‘Symbolic, quasi-end to the pandemic’: First game in 20 months ushers in Madison Mallards season

MADISON, Wis. – After being shut out by the pandemic for 20 months, the Madison Mallards are diving back into baseball.

Over the past year, the Duck Pond has found ways to provide entertainment, with events such as movie nights, but on Monday, players stepped back up to the diamond and fans returned to the stands for the opening game against the Lakeshore Chinooks.

That includes Madison-area residents Clare and David Kassa, along with their two sons.

“This is really our first thing that all four of us have gone (to) out in public since last March, so it’s pretty exciting to be out and about,” Clare Kassa said. “Usually, the funnel fries are pretty good, a family favorite.”

“I play little league baseball, so I like the baseball,” her son Drake said.

Whatever brought fans to the park, they agreed it felt good to be back.

“I’m excited for the first pitch today,” David Kassa said. “It’s kind of a symbolic, quasi-end to the pandemic.”

That relief of being in the home stretch of the pandemic extended to families from out of town.

“Our son is the starting pitcher today,” said Michael Lauk, referring to Ryan Lauk, a right-handed pitcher out of Wagner University. “We’re coming from the east coast. We’re really excited.”

No matter where fans came from, all signs seem to be pointing in the same direction.

“It’s just exciting to be out here,” said Michael Lauk, who wasn’t able to travel to see his son play last year. “With everyone through with COVID, we can finally start to get back to some normalcy. It’s just fantastic.”

A ‘nine-inning vacation’ from months of pandemic life

“Our hope is to provide relief, a release, a nine-inning vacation from what the last year and a half has been,” Madison Mallards President Vern Stenman said.

In that past year and a half, there was no winning.

“The uncertainty of last year was devastating and extremely challenging for us as a business,” Stenman said. “It’s exciting to know with certainty the opportunities in front of us.”

Beyond a rebrand, the Mallards have a relatively normal looking season on deck for the rest of the summer. Monday’s opener and Tuesday’s game were set at 30% capacity, but with Dane County’s restrictions ending Wednesday, Friday’s game will be back to full capacity.

“We’re really looking forward to Friday, the first large-scale event hosted at 100% capacity in Dane County since March of last year,” Stenman said. “For us to be able to be that spot that is probably the first time we see a significant gathering come together safely, we’re really excited about that.”

With public health restrictions ending Wednesday, Stenman said there will be sections in the stadium for fans who prefer extra distance rather than sections for those who have been fully vaccinated. Overall, he said surveyed fans are ready to begin gathering normally again.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand for things to return to normal,” he said.

“It feels really safe here because it’s nice and outside,” Clare Kassa said. “We’re feeling pretty good.”