For George Dreckmann, it's all about the baseball.
"I love baseball," says Dreckmann, 56, by day Madison's recycling coordinator. "I played it as a kid, and it's always stuck with me."
Dreckmann, a longtime north-sider, has been a Mallards season ticket holder since 2001, when the team came to town. But he's been a regular at Warner Park going back to 1994, when the minor league Madison Hatters played a single season here.
"I took my very young kids to a game," he recalls. "They enjoyed it. They ran around, and it was just a good atmosphere."
Dreckmann's two kids went on to summer jobs with the Mallards. His son is still on the payroll, running the pitch speed and electric scoreboard.
But it's the baseball that draws him. The games are competitive, with fewer home runs and more hits, bunts and steals than in the majors. "I don't like to see 13-10 games where there are nine home runs," he says.
Dreckmann also doesn't like being among fans who go to games to get loaded. Warner has decks for the party-hearty crowd, leaving the main stands for "families and those who are here to watch baseball."
Count Linda Lowrey among them. The 58-year-old state employee has been a mainstay at Warner Park since the minor league Madison Muskies came here in 1982. She reckons that, in the 24 seasons of baseball since then, she's missed 11 games. (Madison was teamless in 1995, before the Northern League Black Wolf began their six-year run.) Of the 205 Mallards home games since 2001, she's been to all but one - when a dog bit her leg and she had to have stitches.
Lowrey, whose photo hangs on the Wall of Fame behind the stands at Warner, buys five season box seats. Her husband and mother usually join her; the extra seats are for friends or belongings. She scores every at-bat, and has 24 years of completed scorecards to show for it. When the Milwaukee Brewers play at the same time, she listens on radio. She's visited ballparks all over the country.
"Fan is short for fanatic, and that's me when it comes to baseball," says Lowrey.
Jim Addis can relate. "It almost becomes an obsession," says the former DNR division head, 69. "Sometimes, we can't go do other things because there's a Mallards game."
Addis occasionally went to Muskies or Black Wolf games. But he didn't really catch the bug until the Mallards came to town. He's since become the team's unofficial photographer, snapping pictures during games and at times joining the team on the road.
"It's just a lot of fun," says Addis, who together with his wife, Ann, has season tickets. The games are "good baseball and inexpensive," and he likes meeting other fans. "It's a big family event."
Mallards general manager Vern Stenman says his team has relatively few season ticket holders, about 250. Another Northwoods League team, the La Crosse Loggers, sells 2,500 of its 3,000 tickets to season ticket holders. Most fans at Mallards games attend nine games or fewer each year.
That was the kind of fan John Sanden used to be, for the various teams at Warner Park. But then the retired Ameritech worker, 59, attended one of the last games of the Mallards' first season with his son, Bill. He says Bill, 24, who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk or talk but is mentally "in tune with everything," liked it a lot. "We made it a point to go back."
Now Mallards games have become a part of their lives. "It's like being at a party that starts in the beginning of June and goes to the middle of August," says John, noting that it's a place where he and Bill, who uses a wheelchair, always feel welcome.
"Everybody likes seeing us," he says. Besides, he adds incontrovertibly, "It's better than sitting home watching television."