THE DUCK POND – The first and second outs weren’t the problem for the South Division in Wednesday night’s Northwoods League All-Star Game at Warner Park. It was getting that third and final out that proved both difficult and costly.
The North Division scored three runs with two outs, including the winner in the top of the 10th inning of an 8-7 victory over the South Division before an All-Star record crowd of 4,310. The South tied the game in the ninth, but grounded out in order to end the game.
“They did a good job with that and swung the bat well tonight,” said Madison Mallards manager Darrell Handelsman, who handled those duties for the South as well. “This is the most offense I’ve seen in this league in an All-Star Game in a long time.”
Handelsman, who has seen the last seven midseason exhibition games, was likely alluding to the past two years. The South beat the North 2-1 last season, while a combined Northwoods team beat Team USA 1-0 in 2001.
“These games are always close, and they just came out on top,” he said.
After watching the home team tie the game on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth, the North appeared to have lost all momentum after popping out and grounding out to start extra innings. But Thunder Bay first baseman Dan Soukup ignited one final two-out rally with a single up the middle, and Dale Legaspi moved him into scoring position with another single.
The South appeared to have dodged the bullet when a grounder rolled to La Crosse third baseman Matt Einspahr, but the ex-Mallards player bobbled the ball and the winning run scored.
North manager Tom Fleenor admitted he was impressed with the resilience of his players, who had just assembled in Madison a night earlier.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Fleenor, who manages the Rochester Honkers. “A lot of these guys are here because they’re scrappy guys, and maybe not necessarily the greatest players. But every single kid we had just had huge heart, just like they did. We just happened to get one more than they did.”
Alexandria’s Tom Wolf, who earned MVP honors after going 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, said his team wanted to put the South on its heels early.
“We wanted to set the tempo,” Wolf said.
The North wasted little time doing so, scoring in the first inning.
Madison’s Jon Olson got the start for the South. A converted starter for the Mallards who entered the game with a 2.16 ERA, the Kenosha native got into trouble early and allowed one run on two hits and a walk.
Olson might have escaped unscathed had University of Iowa left fielder Nate Yoho not played a fading hit to left field quite so aggressively. When Yoho’s sliding attempt came up short, Wes Long was able to score all the way from first base to give the North a 1-0 lead.
“They got huge hits with two outs,” Olson said. “That’s what wins games.”
The North added another run in the second inning after La Crosse left-hander Eddie Camacho gave up three consecutive singles before getting Wolf to ground out. The South dug the hole a little deeper in the fifth when Madison’s Corey Cabral had uncharacteristic control issues, allowing two runs on two hits, a hit batter and an error.
The South mounted a comeback in the fifth, and Waterloo’s Ben Zobrist (2-for-4, three RBIs, two runs) capped off the rally by sending a bases-clearing double to the right-center field fence. After Handelsman’s group took their only lead one inning later, both teams took turns tying the game in the seventh and ninth innings, respectively.
Unfortunately for the South, the luck ran out. Still, there were very few regrets from any of the players, particularly the eight Mallards that played in front of the home crowd.
“Oh no, this was great,” said reliever D.J. Roshone, who pitched one of the few scoreless innings for the South. “No one will dwell on wins and losses.”
League president optimistic
An admitted dreamer, Dick Radatz Jr. has arrived at a visionary’s crossroads.
On one hand, the co-founder and president of the Northwoods League can’t believe the success his decade-old project has had. On the other, he can’t keep himself from thinking about how much bigger the league can get.
Speaking at the Northwoods League All-Star Game at Warner Park Wednesday, Radatz said two more franchises could be added by 2005 and more will likely follow. The league has 10 teams – it began with five in 1994 – after franchises in La Crosse and Thunder Bay were added this season.
“How many are too many?” asked Radatz, who said the two most likely expansion cities for 2005 are Brainerd, Minn., and Lisle, Ill. “I really haven’t (thought about it), because I don’t think we’re halfway to too many. I’ve had this thing up to 24 teams (in my head).
“Call me a dreamer, but if I wasn’t we wouldn’t be standing here.”
The league still has an active lease in Brainerd (the city had a team from 1998 until 2002), and representatives from Lisle hosted an open house Saturday for the Northwoods League and the Frontier League. The city is considering the construction of a new baseball facility on the Benedictine University campus.
While Brainerd and Lisle are the main contenders, Radatz said there’s no shortage of interest if either team doesn’t work out. Waukesha and Eau Claire are potential in-state sites, and Radatz also mentioned the possibility of teams jumping from other leagues in the region: Clinton and Burlington (Midwest League), Sioux City (Northern League) and Cook County (Frontier League).
“Things are coming out of the woodwork now,” Radatz said. “It used to take us two years to get a call about a franchise. Now we literally get one a week.”
With the league as healthy as ever, Radatz has set his sights on bringing another aspect of the league to new levels.
“Our last frontier, for me, is to compete with the Cape Cod League for talent,” he said, referring to the country’s oldest and most respected summer league. “We’ve pretty much got every other summer collegiate league in the country beat. The last frontier is contending with the Cape for talent. I think they feel us.” – Chris LeBarton
Just another dad
Ned Yost usually goes by one title – manager of the Milwaukee Brewers – but Wednesday he went by another: proud parent.
With Major League Baseball on its break, Yost was on hand to watch his son, Ned Jr., who was joined by Madison’s Javi Sanchez as South Division All-Star catchers.
“I’ve got four kids, and every time my wife and I get the opportunity to participate in one of their events we do it,” said Yost, who took in one of his son’s games at Warner Park earlier in the year when the Brewers had an off day. “We’re real proud of Ned, and it’s real fun to come and watch him be successful at something he loves to do.”
Yost, who plays for the Wisconsin Woodchucks, is tied for the league lead in home runs with seven. – Chris LeBarton
Connie and Fish … and D.J.?
Fresh off his selection to the All-Star Game, Madison reliever D.J. Roshone may have also secured himself a spot on the local airwaves.
Roshone did a radio interview Wednesday morning on WZEE 104.1 and impressed morning disc jockey team Connie and Fish with his trash-talking ability.
“It was early, and they knew I was sleeping,” Roshone said. “(Fish) was throwing me a couple of jabs at me, so I had to throw him a punch or two.”
Roshone made a strong enough impression that he was invited back next week. – Chris LeBarton
A major help
Radatz said he believes the developmental and minor leagues aid the major league teams by building fan support. “You get a kid interested and he wants to come out to a couple Mallards’ games and sooner or later he’s going to say, ‘I want to go to Milwaukee, Dad, and see what Mecca is like compared to this little underling church here. Let’s go see Mecca,’ ” Radatz said. “I think we kind of help in that way.” – Jon Masson
La Crosse owner Dan Kapanke said he knew the expansion Loggers would be well-received. He just didn’t know how well. La Crosse’s average home attendance of 2,494 ranks second to Madison.
“It’s exceeding our expectations,” Kapanke said. “Organized baseball in La Crosse has been waiting to erupt for a long time.” – Jon Masson
Around the bases
Tommy Davis, a two-time National League batting champion with the Los Angles Dodgers, and Dan O’Brien, assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers, were the keynote speakers at Wednesday’s All-Star luncheon…The Mallards play 10 of their next 16 games at Warner Park. – Chris LeBarton