Hens have rich history passed through generationsWritten by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
When the Toledo Mud Hens return to the friendly confines of Fifth Third Field for Opening Day April 4, Downtown Toledo will once again feel the warmth of a new baseball season and a renewed hope for the boys of summer.
Baseball is America’s game and its leisurely pace is only a camouflage for the hectic activity always lurking just under the surface. The catcher constantly checks the batter’s stance and measures the runner’s lead at first base. The pitcher concentrates on the upcoming pitch and his motion to the plate. The infielders focus on what to do with the ball if it comes to them, while the outfielders prepare for a ball hit in their direction.
All of this quiet mental activity is shattered when the pitcher flings a 96 mph fastball and the batter puts the ball in play.
For the next 10 seconds everyone moves as if a ballet has broken out on the field. In the blink of an eye, the shortstop calculates the best route to intercept the ground ball and nimbly throws it to the first baseman to catch the streaking runner by the slimmest of margins.
Once again quiet and order are restored to the field and fans can discuss in astonishment the activity on the diamond and munch on a delicious ballpark hot dog or buttered popcorn.
Baseball has been passed down from generation to generation. Parents take their children and grandchildren to catch a baseball game and spend the day bonding in an enjoyable family activity.
It’s been this way for years. I vividly remember my father taking me to the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland for an Indians versus Yankees doubleheader. Even though it was one of the worst ballparks in baseball, it seemed like a shrine to me.
Rocky Colavito versus the mighty Yankees of 1961 was an epic battle for a 10-year-old boy to witness.
This scene has been repeated by countless families throughout the years and I have had the opportunity to take my children to many games. Now I even get to take my grandchildren.
Toledoans are lucky to have two major league teams within driving distance, but right here in our backyard is a minor league team with a storied history that provides quality baseball entertainment for a fraction of the price of the major leagues.
It’s hard to believe this will be the 13th season for Fifth Third Field. It opened in 2002 and provides a comfortable venue to catch a leisurely baseball game on a balmy summer evening in Northwest Ohio.
The Mud Hens enter the 2014 season with a familiar face in the dugout. Manager Larry Parrish is returning for his third stint as skipper. He first led the team in 2003 and, in his second tour, brought the Governors’ Cup to Toledo in 2005 and 2006.
There has been a professional baseball team in Toledo since 1883 and the current franchise can trace its heritage to 1896. Back then the team played at Bay View Park near the marshlands, which were inhabited by the American Coot, also known as the mud hen. The team was dubbed the Mud Hens and the name has stuck for more than 119 years.
Some great names have passed through Toledo on their way to notable careers in baseball. Hall of Famer Casey Stengel was a manager here and led the team to the American Association pennant in 1927.
One of the greatest all-round athletes of all time, Jim Thorpe, played for the Mud Hens in 1921. Brandon Inge, Kirby Puckett and Curtis Granderson are just a few of the other familiar names that spent time in a Mud Hens jersey.
Actor Jamie Farr, born and raised in Toledo, even wore Mud Hens apparel on the popular television series “M*A*S*H.”
The team has been associated with the Western Division of the International League since 1965. Throughout the years, they have been affiliated with teams such as the Yankees, Phillies, Indians and Twins. Since 1987, the Mud Hens have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
Toledo’s close proximity to Detroit allows the major league parent to easily shuttle players back and forth. The Tigers can add an injured player to the Mud Hens roster for a short rehab assignment or send down a player who is struggling for some additional training or a confidence boost.
Consequently, Mud Hens fans get a chance to see some of the biggest names in the game playing right here in Toledo.
Even though both Cleveland and Detroit are within short drives, the Mud Hens have thrived over the years. The cost for a family to attend a Tigers or Indians game can run upwards of $200, while a trip to Fifth Third Field will do a lot less damage to the family budget and is just as exciting.
There is something special about a parent bringing a son or daughter to the ballpark to watch a baseball game. I have very fond memories of attending my first game with my dad and have enjoyed taking my children and grandchildren to many games over the years.
It has been an unusually cold and difficult winter in Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. The return of the Mud Hens to Toledo signals the rebirth of spring and the hope for another exciting summer of baseball in Toledo.
Leave the smartphones, video games and other mobile devices at home and head to Fifth Third Field. Grab a hot dog and a cold drink at the park. Maybe you can reconnect with your family, just like your dad did.
Tags: Actor Jamie Farr, also known as the mud hen, American Coot, Bay View Park, Cleveland, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, Fifth Third Field, Governors’ Cup, Hall of Famer Casey Stengel, Indians and Twins, M*A*S*H, manager Larry Parrish, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, New York Yankees, Opening Day April 4, Phillies, Rocky Colavito, Toledo Mud Hens, Triple-A affiliate, Yankees