Corn Dogs hit it out of the park • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Corn Dogs hit it out of the park

Baseball enthusiasts, former players deliver winning team to Crown Point

Lake County Corn Dogs
Cornelius, the Lake County Corn Dogs mascot, is a big hit with the community. (Provided by Lake County Corn Dogs)

The Lake County Corn Dogs have been pleasing the public since 2022 with a lineup of local talent and fun for families.

When the Northern League announced its newest team in January 2021, officials said the team’s motto would be “building community through baseball.”

The Corn Dogs have been doing just that at Legacy Fields at Center Ross Park in Crown Point.

In 2022, its inaugural season, the team captured the Northern League crown.

This year, the Corn Dogs will play as an independent summer collegiate franchise.

The team’s success on and off the field is a testament to the dedication of its majority owner, Ralph Flores Jr.

“The sports marketing industry has been my passion,” said Flores, who graduated from East Chicago Roosevelt High School and Indiana University Northwest.

Ralph Flores Jr.
Ralph Flores Jr.

Like a lot of his Corn Dogs players, Flores played collegiate baseball, in his case at Dodge City Community College in Kansas. But when he realized a major league baseball career was not within reach, he found a niche in athletics as a sports agent with several professional basketball clients around the world, including Europe and Asia.

He also worked with the foundations headed by such NBA players as Vlade Divac and Andrew Bogut. However, with commissions and donation dollars shrinking during the Great Recession, he shifted gears and entered the insurance industry.

However, Flores had a feeling he would return to sports. He did just that after learning about the Midwest Collegiate League, a summer baseball league that evolved into what is now the Northern League. He inquired about bringing in a franchise and, after receiving the OK, “I started to look for the best city to have the franchise, and Crown Point was at the top of list.”

Former Crown Point Mayor David Uran welcomed the team after setting some goals for Flores.

Justin Huisman

“The addition of a preprofessional team like the Corn Dogs is an excellent complement to the wide variety of youth and adult sports throughout our community,” Uran said in January 2022.

From there, it was a matter of assembling a team. Of immense help was Bobby Morris, co-founder and CEO of the Great Lakes Sports Hub. The brother of former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Hal Morris, Bobby Morris was a former Chicago Cubs farmhand. Also helping recruit player personnel was Kyle Hallberg, assistant coach at South Suburban College in Illinois.

Flores found his manager in his own backyard. Former Kansas City Royals pitcher and Crown Point resident Justin Huisman was his man. Huisman offers clinics and lessons at the Great Lakes Sports Hub, the nearby sports training complex.

Huisman previously managed the Northwest Indiana Oilmen and Illinois’ Trinity Christian College baseball team.

“The atmosphere is great. We get good crowds. The players have been a joy to coach,” Huisman said.

Ambassador of fun

Among those involved in the beginning was Tom Byelick. He served as the club’s public address announcer in its inaugural season and took on some general manager’s duties, including securing sponsorships and generating some promotional ideas.

Tom Byelick
Tom Byelick

Byelick’s efforts included the YouTube series “Ketching Up With the Corn Dogs” and the “Around the Corn” fan events at such venues as the Back Court Bar & Grill in Crown Point.

Byelick’s background is in sales and marketing. But he had a little time on his hands after retiring from the pharmaceutical industry.

He is involved in several projects, including producing and co-hosting the TOMFOOLERY Fun Club.

“The first season of the Corn Dogs was a pretty successful one,” Byelick said. “The team won the league championship. So, the word really started to get out about the team and the fun atmosphere that was associated with the games.”

Play ball

On the baseball side, the Corn Dogs are in good hands. Huisman in 2012 piloted the Northwest Indiana Oilmen to a title Midwest Collegiate League, the precursor to the Northern League.

“Right now, we’re fairly local with a lot of names and faces that the fans recognize, and it’s a lot of fun that way because it feels like it’s your home team,” Huisman said.

Morris, who helps recruit players, runs the 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs, a youth baseball organization.

“A lot of the guys that play for us, when they were younger played for 5 Star, so Bobby knows a lot of them,” Huisman said.

Some of the players are postgrads who are trying to get picked up by professional teams.

“We’ve had a couple of guys get picked up and go professional for independent ball,” he said. “And that’s the ultimate goal, is to provide an avenue for those guys that want to get better and get picked up and achieve the dream that I was able to do as a player, which is to play professionally.”

Last year, Ray Hilbrich became the first member of the team to sign a professional baseball contract. The 23-year-old from Schererville joined the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers of the United Shore Professional Baseball League, which has sent a number of players to the major leagues.

Huisman played professionally for several years, reaching the majors in 2004 for the Royals. His career, however, was derailed by injuries, and he transitioned into coaching.

Enthusiastic response

The Corn Dogs, Flores said, provide a minor league baseball experience, replete with pregame music, an area where kids can play, cornhole for adults, a beer garden featuring Crown Point’s own Off Square Brewing as one of the team’s partners.

A big hit in the community is the Corn Dogs’ mascot, Cornelius, a corn dog with mustard.

And, yes, there are dizzy bat race competitions.

“We’re not the Savannah Bananas, but we are entertaining,” Flores said.

The local community has embraced the Corn Dogs. Crowds also responded enthusiastically.

“There isn’t a game that goes by that we’ll get a mother that comes by with her kids and says, ‘Thank you. Thank you for bringing this to our community,’” Flores said. “Our model from the very beginning has been building community through baseball. If you are good for the community, the community in return will be good to you.”

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Steve Zalusky

    Steve Zalusky is a newspaper journalist from suburban Chicago who covers municipal government and dabbles in writing about sports, libraries, old movies and jazz.


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