A Look Inside: Eau Claire Express

Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 8:38 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - “The Northwoods League is crazy.” Crazy with talent. “We have 11 guys who have been in the big leagues right now. The known ones are Jordan Zimmermann, Kole Calhoun, Daulton Varsho, Griffin Jackson just went up with the Twins last year and there’s more coming. It’s just one of those things, it’s just really good, quality baseball.”

It’s that quality of baseball that attracted partners of Toycen Baseball Club to purchase the Eau Claire Express in February. The Toycen family has been involved in automotive sales in the Chippewa Valley for over 70 years, it’s those local roots and Eau Claire’s rich baseball tradition that managing partner Craig Toycen says made taking over the Express so appealing.

“You don’t really need to be that big of a baseball fan to come out to the ballpark as long as it’s a nice environment which is what we have here at Carson Park, we’ve got a legendary stadium with a long of tradition, a lot of history,” says Toycen.

Toycen says one of his first priorities is working with the city of Eau Claire to secure the necessary funding for the $3.5 million dollar Carson Park Baseball Renovation Project. Mark Faanes, chairman of that project says COVID slowed fundraising efforts. Faanes tells WEAU that $1.5 million dollars still needs to be raised to replace the current aluminum bleachers, dugouts and concession areas, create more space for apparel, upgrade bathrooms and meet requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This isn’t just for the Eau Claire Express, this is for the whole community. They always say this is the jewel of Eau Claire, one of the jewels of Eau Claire. And the history is crazy on this field. We’re hoping to build off of that and hopefully have people that will give towards the project and getting it done because I think it will be really, really fun to have everyone enjoy the games here,” says Dale Varsho, Eau Claire Express Field Manager.

Dale Varsho is the only manager the Express have had as they enter their 17th year in the Northwoods League. Varsho credits his longevity to his passion for baseball and commitment to developing future big leaguers.

“It’s the players, I mean, the only reason why I do it and Vic Cable has been at my side the whole time. We do it to develop the players. It’s fun for us, it’s fun to see kids come in and sometimes you even know who they are. To get to know them and just to help their careers, that’s kind of what we’re all about and how we’ve always been and it’s been fun,” says Varsho.

Varsho says he’s looking forward to working for the Toycen family, joking he’ll work for them “as long as they want him.”

“We don’t know each other that great yet I don’t think. So far I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Toycen family and I’m excited to work for them and excited for them to just to be part of this and continue the growth of it. I think that’s the key of everyone and for them to just let me do what I do it more a benefit for me.”

Toycen says the commitment to delivering a platform for college baseball players to better themselves on and off the field will continue, adding the Express and Carson Park are a pride point for the Northwoods League.

“This is an important middle point of what the Northwoods League is. We’re in the western part, the Plains Division so we play Duluth and La Crosse, St. Cloud, don’t get over to play Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids but as the league continues to expand we might see some of those things grow again so we are excited for that. I know the Northwoods League feels good about our location and what we have for capabilities here moving forward,” says Toycen.

According to Faanes, 75,000 to 100,000 guests pass through the gates there for baseball or other events making it one of the most heavily used facilities in the City

Donations for the Carson Park Baseball Renovation Fund can be made at the Eau Claire Community Foundation.

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