Feb 26, 2024

Dordt University baseball player finds success at Northwoods League

Nolan Christianson, a senior nursing major at Dordt University, played outfield for the Kokomo Jackrabbits, part of the prestigious Northwoods League.

For as far back as Nolan Christianson can remember, baseball has been a big part of his life. The Omaha, Nebraska, native—who was named after famed Major League Baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan—grew up playing T-ball and Little League before moving on to play shortstop and center field at Omaha’s Burke High School, where he had career batting average over .300.

He chose to attend Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, in part because he wanted to play college baseball; in the past three years, he has been able to balance majoring in nursing—a time-consuming, rigorous program—with playing 99+ games both at home and on the road. He did well; in 2023, he led the team at .323 in 42 games played, and he earned a regular standing position with the Defenders.

So when Christianson had the opportunity to play with the famed Northwoods League, which is considered “the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players,” he said yes.

Christianson played outfield for the Kokomo Jackrabbits in Kokomo, Indiana, last season. He participated in more than 70 games in a two-and-a-half-month span, spending many hours on the road traveling to cities like Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Traverse City, Michigan.

His Jackrabbit teammates came from big-time baseball programs like University of Alabama, Gonzaga University, and University of Oregon; the Northwoods League is known as a valuable training ground for coaches and umpires, with more than 340 Northwoods League alumni having advanced to Major League Baseball.

“It’s a pretty prestigious league, and I was fortunate to not only have the opportunity to be there but also play well,” he says.

Playing well matters in the Northwoods League. Players sign for 10 days, a half season, or a full season, but if they don’t perform well, they are sent home. “Over the course of the season, I watched a lot of people come and go,” he says.

Yet Christianson remained, and for good reason. One of the most memorable games he played was against the Green Bay Rockers: it was the bottom of the ninth, and the Jackrabbits brought Christianson in to pinch hit. He was able to secure a base hit, which tied up the score. Even though the Jackrabbits lost that game, the coaches noticed that Christianson responded well under pressure.

He got to start the next game. “I had two hits, and one of them was bases loaded,” he recalls. “I hit a double that scored all three runs. After that, my time with the Northwoods League really got rolling. I ended up starting the majority of the games, and I was able to play the full season.”

During the summer 2023 season, Christianson had a .280 batting average, which was, as he says, “really solid” for the Northwoods League.

“In some ways, because the Northwoods League was such a difficult environment, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I was just happy to be there and to get to play a sport I enjoy alongside some great players,” says Christianson.

Games are broadcast on ESPN+ once a week, and once a season a game airs on ESPN U.

“On Saturdays, we would draw in about 2,500 fans for a game. There are fireworks. The little kids think you’re famous, so they’d have you sign their baseball. It was a lot of fun.”

Christianson plans to head back to Kokomo again this summer to play. He hopes that his season will shape up as well as the last one did.

About Dordt University

As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, Dordt University equips students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. Dordt, located in Sioux Center, Iowa, is a comprehensive university named to the best college lists by U.S. News and World Report, Forbes.com, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review.

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers