Growing up with the Mud HensWritten by Ryan Fowler | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Nobody ever said growing up was easy. Just ask the Toledo Mud Hens.
The franchise had been, and at times still is, the punch line to many jokes. For a while, you wondered if their claim to fame would remain as a reoccurring subplot on M*A*S*H.
But what Klinger could not have an envisioned in the 1980s became a reality in spring 2002.
The Mud Hens moved from Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee to some brand-new digs in Downtown. The fresh start breathed new life into the city’s most well-known sports team.
I was lucky to be part of it. As an intern with the Hens that first season, I watched Fifth Third Field and the Mud Hens evolve before my eyes.
Coincidentally, during my most recent move, I came across the journal I was required to keep during my time with the Hens.
Looking back, I assisted with everything from running the Jumbotron to typing up Happy Birthday messages for fans in attendance. I was, in essence, a utility player in the intern world.
I’m proud to say my internship with the Mud Hens was one of the best experiences of my life. The knowledge I gathered helped lead me to where I am now.
And I’m just a microcosm of how much the Mud Hens team has grown since the inaugural season Downtown.
Just look at the Detroit Tigers’ current roster. It’s bursting with former Hennies — players upgrading their ball caps from a “T” to an old English “D.”
In fact, the starting catcher for the Mud Hens on opening day at Fifth Third in 2002 was Brandon Inge. Now, the utility man has earned the right to call himself the everyday catcher in Detroit.
Other names that have graced Toledo with their presence before traveling Interstate 75 include Curtis Granderson and Marcus Thames, two integral pieces to the Tigers’ success.
And it’s not just the players, even public address announcer Bobb Vergiels got a call up to the majors after a long haul with the Hens.
The team’s maturing has as much to do with the players as it does with their home field advantage. Toledoans should be privileged to call Fifth Third Field their own. Baseball America ranks it one of the top five minor league ball parks in the nation.
Like the roster, the stadium itself has evolved over the past seven seasons. What was once a scoreboard are now two, hovering high above the seats, ready to entertain and inform all nine innings of play.
New this year, the scoreboard in left field will be digital. So, no more light bulbs popping if a batter crushes one to left.
The grass and field maintained to a pristine condition are thanks to three-time Turf Manager of the Year Jake Tyler and his gifted staff.
Walking around the stadium, you are blessed with an array of aromas. Hot dogs, popcorn and burgers wafting through the air are traditional baseball fare. But the Mud Hens are evolving and so is their menu.
This season prepare for pizza-stuffed soft pretzels oozing with cheese. If your sweet tooth is craving some good eats, then maybe the funnel cake fries are for you. Surf and turf is now possible, thanks to the BacHen Burger and Walleye Bites. Oh yeah, and there will be beer.
So remember when you are at a game this season how far this franchise has come. The shy, dorky team you crammed into a locker has busted out and is a perennial power in the International League, reminding us that the bird is the word in Toledo.
Ryan Fowler is the weekend sports anchor at NBC 24 and can be reached at email@example.com.