Mighty ducks play ball in Madison

In the bottom of the third, the Madison Mallards were locked in a heated battle with the St. Cloud Rox.

The Minnesota team scored four runs off starter Mike Reitcheck, and they led the Ducks 4-1 as they went into the bottom half of the inning.

The Mallards were ready to try to take back the July 3 game — but not before the Ping-Pong Twerk Off. In this mid-inning competition, two contestants on opposite sides of the infield wear a bag of Ping-Pong balls strapped to their, um, twerker. The first one to booty-shake fast enough to empty all the balls from the bag wins.

This is part of the show outside of The Show.

Mid-Inning entertainment

Mallards general manager Tyler Isham explains, “Some baseball games are long and not always a lot of fun. Even when we lose, these activities provide entertainment and keep the fans coming back.”

“We have 17 inning breaks in every game and 17 chances to provide fans with entertainment during the game,” Isham says.

Each activity bears the stamp of a local business.

There’s the Pony Hop — four guys bouncing across the field on what appear to be large stuffed Hobby Horses — presented by Jet’s Car Care Clinic in Madison.

There’s the Beef Jerky Toss sponsored by the Beef Jerky Outlet in Sun Prairie.

Crowd-pleasing activities on the electronic scoreboard include the Nitty Gritty Burger Shuffle — a Three Card Monte video game in which fans have to guess which animated hamburger contains the pickle slices. The shuffle is sponsored by Madison’s Nitty Gritty Birthday Bar and Restaurant.

Friendly venue

Games are played at Warner Park on Madison’s north side. There’s a county-fair ambience mixed with those goofy mid-inning antics welcoming the roughly 6,500 fans to each home game.

The ballpark is modest in size. The grounds contain a gift shop, food vendors and beer stands offering local craft beers.

There’s also a play area, with a bounce castle and kiddie zip line, as well as other activities.

Seats run $10–$15 and there are a variety of group ticket options that include food and beverages.

Isham says the Mallards’ aim is to provide an affordable evening of fun for fans of all ages.

Northwoods League

The Mallards are part of the Northwoods League, which provides a summer internship for some of the country’s leading college players while offering ball fans semi-professional baseball plus some sideline entertainment.

The team, established in 2001, is owned by entrepreneur Steve Schmitt, who owns The Shoe Box shoe store and Rookies Sports Bar in Black Earth just west of Madison.

Schmitt also owns Northwoods League member teams the Green Bay Bullfrogs, the Kenosha Kingfish and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Other Northwoods League teams in Wisconsin include the Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon, Wisconsin Woodchucks in Wausau, La Crosse Loggers and Eau Claire Express.

The off-field antics entertain, but baseball makes the Northwoods League parks summer destinations for sports fans.

There are 18 teams in five states, with the league boasting north and south divisions.

By agreement with the league, headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota, the Mallards’ roster can include 30 active full-time players, as well as 10 limited-term players who may sub during the first few weeks of the season — before the colleges have ended the spring semester.

A summer with the Mallards constitutes an unpaid internship for the college athletes, Isham says.

“We work with colleges all over the country to attract the best players we can,” he says. “Over time you establish good working relationships with the coaches and schools and it’s beneficial for everyone.”

The Mallards’ roster currently consists of players from 27 colleges, including the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The team’s season commenced May 31 and continues through Aug. 14. The regular season consists of 36 home games and 36 away games over 78 days, followed by six days of playoffs. Teams finishing in the top half in their division stand a good chance of being in the playoffs.

Players benefit

What do the players get for all their hard work?

“We have professional MLB scouts in the stands for almost every game,” Isham says. “This is the players’ chance to be seen in action.”

During the first 15 seasons, the Mallards saw five players go on to play in the Majors: Ryan Spilbourghs (Colorado Rockies), Matt Pagnozzi (Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals), Phil Gosselin (Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks), J.R. Graham (Minnesota Twins) and Brock Stewart (Los Angeles Dodgers.)

Based on the outcome of the grudge match between the Mallards and the Rox in the July 3 game, it looked like a few more players might blossom from this season’s roster.

The Rox’s three-run lead at the bottom of the third evaporated. By the fifth inning, Mallards player Bryce Carter, who plays for Stanford during the year, began turning the game in favor of the Ducks.

“I made some adjustments to my swing coming into the summer, and it’s always hard when you make a change like that,” Carter says after the game. “I was feeling good today, got more comfortable in the batter’s box and was able to put some hits together.”

A sixth-inning RBI by Carter stretched the Mallards lead to 5-4, followed an inning later by Carter’s three-run homer over the right-center wall, which boosted the Ducks to 8-5, a lead held to the finish.

Let’s see the twerkers match that performance.

Batter up …

Madison Mallards: Find the Ducks online at mallardsbaseball.com or call 608-246-4277. The team plays home games at Warner Park, 2920 N. Sherman Ave., Madison.

Green Bay Bullfrogs: Find the Frogs online at northwoodsleague.com/green-bay-bullfrogs or call 920-497-7225. The team plays home games at 1450 E. Walnut St., Green Bay.

Kenosha Kingfish: Find the Fish online at northwoodsleague.com/kenosha-kingfish or call 262-653-0900. The team plays home games at Historic Simmons Field, 7817 Sheridan Road, Kenosha.

Wisconsin Rapids Rafters: Find the Rafters online at northwoodsleague.com/wisconsin-rapids-rafters or call 715-424-5400. The team plays home games at Witter Field, 521 Lincoln St. Wisconsin Rapids.

Lakeshore Chinooks: Find the Chinooks online at northwoodsleague.com/lakeshore-chinook or call 262-618-4659. The team plays home games at Kapco Park.

Eau Claire Express: Find the Express online at www.eauclaireexpress.com or call 715-839-7788. The team plays at Carson Park, 702 Carson Park Drive.

La Crosse Loggers: Find the Loggers online at www.lacrosseloggers.com or call 608-796-9553. The team plays at Copeland Park, 800 Copeland Ave.

Wisconsin Woodchucks: Find the Woodchucks online at www.woodchucks.com or call 715-845-5055. The Woodchucks play at Athletic Park.

For more about summer baseball, visit Travel Wisconsin at travelwisconsin.com.          — L.N.