If you build it …Written by Karl Rundgren | | firstname.lastname@example.org
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you: I’m not much of a sports person.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy watching a game, but I don’t follow it with the same devotion as a lot of people. I don’t keep track of the stats or the history or even some of the rivalries. To put it in perspective, when FOX Toledo Hardcore Sports Director Brad Fanning puts together his March Madness brackets, he seeks out the most uninformed person in the newsroom to fill one out, to fill the “dumb luck” role.
He usually comes to me.
That’s why it generally takes more than just a sporting event to get my interest; I’m looking for the whole package, something that transcends a simple game and becomes an experience. That’s why I think Fifth Third Field is so unique, and so wonderful.
When I first came to Toledo, I was impressed with how well the ballpark fit in Downtown, but I never actually went to a Mud Hens game for years. I finally got that opportunity in a unique way, tagging along with a group of Japanese exchange students from Ohio Northern University. While they all enjoyed the game, they were truly taken aback by the field. After driving through parts of Downtown which were visibly suffering, it felt like an oasis in the urban desert.
It actually reminded me of another sporting experience I had years ago in Texas.
There, high school football is almost a religion. People are rabid about it, and part of my job was to follow the Friday night lights and videotape games. I saw a lot of interesting competitions, but it was a game in the small town of Hawley that always stands out to me.
I was standing on the sidelines, doing my best to follow the action, when I noticed the people in the stands. The whole town must have been there.
Many were absorbed in the game, following their kids, while others were simply there for the community — to feel like part of something. There were people grilling turkey legs right next to the field, and before I knew what was happening, someone thrust one into my hand. That led to me trying to shoot video while taking bites of turkey and wiping grease on my jeans. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best video I ever shot.
I don’t remember which team won that game or the score, but I do remember that excitement that electrified the crowd and kept them coming back week after week.
I saw that same electricity last summer, when I took my son to his first Mud Hens game.
This would be a serious right of passage for some people, but I was trepidacious. I knew my 2-year-old would love the food, but I didn’t know if he would enjoy the game at all. Would he sit there? Would he cry?
It was then that I saw exactly how much effort goes into making Fifth Third Field an experience, and I saw how successfully they pull it off. The place was packed with more than 10,000 people — all of them excited. Screaming and shouting surrounded us, and before long my son began to realize that he could shout along with them, and no one would scold him.
Then he began to wonder why everyone was shouting, and he started watching the field, following the action.
Then there were fireworks, and he and I got the chance to run the bases. Sure, people were passing us left and right, and my son tried to double back to second base at one point, but I still look at the photos and laugh.
I’m not sure that you could have an experience like that at a major league venue. Sure, there’s still excitement, but you can’t help but feel a little more removed. Fifth Third Field feels more inviting. It attracts you back to Downtown Toledo, encourages you to have fun and ignites that community energy that we don’t see all the time.
It’s an energy that prompts even a sports-challenged guy like me to say, “Play ball, Toledo.”
Karl Rundgren is managing editor and co-anchor of FOX Toledo News.