Published On: August 12th, 2005

More than two months ago, the 2005 Mallards were simply a group of collegiate players from across the country that had signed on to play summer baseball in Madison. A significant number of the players on head coach C.J. Thieleke?s roster had been through a summer with the Mallards, but plenty of new faces were on their way as well.

Now, 65 games later, the Mallards have come together as a team, helping to bring home a first-half South Division title, while posting the best overall record in the league, tied with Thunder Bay at 42-23 through Thursday. However, it hasn?t just been the success on the field that has made the summer of 2005 so special for the members of the Mallards, but rather the total experience of playing in the Northwoods League as a member of the Madison ball club.

?I remember when our spring season [at the University of Illinois] ended, me and [Mike] Rohde were so pumped to be coming up here again to play for the Mallards,? outfielder Ryan Rogowski said. ?There isn?t a better place to be playing baseball in the summer, with these fans, this park and these teammates.?

And while the Mallards are the first to admit that their winning ways have certainly helped add to the positive feelings around the clubhouse, this summer would have been a memorable one even without any championship banners.

?I had a teammate at Indiana State, Jake Eigsti, who played for St. Cloud, and he just told me how Madison was the coolest place and he said that he was jealous that I got to play here,? infielder Ryan Bond said. ?I didn?t really know what to expect at first, but after that first home stand I knew exactly what he meant. This place has just been great.?

While most of the Mallards have enjoyed their time in Madison, it has been even more special for a few Wisconsin natives that have had the ability to play in front of their family and friends all summer.

Mike Rohde, a mid-season All-Star and a staple in the Mallards line-up, grew up in Brookfield but did not get to play college baseball in Madison because the Badgers do not have a Division-I team. Yet for Rohde, playing for the Mallards is almost more rewarding.

?There are just so many great things about being able to play here in Madison, here in Wisconsin,? the utility infielder said. ?After I finished high school I thought my days of playing baseball in Wisconsin were done, but my three summers with the Mallards have been unbelievable. Madison is just such a great college town and in the summer it is just awesome.?

Rohde has certainly played like a person that is comfortable in his situation, posting a .310 batting average, and leading the team in doubles (14). He is also second on the team behind Illinois teammate Ryan Rogowski in hits (70), runs (41) and stolen bases (nine).

But unlike Rohde, a good portion of the Mallards are experiencing what life is like on the road in the Northwoods League for the first time. The players realize their time remaining is short. In two weeks they will be back home or on their way to school for the start of classes. Bond is certainly one of those that realizes how quickly the summer has flown, but also knows how much fun the ride has been.

?We have built such great relationships it?s just going to be tough to leave,? he said. ?With some of these guys, we might not see each other ever again. It?s good to know we might meet up somewhere down the road. I just hope that is the case.?

But with a 42-23 record, a first-half South Division title and the best overall record in the Northwoods League, the Mallards have put themselves in the position to make a few more memories. The Mallards have only two regular season home games remaining, and the crowds will no doubt be out in full force for fan appreciation weekend at the Duck Pond this Saturday and Sunday.

?Man, this place is going to be rocking,? catcher Nate Trumm said before the Mallards departed for their current five-game road trip. ?I want a sell-out Saturday night for when we get back from Rochester and I know that with the great fans we have, that it will happen.?

But no matter how many fans show up for the remaining home games, or how many wins the Mallards finish their 2005 season with, when the members of the 2005 Mallards have to clean out their lockers and the gates at the Duck Pond are locked for the winter, its safe to say that it will not just be the fans saying good-bye to a remarkable summer of baseball.

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