The Duluth-Superior Dukes won't take the field for almost a full month, but new manager Al Gallagher is already in midseason form when it comes to wheeling and dealing.

It still seems to be trying to snow outside, but Gallagher is making moves to put together a winning team for the upcoming Northern League season, regardless of where he has to go to find players. How far will he go? So far, he's got players from Japan and Spain, to say nothing of all points in between.

Some familiar names will be back holding down key spots in the batting order -- names like Runk and Morrison. But in Gallagher's world, success will depend on finding new players who can upgrade the Dukes from last season, which signals improved pitching and defense, where last year's team had some holes.

When Gallagher was told about a 35-and-over baseball league that plays in the state, he said: "Bring 'em out. Maybe we can find somebody we can sign. If they can play, I don't care if they're 60."

He's only partially kidding, but next month's tryout camp will be closely scrutinized.

"We've got a 31-year-old rookie and a few others we signed from a tryout camp in Florida," Gallagher said. "We're bringing in 15 pitchers, and I think out of there we'll wind up with a pretty solid pitching staff."

With all the wheeling and dealing, Gallagher has tried to oblige players who may not want to play in Duluth because of the notorious chilly winds that blow off the lake in the early summer.

"But despite what some people say, there are a lot of players who love it here in Duluth," Gallagher said.

He did lose a couple of players he wanted here. One is pitcher Klae Calvert, and another is Anthony "Big Papa" Lewis, who is returning to the Northern League after a year's absence.

"Big Papa decided to go to Winnipeg," Gallagher said. "I'd have loved to have him here, and we had a deal worked out with Winnipeg that if he wanted to come to Duluth, he could. But he chose to stay in Winnipeg. You know, I don't know if he could have a year like he did here a couple years ago. And a lot of guys are as worried about success as failure.

"I wanted to keep Calvert, too, because he's an outstanding pitcher. But there are some financial reasons that make you do things, and we got a great deal to move Klae to Saint Paul. I hate to trade a guy like him inside our league. He's a good guy, and he can throw a lot of innings, and he'll be a hard guy to replace. But we had to make the deal out of necessity, and his is the only deal I made that I hated to make."

Enough about the departures, however. It's the incoming players who should make it an interesting season.

"Tom Masterman is a 31-year-old rookie," Gallagher said. "He's from Saint Paul, and he signed and played at Winnipeg in 1995, and he could throw the ball 90 miles per hour. He got hurt after 19 games, and he retired. But he came back to Florida for the tryout camp, and he's still considered a rookie."

From Spain, of all places, Fidel Torres is a pitcher who threw for the Spanish National Team and will pitch for the Dukes this summer. Jason Sigley is another pitcher signed out of the Florida tryout camp.

John Daniels is expected to be the key to the bullpen. "He had 14 saves for Houston's Double-A team, and he might be our stopper in the bullpen," Gallagher said. Anthony Bacci is a solid left-handed pitcher, and Jose Villanos is a Cuban who struck out 148 in the California League last season.

Gallagher is taking a gamble on a player he liked from his days of managing in Madison. He signed Andy Zwrchitz, a strong right-handed pitcher whose return to full health is a major issue. "He's been out for 20 months after elbow surgery," Gallagher said. "He was 3-0 for me in Madison when he got hurt. He had to have what they call 'Tommy John surgery.' They had to take tendons from his wrist and put it in at the shoulder."

The mystery of how to pronounce Zwrchitz has been solved by Gallagher. "He pronounces it like you're saying, 'Squeeze-it,'" Gallagher said.

Jeremy Book and Joe Montgomery will add to the pitching strength.

Adding to the hitting, Gallagher is bringing in Tomoyaki Takayama from Japan, after he also pitched for a Japanese team the last two years.

Bolstering the offense, Gallagher is bringing Marlon Roche aboard, after he averaged .330 in Venezuela. Asked what position Roche plays, Gallagher said, "Hitter. He plays hitter. He can play outfield, but mostly, he hits."

He plans some more moves. "We're not close to being final yet," he said. "We've still got to get about five more players, just to make small improvements. I call it fine-tuning."

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