In case there was any doubt, front office management of the Madison Mallards confirmed Wednesday night that they remain the mad scientists of baseball.
Their latest invention is part of what they're calling the TDS Triple Play Club, a new premium section located down the left field line at the Warner Park ballpark, just beyond third base, that replaces a section of steel bleachers that have long been an eyesore. The section will offer unobstructed views of the field from behind a three-foot brick wall with restored wooden seats from Chicago's Wrigley Field.
Here's where the mad scientist part comes in: 36 of the seats are mounted on swivels, like bar stools.
"We just came up with the idea a week ago," said team president Vern Stenman, presiding over the club's First Pitch event at the Great Dane Hilldale. "We were driving back from seeing [Mallards owner Steve Schmitt] throw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game in St. Louis and we were talking about the project and I said, 'How easy would it be to turn some of those into bar stools?' A few days later, we had a guy building them."
A prototype was displayed prominently at Wednesday's event, a symbol of how a dedication to providing fans with a quirky ballpark experience has made Mallards games one of Madison's favorite summer pastimes.
That dedication is clear to no one more than Conor Caloia, who takes over general manager duties this season from Stenman, who held the post for the last eight years.
"The size and scope of the operation continues to amaze me," Caloia said. "Our impact on the community and our responsibility to put an affordable, entertaining product on the field is unique."
The Mallards enter their tenth season in the Northwoods League, a summer college wood bat circuit. The 2010 roster features returnees Harold Riggins, an North Carolina State sophomore who holds the club record for homeruns in a season, and Kurtis Muller, an Iowa junior from Sun Prarie who was the team's MVP last year.
Caloia and Mallards manager C.J. Thieleke are both excited about the arrival of Virginia freshman Stephen Bruno, who is hitting .407 for the fourth-ranked Cavaliers. But Thieleke cautioned that there's a big difference between playing well in college baseball with its weekend games and maintaining consistency in the daily grind of the Northwoods League.
"The nervous thing is that you sign a lot of these guys in September or October, right out of high school, and then you have to wait to see if they have good freshman seasons," he said. "Sometimes a kid will under achieve a little during the spring, but that doesn't prevent them from having a great summer."