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Published On: June 10th, 2003

MADISON — The folks at Warner Park have been working around the clock getting ready for the Madison Mallards’ 2003 home opener.

The front office is getting the word out about Wednesday’s 7:05 game. The construction crews are putting the finishing touches on renovations at the Duck Pond. Owner Steve Schmitt is making sure the signs around the ballpark are hung just right.

Even the Mallards’ seamstress has gotten into the act, sewing new names onto virtually every Madison uniform. Only two players return from last year’s team, and just one – pitcher Cody Hall – was on the opening day roster a year ago.

“I thought there was going to be a couple more (players back),” Hall said last week, looking out at a bevy of unfamiliar faces at practice. “It’s good to be back….I loved playing here last year. Every time you went out, there was a good crowd and it’s just a lot of fun. Madison’s a great town.”

The Mallards had hoped to bring back more than just Hall and former Madison West star David Hrncirik, who is with the team for a full season after catching on at the end of July last year.

The team offered return invitations to a dozen or so players and signed five. But Mallards veterans Madison Edwards, Mike Lorenzo and Brady Endl – a Jefferson native and UW-White- water athlete who was the only player to be with the team since its inception in 2001 – ultimately opted not to return.

Which is fine, according to Mallards general manager Vern Stenman, who pointed to the team’s 24-40 record in 2002 and said it will probably work out for the best to let new manager Darrell Handelsman operate a nearly clean slate.

“We weren’t so good last year,” Stenman said. “So why would you stick with the same old guys? You give it a new shot, you put a different spin on the team.”

Hall, however, was always a piece of the puzzle. The right-hander from Waco, Texas, was voted the Mallards’ top pitcher a year ago after posting a 3-4 record and a 3.38 earned-run average.

“He’s exactly what you look for in this league,” Stenman said. “You look at all the characteristics of a guy that Darrell and I think help you win, and Cody Hall really exemplifies those things.”

After making nine starts in 2002, Hall has been shifted to the bullpen this summer. He already has made three appearances in the Mallards’ seven games, giving up two runs in 6 innings.

The move out of the starting rotation was designed to shore up Madison’s relief pitching, which was an Achilles’ heel for the team last year.

“The bullpen in this league is what decides the league,” said Handelsman, who won the 2002 Northwoods League championship with Waterloo. “Whoever has the best bullpen, whoever has guys at the end of the game that can get it done.”

Hall didn’t stray far from home for college, taking his talents to Baylor University. The Bears finished one game shy of the College World Series this season.

He struggled with some arm injuries a year ago, and redshirted this spring at Baylor. He made eight appearances out of the bullpen in each of his first two seasons.

“It was a good learning experience for me,” Hall said of the redshirt. “I felt like I got better as that went along, and that’s all I want to do is get better every year.”

Taking a spring off from game action – Hall said he didn’t even throw a ball in the two weeks prior to arriving in Madison – will only benefit him as the Mallards play 64 games in 68 days.

“He’s got a fresh arm,” Stenman said. “He’s a guy that we feel comfortable throwing out there every night.”

Handelsman said he is counting on Hall to not only anchor the Mallards’ pitching staff, but also help guide the rest of the players through their first season in Madison.

“Cody’s a bulldog. He’s got experience at a big program. He’s got league experience,” Handelsman said. “He’s ready to go, and he wants to be a leader.”

Mallards’ Home Opener

What: Madison Mallards’ home opener.

When: Wednesday night at 7:05 p.m.

Where: Warner Park.

Tickets: Adults pay $6 for reserved, $5 for general admission. Children 6-to-14 pay $4 for reserved and $3 for general admission. Kids 5-and-under are free. The new Duck Blind, featuring unlimited food and soda, is $16 for adults and $14 for kids 12-and-under (tickets not included), and $20 for unlimited food, soda and beer for adults.

Around the horn: After an eight-game, 1,700-mile road trip, the Mallards return home for Charter Communications Opening Day. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will throw out the first pitch and the first 2,500 fans will receive Thunder Stix compliments of U.S. Cellular. In addition, every fan will receive a Suttle Straus poster schedule.

For more information, call (608) 246-4277 or log onto www.mallardsbaseball.com.