Princely visitors: Tigers to play Mud Hens in exhibition for charityWritten by Zach Davis | | email@example.com
For the first time since 2000, the Detroit Tigers are coming to Toledo.
The Mud Hens will host Detroit in an exhibition game at noon April 4 at Fifth Third Field with proceeds set to go to charity. Half will go to the Detroit Tigers Foundation and the other half to the Helping Hens Charitable Fund.
The meeting will mark the first exhibition game between the Tigers and Mud Hens since they played at Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee on June 1, 2000. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on FOX Sports Detroit.
Such exhibition games between a parent club and its affiliate team are rare, said Tigers’ director of minor league operations Dan Lunetta.
“These types of games are a rarity anymore; clubs now oftentimes go to a major league venue to conclude the spring training portion of the schedule,” Lunetta said. “It’s not a common occurrence.”
Although the practice of minor league teams hosting their major league affiliate has become uncommon, it was not always that way.
In fact, as part of the affiliation agreement between Major League Baseball and its minor leagues, the parent company used to be required to play its Triple-A club in an exhibition or pay the club $10,000. Around 2000, however, that rule was negotiated out of the agreement and the game became optional, leading to the 12-year hiatus since the Tigers have been to Toledo.
“Over the years, [Tigers general manager] Dave Dombrowski, Dan Lunetta and I have always had conversations about the possibility,” said Mud Hens President and General Manager Joe Napoli.? “The Tigers are kind of in a tough spot because everyone would love to host a Tigers exhibition game, including other communities, Double-A, Single-A and rookie ball clubs. All those cities would love to have them, too.”
In order to bring the Tigers to town, Napoli made an offer they couldn’t refuse. He suggested Toledo host the game and the teams could split the proceeds between their respective charities.
“That was the deal-maker,” Lunetta said. “Even absent of that, we most likely would have still scheduled the game, but when Joe made that proposal to us, that really allowed us to say, ‘Let’s play the game this year.’ What a wonderful thing to do for the charitable organizations that will benefit from the game.”
“They got back to us and said they loved the idea,” Napoli said. “That’s the notion that persuaded the Tigers to consider it and we can’t be more thankful. The Toledo community has responded in outstanding fashion, as they always do, so we are going to have a huge crowd and as a result over time there will be many charitable organizations that will benefit from the net proceeds.”
The exhibition game is set for the day before Detroit’s season-opener at home at 1 p.m. April 5 against the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers will travel to Toledo by bus and will take batting practice prior to the game, which will be open to the public.
That type of exposure to Detroit’s fans in Toledo is exactly what Lunetta and the Tigers are looking to bring.
“When you have your Triple-A club located so close to your major league club, there is going to be a natural strong fan base because of the close proximity,” Lunetta said. “At least now with the exhibition game, it gives the fans the opportunity to see the club live in a one-time game.”
The game will also give some fans the opportunity to see players they once watched play in a Mud Hens uniform.
Among the Tigers’ 40-man roster, 19 have played in Toledo: Al Alburquerque (pitcher), Duane Below (pitcher), Brennan Boesch (outfield), Phil Coke (pitcher), Andy Dirks (outfield), Brandon Inge (third base), Don Kelly (utility), Luis Marte (pitcher), Victor Martinez (catcher), Andy Oliver (pitcher), Rick Porcello (pitcher), Ryan Raburn (outfield), Ramon Santiago (second base), Max Scherzer (pitcher), Daniel Schlereth (pitcher), Jacob Turner (pitcher), Brayan Villarreal (pitcher), Adam Wilk (pitcher) and Danny Worth (third base).
“There’s no question there are going to be guys that played for Toledo that most likely will never see Toledo again,” Lunetta said. “I’m sure it presents some nice memories for them.”
Another connection is Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a native of Perrysburg. Leyland’s son, Patrick, was drafted by the Tigers in 2010.
The Tigers and Mud Hens have the fifth-longest affiliation between a major league team and its Triple-A affiliate, behind the Atlanta Braves/Gwinnett Braves (1966), Kansas City Royals/Omaha Storm Chasers (1969), Boston Red Sox/Pawtucket Red Sox (1973) and Chicago Cubs/Iowa Cubs (1981). The Tigers and Mud Hens joined forces in 1987.
“We have a tremendous long-standing relationship with the Toledo Mud Hens,” said Tigers President, CEO and General Manager David Dombrowski in a news release. “This exhibition game gives Mud Hens fans an opportunity to see the Tigers at Fifth Third Field, which is one of the finest ballparks in all of minor league baseball.”
With it having been 12 years since the Tigers last came to Toledo and no word when the next meeting between the two squads might be, Tigers fans who want to see their team play at Fifth Third Field may be waiting a while if they cannot get tickets to this year’s game.
“There are no guarantees this will happen again,” Napoli said. “The Tigers were gracious enough to do it and we as a community are lucky enough to have the timing work out where they have a fantastic team. We are talking about arguably three of the top 10 players in the game being on the Tigers with Prince Fielder, [Miguel] Cabrera and [Justin] Verlander. How often does that happen? We are incredibly excited.”
Season ticket holders were given the first opportunity to purchase tickets before about 1,000 tickets were offered to the general public on Jan. 7, selling out within 15 minutes, said Erik Ibsen, assistant general manager of tickets and operations. A limited number of standing-room only tickets, which went on sale starting March 3, are left for the game, he said.
The Mud Hens will follow up the game with its home opener on April 6 against Indianapolis at 5 p.m., kicking off a three-game weekend series with the Indians.