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Published On: July 21st, 2003

While 9 in the morning may not be early by some standards, for a baseball team that has played twenty six games in as many days, it is early. The Madison Mallards are scheduled to embark on a four game road trip at 9:15 this summer morn, their first extended road trip (and first time leaving the state of Wisconsin) since the an eight game marathon to open the season. After a long night that included a rain delayed game and Rhythm and Booms, which created New York City rush hour-like traffic after the game, the various members of the team begin straggling in to the stadium parking lot a bit before nine. The first to arrive is 6-foot-9 right-hander Andy Sigerich, whose car is locked inside the ballpark.

Texas Tech teammates Doug Beck and Sean Alexander are already at the stadium. Instead of fighting the heavy traffic after the teams’ 7-0 victory, Beck and Alexander elected to spend the night in the Mallards clubhouse. Eventually, the bus is loaded, and the Mallards head for Waterloo, Iowa slightly after their scheduled departure time. Left handed reliever Chris Maliszewski is in charge of providing the movie choices, from which “Casino” is chosen for the three-hour ride.

During the ride catcher Javi Sanchez makes the mistake of falling asleep with his mouth open. His Notre Dame teammates Tyler Jones and Joe Thaman encourage catcher Troy Harp to pour his can of Root Beer into their friend’s mouth. When the good-natured catcher hesitates, shortstop Mike Rozema grabs the can and pours a few drops. Rozema, always looking to put one over on Javi, gets a good chuckle when a confused Sanchez wakes up with soda on his face and shirt. The rest of the ride proceeds as usual. Most of the team is sleeping, playing cards, listening to music, or watching the movie. As usual, Harp gets ribbed about his southern accent. The happy, go lucky Louisville native accepts the teasing with a smile.

The team bus arrives at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo around 1:00. The Sunday crowd in Waterloo watches the Mallards come away with a 5-3 victory in a rare afternoon game. The game ends before 6:00, giving the weary team some extended free time. Harp suggests taking a movie, leading many Mallards to mimic Troy, who is still wearing his uniform and catching gear. “Hey y’all, wanna see a movie, y’all?” can be heard throughout the locker room.

The Mallards check into the Grand Hotel at around 6:30. Despite the name, there is nothing grand about this hotel, reportedly voted worst hotel in the Northwoods League for 2002. A rooming shortage leaves some players having to sleep five or six in meager accomodations. Time is divided between the movie channels on the hotel cable or more cards (spades being a team favorite).

Monday, June 30th begins for a very small portion of the team before nine in the morning. James Boone, Josh Wettlaufer, Francois Larmore and a few others brave the early morning for the hotel’s continental breakfast. At ten, an optional trip to the Field of Dreams movie site is scheduled, and about half the Mallards choose Shoeless Joe, Terence Mann, and Moonlight Graham over sleeping in. After the brief excursion to Dyersville, the players return loaded with souvenirs to the hotel and find ways to kill time before lunch. After eating their fill at a Waterloo establishment, the team returns to the hotel, where some players are surprisingly engrossed by the romantic comedy “Kate and Leopold.”

The bus loads up once again at 4:45 and heads back to Riverfront Stadium for the 7:05 game. A strong pitching effort by right-hander Corey Cabral leads the Mallards to a 5-1 victory and a series sweep of the Waterloo Bucks. Skipper Darrell Handelsman gives some words of praise and post game thoughts as the bus pulls into the hotel parking lot at 10:50. Some Mallards hustle to unload their gear and sprint across the street to the nearby Burger King before it closes at 11:00

With a long drive from Waterloo to Alexandria ahead of them, the Madison Mallards drag themselves out of bed and onto the bus before the eight o’clock deadline. The first few hours of the drive are rather quiet. “Reservoir Dogs” is chosen from Maliszewski’s video collection, though most of the team is asleep or listening to music during the movie.

Since most of the team did not bother with the hotel breakfast, the bus stops at a gas station somewhere in Minnesota around noon. Handelsman tells the team to keep it quick and gives the standard gas station instructions: “And don’t steal anything.” Players and coaches pick up the basics: chewing tobacco, Gatorade, water, sandwiches, and beef jerky. Handelsman and everyone in line get a laugh when “Skip” is asked for his photo ID by the cashier.

The Mallards arrive in Alexandria, MN around two o’clock. After checking into their new hotel, the team drops off its luggage and heads right back to the bus for lunch at the Garden Center?a bowling alley. In the basement, bacon cheeseburgers are served, and once again Troy Harp gets the short end. A few Mallards players fix themselves double cheeseburgers, leaving no patties for Harp. Luckily for Troy, the kitchen staff is able to fry up some extras. Since the weather is blistering hot in Alexandria, the coaching staff decides to hold off leaving for the field until 5:30.

Despite these precautions, Madison ends up on the wrong side of a 6-3 score. After a post game meal of fettuccini alfredo with chicken at Country Kitchen, the team heads back to the hotel, which is a significant step up from their lodgings in Waterloo. The end of a six game winning streak means a much quieter evening for the team.

The following day begins with an optional breakfast. The majority of the team does not emerge from the hotel until 2:30, when for the second straight day it is lunch at the bowling alley. Today’s main course is chicken sandwiches, and fortunately for Harp, everyone learned from the previous day’s mistake and each player only takes one sandwich to begin with.

Since the team heading back to Madison directly after the night’s game, the Mallards must check out of their hotel and must find someplace to kill time before they can head to the ballpark. Coaches Jason Plourde and C.J. Thieleke select the mall. J.P. and C.J. are left in charge because Handelsman is in the hospital. The Mallards field manager had come down with kidney pains earlier in the morning.

The Alexandria mall is by no means the Mall of America, so the players finish browsing rather quickly. Soon, the delegation that chose the mall over sleeping on the bus (as Francois and reliever Cody Hall do) settles into boredom. Rozema consumes several ice cream cones. Doug Beck and company start up a game of spades in the ice cream shop. First baseman Joe Thaman decides to get a hair cut, resisting the urgings of several teammates who offer money in exchange for a mullet.

Finally, the time comes to board the bus and head to the stadium. Thanks to heavy lightening and approaching rain, the game is called after five innings and the Mallards eek out a 2-1 win thanks on the strength of a Tyler Bullock homerun and a sensational relay throw to home plate by Mike Rozema. Given the toughness of their manager, it is no wonder that the team is in first place as not even the pains of a kidney stone are enough to keep Handelsman from the dugout.

After the game, the team hurries to the bus before the monsoon-like rain builds even stronger. Since most restaurants are closed, Alexandria general manager Ryan Voz fills a couple of garbage bags with hot dogs and brats and calls ahead to order pizza for the Mallards in St. Cloud. The team then heads for home in the midst of a downpour that seems to last for hours. The six hour bus ride calls for multiple movies, so Maliszewski selects “Tombstone” and “Apocalypse Now.” The bus pulls into a St. Cloud hotel where a delivery guy is waiting with ten pizzas. With their stomachs now full, the team now searches for ways to occupy their time on the bus. Once again, a game of cards is in full swing. Meanwhile, the weather conditions outside are a bit concerning, as many semis have pulled off the road due to the heavy rain.

As the sun begins to rise the Mallards pull into the Duck Pond parking lot. It is 5:30 in the morning. The players unload the bus and Handelsman puts the pitching staff in charge of picking up the trash left on the floor. After storing their gear in the locker room the players head back to their host families for a few hours of sleep before their 7:05 game against the Wisconsin Woodchucks. With a win the Mallards can clinch the first half South Division title guaranteeing home field advantage throughout the Northwoods League playoffs.