July 2006 Issue
Toldeo celebrates the Great American Pastime with the Triple-A All-Star Game and more.
Baseball is a red-hot commodity in Toledo: In 2002, a new ballpark opened for the Toledo Mud Hens, the city's Triple-A International League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Last season, the Mud Hens won their first championship since 1967. And this month, the city will host the Triple-A All Star Game for the first time ever.
In Hollywood, such a script would not seem believable: No one has so much good fortune in such a short period of time. But in this case, every bit of the story is true.
"If we would have written a book, we couldn't have possibly written it like this, because people would have thought it was a fairy tale," Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli says.
The story began on April 9, 2002, when the Mud Hens played their first game at Fifth Third Field. The team set an attendance record of 547,204 that season. "There was an outpouring of support that went beyond expectations," Napoli recalls.
That mark held until last season, perhaps the most memorable in Mud Hens history. Another attendance record was set when 548,403 fans came through the turnstiles, attracted by the team's great performance: The Mud Hens won the West Division of the International League with an 89-55 record and advanced to postseason play, where they beat the Norfolk Tides in the opening round best-of-five series, then swept the Indianapolis Indians to win their first Governors' Cup title since 1967. The date September 15 - the day the Mud Hens clinched the International League championship - will go down in the city's sports lore.
The Mud Hens have not only been the hottest ticket in town, but one of the hottest in all of minor league baseball. The team played in front of 29 sellout audiences during the 2005 season and sold out 106 games going into this season in the four-year history of the ballpark.
"When you look at the impact on the community, if you try to measure it, it's literally off the charts," Napoli says.
And now, the storybook tale that began four years ago will culminate when Toledo hosts the All-Star festivities July 8â€“12.
The highlight of the week, of course, will be the game itself on July 12, when the stars from the International League take on their counterparts from the Pacific Coast League. Fans could end up seeing future big-league stars. Among the players who have gone on to stardom after appearing in the Triple-A All-Star game are Jim Thome and Chipper Jones (1993), Derek Jeter (1995), Brian Giles (1996), Todd Helton (1997), Alfonso Soriano (2000) and Adam Dunn (2001). The game will have a Toledo feel, since Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish will manage the IL team while Toledo pitching coach Jeff Jones will be on the coaching staff. Mud Hens trainer Matt Rankin will serve as the IL's trainer for the game.
The game is the grand finale to All-Star festivities that also include special merchandise, an auction, fan fest and a home-run derby. Put it all together and there will be what Napoli calls a neighborhood block party.
"We think it will be extremely well received by not only the community, but also the region," he says. "Toledo, northwest Ohio and the state of Ohio will be in the national spotlight."
Members of the Mud Hens' front office staff visited other minor league cities that have hosted All-Star Games, as well as Detroit during last year's Major League All-Star Game festivities. "We wanted to see what they did and pick up what we could from them," Napoli says. "We also wanted to see how we can raise the bar a little."
Considering professional baseball has been in Toledo since 1883 and this is the first time the city has hosted a baseball All-Star Game of any kind, it truly is a special moment.
"It's been a labor of love," says "Napoli. "We realize you only get an opportunity to host an event like this once every 30 years. We're putting our soul into this."
Schedule of Events
Billed as the largest Minor League Baseball interactive fan event ever created, the ProMedica Health System Triple-A All-Star Fan Fest will be held in Toledo's SeaGate Convention Centre, which will be transformed into 75,000 feet of baseball heaven. Highlights include autograph sessions with players from the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds organizations; a gathering of mascots from teams around the minor leagues; and a celebration of women in baseball. Fan Fest hours are noon to 9 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday, and noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The heavy hitters will be in Fifth Third Field for the ever-popular Home Run Derby. Batting practice takes place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Following the opening ceremonies, the contest begins at 7 p.m., featuring Triple-A sluggers and former major leaguers Larry Parrish and Leon Durham.
The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic/Toledo Mud Hens All-Star Bash sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and ProMedica Health System will take place at Fifth Third Field on Tuesday, July 11, at 6:30 p.m. Scheduled to appear are Jamie Farr, star of the TV series "M*A*S*H," as well as LPGA Players and Triple-A All-Star Baseball Players. The night is capped off shortly after 10 p.m., with a "Thunder Over Toledo" fireworks spectacular.
The Triple-A All Star Game begins with batting practice from 4 to 6 p.m. Participants (including families, mascots and honorary celebrity captains) will be introduced at 6:40 p.m. First pitch for the game takes place at 7:10 p.m. Fans will have the opportunity to win prizes as they cheer on players and teams, and can stay for the MVP AwardPresentation following the game.
When You Go...
Toledo Mud HensFifth Third Field - 406 Washington St., Toledo. Call 419/725-Hens or visit www.mudhens.com for more information.
SeaGate Convention Centre401 Jefferson Ave., Toledo - 419/255-3300www.toledo-seagate.com