At the Madison Mallards' "First Pitch" event in April, team president Vern Stenman, general manager Conor Caloia and manager C.J. Thieleke all gave the same answer when asked to name the guy they couldn't wait to see on the field at the Warner Park Duck Pond this summer: Virginia shortstop Stephen Bruno.
Eleven games into the season, they're still waiting.
Bruno and his Virginia teammates were just eliminated from the NCAA baseball tournament Monday, so he won't join the Mallards until this weekend. Bruno hit .388 as a backup during the college season this spring.
North Carolina State slugger Harold Riggins, who hit nine home runs and tallied 48 RBIs for the Mallards last summer, is also just arriving in town. And Sun Prairie native Kurtis Muller, the team's 2009 MVP, left last week after just one game when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite the absence of those three big bats, the Mallards are leading the Northwoods League with a .277 team batting average. At 6-5, they're in third place in their division, but only 2-1/2 games behind Eau Claire.
"We're in a good position right now without all of our horses in the stable," says Caloia. "We've gotten a lot of help from some of our temporary players."
That includes guys like UW-Platteville's Brett Benesh and MATC's Justin Scanlon, who both grew up in the Madison area. They've adapted quickly to hitting with a wood bat, turning in .286 averages. In a league stacked with prospects from top Division I programs, signing these local players to short-term contracts has kept the Mallards within striking distance.