaurant Thrive, clothing boutique Pearl Luvs Earl, and custom built camper manufacturer TC Teardrops.
When baseball wasn’t on the field, the Woodchucks began hosting additional community events such as a July 4 celebration, shrimp boils and young professional networking events. The Woodchucks mascot, Woody, was making more appearances in the community, connecting with fans and also growing initiatives, such as Woody’s Reading Club, a free program to encourage child literacy. The area was revitalized. The efforts of one were impacting an entire neighborhood and city.
“This stage in my life is about having fun and making a positive impact on a community,” Macdonald said. “And I think I’ve done that. What we’ve done at Athletic Park, and the neighborhood around it, is huge.”
Players have taken notice as well. Jaren Shelby, a Lexington, Kentucky, native who is committed to playing baseball for the University of Kentucky this coming season said he had no idea what to expect when he arrived in Wausau.
“I didn’t even know how to pronounce ‘Wausau’ when I first got here,” Shelby said. “But these are some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever played in front of, which says a lot about what Mark and the team is doing here. Wausau has 100 percent exceeded my expectations, from how nice the field is, to how great the fans are. It’s been amazing to see what Mark is doing with this place, and even more fun to play here.”
Orsen Josephina agrees. Born and raised in Curacao, he had never heard of Wausau before earning a spot on the team. After spending two summers playing baseball in the city, his perspective about the community’s small-town feel has changed.
“When I first arrived in town, I was in shock because of Wausau’s size. But then I couldn’t get over the number of fans who came out for games,” Josephina said. “I had no idea that summer ball would be so big around here. That says a lot about this team, ballpark and community. There are fans all over the place. It’s a blessing to be around. I love it.”
Reflecting on how his efforts have transformed not only a baseball team but also the neighborhood and city around it, Macdonald says, “I’ve been impressed and touched by the response from the community. We’ve created one of the most interesting baseball facilities in the state. This place sets Wausau and central Wisconsin apart. It has been a labor of love.”
To learn more about Macdonald or the team, visit the Wisconsin Woodchucks’ website.
An interview with Wisconsin Woodchuck’s mascot, Woody. (He doesn’t talk, so here are his written responses.)
Question: Woody, what are a few of your favorite things about Wausau?
Answer: First and foremost, the Woodchucks baseball team is my number one favorite thing about this area. Secondly, I love all of the fans that come to our games, especially the kids. It’s great getting to interact with them, sign autographs and take pictures. And lastly, I’m a big fan of the Wisconsin River running through the downtown. It’s a plus. It is only a few blocks from Athletic Park too. Super convenient when I need to unwind.
Q: Woody, when you aren’t cheering for the Woodchucks baseball team and hanging out by the river, what else do you like to do?
A: I love to host Woody’s Reading Club! I really like to see kids get excited about reading, so this team initiative is close to my heart. Teachers and libraries can register for the program and then those students who participate and reach their goals get a free ticket to join me at a game. Reading for the win!
Want to meet Woody yourself? Find him at every home Woodchucks game at Athletic Park or at special appearances throughout the community.
Content provided by the city of Wausau. Republished with permission. Photo courtesy city of Wausau.