Leprechauns strike gold with offseason revamp, join prestigious league

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Royal Oak Review | Published February 20, 2024

 Royal Oak Leprechauns fans take in a baseball game at the newly renovated Memorial Park.

Royal Oak Leprechauns fans take in a baseball game at the newly renovated Memorial Park.

Photo provided by the Royal Oak Leprechauns


ROYAL OAK — By the luck of the draw, metro Detroit baseball fans hit the jackpot as the Royal Oak Leprechauns are going to be putting on a show like you’ve never seen from them before heading into the 2024 season.

Previously part of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, the baseball club followed the rainbow to greener pastures ahead of their upcoming campaign, joining the Northwoods League this season.

Northwoods is recognized as one of the largest organized baseball leagues in the world with more than 340 players advancing to the Major League Baseball level, including former Detroit Tigers Curtis Granderson and Max Scherzer. Royal Oak will be the fourth team in Michigan to compete in the Northwoods League with Traverse City, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo all sporting teams.

The jump from Great Lakes to Northwoods isn’t just one small leap, but a franchise-altering move, according to Leprechauns general manager Mark Sackett.

“The big thing is Northwoods is up to 26 teams, they cross three time zones, they’ve sent over 340 guys to the major leagues, their ESPN contract and their contracts with Rawlings and EvoShield,” Sackett said. “It’s just amazing. We’re not stepping up one level, we’re stepping up about five levels to be part of the Northwoods League.”

It’s difficult to begin to describe how this season will differ from past years, as everything about the Leprechauns approach from marketing and entertainment to fielding a team has shifted.

Aside from competitive baseball, expect a show when you take your seats at Memorial Park.

Similar to something you’d see at Comerica Park for a Tigers game, each inning will have entertainment with the chance of an attendee winning a gift card to one of the many local businesses providing their support this season. Fans can also expect to see a field goal setup where fans can practice kicking field goals, a bounce house, and a guess-your-speed game where contestants will look to guess their velocity on their pitches as a radar gun tracks it.

The concessions will offer burgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs along with a continued partnership with Tania’s Pizza and Ray’s Ice Cream. The Leprechauns will also have their liquor license as well, offering frozen alcoholic drinks.

“Going from ‘I’m going to a ball game,’ it’s so much more, and the league expects it to be so much more,” Sackett said.

The Leprechauns, a nonprofit organization, expect to have almost 10 games this season on ESPN+ with four cameras surrounding the park — in the outfield, along the right and left field lines, and behind the plate.

With potential national media comes field renovations to Memorial Park, which continue to be a topic of conversation.

The additions of the brand new turf infield, dugouts, scoreboard and media deck were just the beginning stages of a continued partnership between the Leprechauns, the city of Royal Oak, and team president and New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu, a Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice graduate.

Sackett said the team has spoken with the Royal Oak City Commission about additions of hospitality suites down the right and left field lines, outfield hospitality suites in left field, a production and media broadcast booth, and potentially a new backstop for more efficient viewing behind the plate.

Sackett said the city and LeMahieu have been more than gracious with their support for the team.

“He’s (LeMahieu) the one that’s really lent us the money to do this, and it is a loan because he doesn’t want to put his money into something and let it go to waste. He’s put about $350,000 into the field, and we’ve put in about $200,000 into it, and we want to put another $100,000 into it.”

From a talent standpoint, manager Jonathan Vance, entering his second season as manager, will have no issue fielding a competitive club with a plethora of hometown talent gracing the roster.

Packed with Division 1 collegiate baseball players, Vance said the roster reflects the type of competition that fans can expect from other Northwoods teams.

“It’s more so guys in the Great Lakes are trying to get their feet wet and learn what college baseball is all about and what it takes to compete at that level, whereas guys in Northwoods have established they can compete at the college level and are trying to learn what it takes to be more of a professional-type player,” Vance said. “With 72 games in 76 days or whatever the exact math is, it’s going to challenge you in some way. You have to learn how to prepare your body to play every day.”

Eligible players must have college eligibility, be a senior in high school committed to play college baseball, or be a recently graduated pitcher with plans on playing at the next level. Players can sign on to play the first or second half of the season, or can commit to playing the full year.

For local players, it’s the perfect setup to not only play in front of a hometown crowd, but hone in on their craft in the meantime.

“I’m really excited,” Novi native and right-handed pitcher Andrew Abler said. “I’m also just excited to play in the summer where it’s warm and you’re with your boys. I know a handful of people on the Leprechauns, and they’re all great guys. I’m really excited to spend the summer with them.”

Abler, a freshman pitcher at Harvard University, led Novi High School to a Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Championship last year.

The Leprechauns also added another MHSAA state champion in Clemson University freshman and shortstop Jarren Purify, a 2021 state champion with Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett who recently made his collegiate debut for Clemson.

The excitement will kick off before the season even begins, as the Leprechauns will be the sponsoring partners for the Royal Oak St. Patrick’s Day parade, which hasn’t taken place since 2020.

With the new league and added entertainment, expect Memorial Park to be rocking this summer.

“We know about the excitement we have, and then we’re seeing the excitement in our community partners,” Sackett said. “We also see the city is supporting us, so we see a very, very high ceiling. We just got so much we want to do at that park, and it’s going to positively affect the Royal Oak community and the baseball community in Royal Oak, Beverly Hills, Birmingham and Clawson. That’s what we’re excited about.”

The Leprechauns will open the season with a home game on May 27 as the season stretches from May to August.

For more information on the Leprechauns, visit northwoodsleague.com/royal-oak-leprechauns.


Play ball!
Royal Oak Leprechauns players from the C & G Newspapers coverage area with their hometowns: Andrew Abler (Novi), Jack Boike (Bloomfield Hills), Jack Coulter (West Bloomfield), Gabe Jones (Sterling Heights), TJ McAllister (St. Clair Shores), Parker Picot (Rochester Hills), Jarren Purify (Grosse Pointe Woods), Stephen Ruhle (Royal Oak) and Ryan Tyranski (Birmingham).