I'm not much of a sports fan, but I tend to like it more the farther away it is from the major leagues. Other than a Washington Wizards game in 2003 and Milwaukee Brewers game in 2011, all the sporting events I've attended in the last ten years have been minor league level or lower: a D.C. Divas women's football game; a few Frederick Keys minor league baseball games; the 2010 USA Hockey Women's Senior C national tournament; a UW-Madison women's hockey game; several of my nephew's soccer, basketball, or football games; and of course quite a few Mallards Games.
The Northwoods League, of which the Mallards are part, is about as minor as minor leagues get; it's not even a professional league. All the players are college students, so they can't be paid without forfeiting their NCAA eligibility. I believe the club is allowed to feed them and put them up in hotels overnight for away games, but beyond that, they get nothing ... except for the experience of playing baseball in genuine minor-league style: wooden bats, long bus rides, a grueling schedule, and fans in the stands. (One of the players mentioned that his college team typically draws 200 people, so I would imagine that playing in front of 6,000+ fans is something that would take some getting used to.) For an aspiring pro baseball player, that's probably payment enough.
This afternoon, I went out to the Duck Pond for a championship celebration. Because why not? I attended a couple of games this summer, so I sort of felt invested in their season, and they were offering free beer (and soda, thankfully) and brats. And it was a beautiful day in Madison: clear blue skies, temperatures in the upper 70s, low humidity ... just the kind of day you'd want to spend part of at the ballpark. They had the championship trophy on display right next to the beer stand (in Wisconsin, if you want everyone to see something, you put it close to where the beer is being served) and while it's not exactly the Stanley Cup -- I've seen more impressive high school speech tournament trophies -- it was still weirdly exciting to see. World champions, right here in Madison!
Well, world champions sort of. The Northwoods League includes a team in Thunder Bay, Ontario, so it's a world championship in the same way that the NBA or MLB championship is. Close enough for me.