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The North Star League is getting bigger, and so is its reach following a league meeting last week of the town ball teams.

Not only did the league approve an application for Rockford to rejoin the NSL beginning in 2022, but in a split decision the teams approved a rule change to expand the league’s recruiting radius from 15 miles to the maximum of 30.

The decision to approve Rockford’s application was unanimous, bringing the league to 12 teams total. Along with that decision, the teams briefly discussed but decided against splitting the league into two divisions of six teams. That means the league will remain one unit, and teams will play 22 league games next season.

The Rockford River Bandits were a member of the NSL for many years until disbanding following the 2015 season. Rockford (the team has not yet decided on a new name) will rejoin the league on a two-year probationary period, at which point the league will consider making the team a full member. Mike Kutter, manager of the Hutchinson Huskies town ball team, thinks it’s a good move and is optimistic the addition can strengthen the league overall.

“I hope it does benefit our league and add a quality team that continues to get better,” he said. “But it’s always tough starting out when you’re brand new, so they’re going to have their bumps and bruises.”

With 12 teams now, that also means there may be changes to the Region 12C format. In the current format, the top seven teams qualify for the tournament and the remaining five teams play a single-elimination bracket to see who takes the eighth spot at regions, which will be in Litchfield next year. Kutter said more discussion about the region format would likely be in the spring.

Radius splits east and west

While the vote to approve Rockford was unanimous, the decision to expand the NSL’s recruiting radius came down to a 6-5 vote. Kutter said the Huskies voted against the change because he felt the team wouldn’t benefit from it. Hutchinson’s roster is mostly made of local players from Hutchinson, and that’s the way he prefers it.

“We’re not going to benefit from going to grab a guy from Litch or Dassel, because we don’t want to poach from teams in our own league,” Kutter said. “You could call it an unwritten rule, I guess, but if teams want to go grab from other towns, they obviously can now.”

The Minnesota Baseball Association Board has set a 30-mile radius as the maximum teams can have to recruit players. That means a player must have a home address within 30 miles of the team’s baseball field. But leagues may shorten that radius, which was the case for many years in the NSL, when it was set at 15.

Kutter believes the change in the league was sparked by another change made this past summer. The MBA Board dissolved a rule that forbid Class B and Class C teams from signing players with addresses inside the 494/694 loop in the metro area. Those players had to play for Class A teams, but not any longer.

“That does allow teams from the eastern side of our league to go further into the metro without having any restrictions,” Kutter said. “I don’t know if teams will do that, I think some will and I think some won’t.”

The way teams voted on the issue reinforced Kutter’s belief. Teams that supported the change — Delano, Loretto, Maple Plain, Montrose, Maple Lake and Howard Lake — were mostly on the eastern side of the league, closer to the metro area, while teams that opposed the change — Hutchinson, Litchfield, Cokato, Dassel-Cokato and Buffalo — were mostly on the western side of the league and further from the metro.

“You can kind of see the split there,” Kutter said.