MALLARDS: Fans flock to home opener
1:40 AM 6/12/03
Chris LeBarton Wisconsin State Journal
It dawned quickly on Madison Mallards center fielder Josh Wettlaufer that Wednesday night’s home opener was going to be something special.
It took him a little longer to play his part in it, though.
Wettlaufer’s solo home run in the seventh inning set off a six-run explosion that fueled the Mallards’ come-from-behind 10-4 victory at Warner Park.
Witnessing the rally was a crowd of 5,642, a league record and believed to be the largest crowd to ever watch an organized baseball game in Madison.
“This was amazing,” said Wettlaufer, who plays for NAIA school St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. “Right from the start, when they announced my name at the beginning of the game, I had shivers run down my spine.”
The record crowd got all it could handle Wednesday, including its first look at recent renovations at the Duck Pond.
And while fans swamped the enlarged party deck in right field, it was the ball Wettlaufer hit 340 feet onto the deck that had people talking.
The homer was the Mallards’ fifth of the year and keyed their second rally in as many nights. Madison (6-3) overcame a 4-1 deficit Tuesday night in Duluth to close out a season-opening, eight-game trip.
“Josh is a little spark plug. He’s a big-game guy,” first-year Mallards manager Darrell Handelsman said.
“The whole night was unreal. We fed off the crowd. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The River Bats (6-3) came to town with the league’s top pitching staff, and starter Danny Campbell held the Mallards in check early – Madison had just two hits as it fell behind 4-0 after 4 innings.
But Campbell unraveled in the fifth, allowing two runs on three hits and an error as the Mallards slowly came to life.
The minor tremor erupted in the seventh. Wettlaufer started the outburst with his first homer of the year, Francois Larmore drove in the tying run and Doug Beck drew a walk that brought in the go-ahead run.
Not to be overlooked in the effort was Mallards’ bullpen.
Andy Watson (2-0) took over for starter Kyle Yates and allowed one hit and struck out five in 2 scoreless innings to earn the win. D.J. Roshone and Jon Olson also tossed scoreless innings for Madison.
“Those guys held it together for us until we got going,” Handelsman said.
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, was ebullient in his praise for the Mallards organization and the overflowing crowd.
“I was impressed,” he said. “These guys are a great contributor to Madison. What they’ve done to the park shows. And with this crowd you see that our fans appreciate it.”