In the modern era, the history of minor league baseball in Madison, Wisconsin begins with the Madison Muskies. An Oakland Athletics affiliate in the Midwest League, the Muskies maintained a healthy following in the years following their 1982 founding. The most famous Muskie in history is undoubtedly Jose Canseco.
However, by 1993 Muskies attendance and profits declined and in ’94 the Muskies were replaced by the St Louis Cardinals affiliate, Madison Hatters. They only lasted a year, replaced by the Madison Black Wolf, who lasted five seasons. This history is all documented along the left field concourse of Warner Park today.
In 2001, businessman and former ballplayer Steve Schmitt, introduced the Madison Mallards to Warner Park. The Mallards made it to the Northwoods League playoffs in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. They have reached the Championship Series three times, finishing as runner-up in 2005 and 2008; winning it all in 2004.
In this league, there’s an emphasis on both winning and player development.
“We’re all still college players out here to have fun, we’re not getting paid or anything, not trying to make it up to AAA yet or anything like that, so it’s all focused on winning a championship,” said pitcher Matt Milroy, a Northwoods League All-Star selection.
“All of the coaches have a player development aspect in mind, and so do the college coaches when you send them to a league like this,” he said.
This season, the Mallards began their 11th season featuring a new team logo (unveiled in February), and a new $1.8 million renovation to the ballpark: it included seats that were once at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
“They did some renovations over this last spring with the concourse around it and the infield, it’s a beautiful ballpark and they keep working to make it better,” said utility player Justin Parr.
The field, built in ’82 for the Muskies is city-owned. It seats 7,500 people; and the Mallards average well over 6,000 per game. In 2007 the Madison Mallards drew over 200,000 fans for the second consecutive year.
“You can’t really ask for much more in summer ball, to have this kind of fan support when you’re not even playing pro ball yet. It’s something to learn from, you get used to playing in front of people and it carries into the future,” said Parr.
Warner Park is also called the “Duck Pond,” featuring the mascot, Maynard G. Mallard. The entry path to the ballpark is covered with duck tracks, and there’s green and gold everywhere (very Oregon Ducksesque). In right field is the “Duck Blind,” which gets you all you can eat food and beverages (yes, beer) for $27.
And it wouldn’t be minor league ball without quirky promotions or unique stadium experiences. The Duck Pond’s PA Announcer has a traditional call at every home game, when a player hits a foul ball in the stands the Announcer yells out “Weiner.” The reason is -catching a foul ball and returning it gets you a free hot dog.
For the homepage of the Madison Mallards
For the homepage of the Northwoods League
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports You can follow him on Twitter
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