Inside the DCL: How America's pastime helps tie Door County together

The Door County Baseball League officially formed in the 1930s, but its roots can be traced all the way back to the 1910s.
Posted at 5:52 PM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 18:58:11-04

WASHINGTON ISLAND (NBC 26) — Just off the shores of Washington Island lies what looks like an ordinary baseball field.

To the locals, it's anything but.

"Baseball on the island is huge," Joe Cornell, manager of the Washington Island Islanders, said. "If you look around you can see all the old timers. Young people. It's amazing.

"On any given Sunday we can have up to 500 people here," he said.

The Islanders have been playing baseball in some fashion since the 19th century. They are one of eight teams in the Door County League, which traces its roots back to the 1910s.

"We live in a tourist industry," league president John Sawyer said. "Everybody works seven days a week up here. So this is the one weekly activity - like Friday night football - where people come, they enjoy having a brat and a beer."

"There's not much like the DCL," Sister Bay pitcher Sam Forkert said. "It's all the locals usually. Just hanging out and playing ball."

Most players start playing when they are teenagers. Some legends play through generations.

"Probably my favorite story is Mark Woerfel," Cornell beamed. "He was pitching his final season at 60-years-old. He struck out his nephew, tipped his hat to the crowd and retired after that. It was really neat."

Teams play once game a week - most on Sundays but some on Friday nights. The season begins in May and a champion is crowned in August.

Last weekend's top game pitted Sister Bay against Washington Island: two of the league's biggest rivals battling for second place.

"Sister Bay and Washington Island have always been a great rivalry because Sister Bay is farthest north and closest to Washington Island," Sawyer, whose son plays for Sister Bay, said.

"It got pretty rowdy last game but that's the way we like to play it," Forkert added. "Why are you playing if you're not getting excited? It's what we play for."

Sister Bay won the game 10-4, putting themselves in position to chase a championship. But in a league like this, the final score is far from the end-all, be-all.

"All my friends are on this team," Forkert said. "We're friends with all the other teams too. So it's more of that than anything."

"I think it's one thing that really keeps our community and the county as good friends," Sawyer said.

This week, the DCL will take its show on the road as its All-Stars take on All-Stars from the Shoreland League - comprised of teams from Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Brown counties. The game is scheduled for Thursday night at Capital Credit Union Park in Ashwaubenon.