THE DUCK POND — Francois Larmore didn’t expect the 2003 edition of the Madison Mallards would bond as quickly or as tightly as they have.
Truth be told, the Mallards’ starting right fielder is amazed at the chemistry that has developed just two weeks into the season.
“We’re gelling as a team,” said Larmore, a junior at Marshall University. “I love it. If my college team was like this, I wouldn’t want to stop playing college ball. Seriously, right now I would rather play here than anywhere else.”
First-year manager Darrell Handelsman credits the team’s unusually tight camaraderie to a number of factors, including a lengthy road trip to open the season, a fast start and solid group of clubhouse leaders.
Crediting older players like Doug Beck, Mike Rozema and Javier Sanchez for reinforcing the coaching staff’s emphasis on effort and responsibility, Handelsman said his job is made easier.
“There’s not a bad guy in the bunch,” Handelsman said. “And they all want to do is win. That’s their No. 1 priority. These guys never quit. Never.”
The results are tangible. Entering Saturday night’s game against Duluth at Warner Park – which ended too late to be included in this edition – the Mallards are 9-3 and have won seven games in break the franchise record set in 2001. Madison has overcome a deficit to win six times, including four comebacks in its last five games.
Beck, the team’s unofficial captain, said the team is filled with unselfish players that are motivated by one another.
“I played with guys last year that, you know, half of us couldn’t stand each other, and this guy is this, that guy is that and this guy here doesn’t want to talk to you because he’s too cool,” said Beck, a Texas Tech product.
“This team, everyone’s been great. I’m sure that the winning helps a lot, but if we can keep it going and keep playing good baseball we’ll be fine.”
Burning up the base paths
Handelsman promised to bring a more exciting brand of baseball to town, and so far his team has failed to disappoint. In addition to late-inning rallies, Madison has been the Northwoods League’s most proficient base running team.
The Mallards swiped 54 bases on 61 attempts (88 percent) in their first 12 games, putting them on pace to steal nearly 300 bases this season. Even though the pace is expected to diminish, the team should still be able to easily eclipse the current mark of 192 set by Waterloo in 1996.
Even Handelsman, who managed the Bucks during their record-setting season, is surprised at how much success the Mallards have found on the base paths.
“I expected us to steal a lot of bases, but not the success rate we’ve had,” he said. “If we were at 80 percent, I’d be thrilled.”
Sean Alexander leads the team with nine stolen bases, while Larmore is one behind with eight. The team has already stolen more bases than they did all of last season (47). The next closest club in the league is Waterloo, which had stolen 22 bases in 33 attempts going into Saturday’s game.
Wins are at home
Playing their first eight games on the road tested the Mallards, but their reward was 15 home games in the month of June. The lengthy homestands (stretches of six, five and four games) should help Madison in both the record column and attendance figures.
The players don’t seem to mind, either.
“We certainly get more sleep,” Beck said.
Mallards rally past Huskies
The Madison Mallards won their seventh straight game Saturday, rallying from a three-run deficit to beat the Duluth Huskies 10-5 in front of 3,013 at Warner Park.
Duluth led 5-2 after four innings but the Mallards scored six runs in the fifth inning to take the lead for good. The Mallards added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth.
Cody Hall, who relieved starter Jake Hansen, picked up the victory for the Mallards. He allowed just one hit in 2 innings. Andy Watson finished the effort with three innings of two-hit relief.
James Boone, Javier Sanchez, Joe Thaman and Kyle Yates had two RBIs apiece for the Mallards.