Many Mud Hens graduate to greatnessWritten by Nicholas Huenefeld | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Hey, I saw that guy when he played for the Mud Hens.”
That’s uttered less often these days due to younger players skipping Triple-A, but it still happens and it’s exciting when it does.
The current biggest name of all may be Detroit’s Curtis Granderson, who played for the Mud Hens in 2005 before becoming the starting center fielder to begin the 2006 season.
Granderson wasn’t familiar with Toledo right away, but got comfortable quickly.
“I had honestly never heard anyone talk about [Toledo], except for in the Tigers organization as it being our Triple-A team,” Granderson said in an e-mail. “After getting a chance to play there, my thoughts were that Toledo is a pretty cool little city.”
Granderson said his favorite memory in Toledo was when the team would “get loose” before games and make the new person in the dugout get in the middle and do it.
“And I mean anyone, from cops to trainers to players,” he said.
The tutelage with the Mud Hens helped Granderson, especially from hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham.
“It took me a little bit of time to understand what [Bull] was trying to say because my approach to hitting was different,” Granderson said. “Then I started to see results, and I still work with [Bull] every spring training and even talk to him during the seasons.”
Granderson also credited teammate DeWayne Wise for helping him learn the nuances of Fifth Third Field. Sandy Martinez was another factor in Granderson’s development.
“[Martinez] taught me the importance of getting triples,” Granderson said. “There were a few games earlier in my 2005 season that I hit doubles where I probably could have stretched it into a triple.
“He spoke to me and said that if I advance and get the triple, it helps rate my speed higher.
“I also started learning when to advance and go to third base for a triple. If the outfielder didn’t have the ball by the time I touched second base, I would keep going to third, and I’ve carried that over to Detroit.
“Some could say that I was on the fast track,” Granderson said. “After being drafted in 2002, I made my debut in 2004. I skipped rookie ball my first year and Low-A my second year, but then played in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A.”
Granderson sees one distinct advantage to playing minor league ball.
“You get your body used to 140-plus games, which is closer to the 162 played in MLB,” he said. “In college, the most you would play would be 56 and in high school, you would only play about 30.”
Besides Granderson, many former and current Tigers got their start with the Mud Hens.
- Craig Monroe, a member of the 2006 Detroit Tigers World Series team, may start in the outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year.
- Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge played in Toledo in 2002 and 2003. Along with Inge and Monroe, other members of the 2006 World Series team who saw time in Toledo include Mike Maroth, Alexis Gomez (who hit some big home runs in the 2006 ALCS against the A’s) and Marcus Thames, who will get a lot of time at designated hitter for the Tigers this season.
- On the opposite end of that World Series loss was Jeff Weaver, who started for St. Louis against the Tigers. He played for the Mud Hens in 2000 and was a former Tigers prospect.
- Ryan Ludwick, who had a big season in the majors last season with the Cardinals, played for the Mud Hens in 2006. Another former Hen who made it big in the majors was Carlos Pena, former first baseman for the Hens and current first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays.
- Former Tigers Eric Munson, Nate Cornejo, Macay McBride and Chris Shelton also saw time in T-Town. Current Tigers who played for the Mud Hens include Opening Day closer Fernando Rodney (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007), his bullpen mate and former starter Nate Robertson (2003), utility infielder Ramon Santiago (2002, 2006, 2007) and Guitar Hero aficionado Joel Zumaya (2005, 2007).
- However, the most interesting Mud Hens of all are the ones you may have never known played or coached in Toledo.
- Hack Wilson, a .307 lifetime major league batter who holds the major league record with 191 RBIs in a season and hit .343 in 55 games with Toledo early in his career.
- U.S. congressman Jim Bunning, who won 224 games in the majors, managed the Mud Hens in 1974 and 1975.
- Kirby Puckett, who won World Series titles with the Twins in 1987 and 1991, hit .263 in 21 games for the Mud Hens in 1984, while eventually becoming a .318 career hitter in Minnesota.
- Olympic hero Jim Thorpe played for the Mud Hens. Moreover, Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel spent some time in Toledo, as did current Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge.