Altvater: Let’s play two!Written by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
Nothing says the beginning of spring like the crack of a bat or a baseball smacking the leather of a catcher’s mitt. Baseball season is upon us once more. Although the Mud Hens will open 2015 on the road, their first home game is April 16, a day/night doubleheader versus the Columbus Clippers.
Every year, Opening Day becomes one of the most anticipated events in Downtown Toledo. Area restaurants will be jammed beyond capacity, numerous impromptu tailgate parties will spring up in parking lots around the stadium, as well as several well-planned and catered affairs.
The Mud Hens have provided the next best thing to major league baseball in Toledo since 1883. Do you know how the Mud Hens got their original name?
In 1896, the local team was called the Swamp Angels and played their home games at Bay View Park. The field located outside the city limits was exempt from city blue laws, thus beer could be sold for Sunday afternoon contests.
Bay View Park sat near a swamp inhabited by the American coot, a bird also known as the mud hen. The name stuck and the Toledo Mud Hens have been a professional team since the early days of baseball.
Toledo baseball fans have been able to witness some of the biggest names in the game. Casey Stengel, Jim Thorpe, Bobby Murcer, Kirby Puckett, Curtis Granderson, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer are just a few of the familiar names that have appeared on Mud Hens rosters over the years.
Toledo native Jamie Farr, as Cpl. Max Klinger, even wore a Mud Hens baseball cap on the popular television series “M*A*S*H.”
To the untrained eye, baseball seems like an athletic competition in slow motion. The leisurely pace is broken only occasionally by bursts of frantic action, when the batter happens to make contact with the speeding bullet being hurled by the pitcher.
Infielders and outfielders move as if in some time-worn dance to halt the batter’s attempt at taking each base and heading for the safety of home. As the action subsides, fans can return to their hot dogs, peanuts and cold beverages amazed and discuss the events that just unfolded on the diamond.
True baseball fans understand the mental stress and force of wills being contested with every pitch. Managers are plotting strategy, catchers are taking the measure of each hitter and watching any runner that happens to be on base. Each infielder constantly calculates the angles, spin rate and rotation of the ball should it be hit to them. Outfielders are always jockeying for the perfect position to be able to run down any fly ball hit in their direction.
Kids learn to play baseball at a young age and can relate to their heroes on the field. Every kid thinks that will be him on the diamond someday. Parents take sons and daughters to the baseball park and those cherished memories, of a day spent together, bond the parent and child for life.
I can still remember my father taking me to several Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds games. The memories bring a smile to my face every time I think of them.
Mud Hens fans get the opportunity to watch young players trying to make it onto a major league roster, as well as a few veterans who have had a “cup of coffee” in the bigs and are trying to get back.
The Mud Hens have had a very successful relationship as the AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers since 1987. Tigers that suffer an injury are often sent down to Toledo for a few games of rehab assignment before heading back to the big club. When the big club suffers an injury to one of its key players, the first place they call for a replacement is Toledo.
This will be the 14th season opener for Fifth Third Field in Downtown Toledo. A successful Mud Hens franchise has done a great deal to help revitalize the area around the ballpark and a plethora of dining and entertainment options dot the area.
There is no better park in baseball to spend a summer evening than Toledo’s Fifth Third Field.
Whether you watch the game from your seat in the upper deck or stand along the outfield wall, there are no bad seats in Fifth Third Field. If ballpark franks aren’t your thing, a multitude of food choices available from the vendors inside the ballpark can fill most appetites.
Toledo baseball fans are indeed lucky to have the Mud Hens. Make some memories with your children. Leave the smartphones, tablets and iPods at home. Bring them down to the ballpark, have a hot dog and maybe even snag a foul ball.
As the late Hall of Fame star, Mr. Chicago Cub Ernie Banks always said,
“Let’s play two.”