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Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Published: Friday, 10/12/2012

Outdoor game a win for the city

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Idle thoughts from an idle mind, imagining the guts it took for Joe Girardi to pull the plug on Alex Rodriguez Wednesday night:

■ It would be easy to suggest that one of northwest Ohio’s two college football stadiums would be better sites than Fifth Third Field for an outdoor hockey game, if only for seating capacity.

But the Walleye Winterfest will be more than one hockey game. It will be a 10-day celebration of the sport, the season, and of downtown, so that’s exactly where it should be.

Official word came down Thursday that the event will be held between Dec. 26, 2014 and January 4, 2015. If that sounds a ways off, Joe Napoli, president of the Walleye and Mud Hens, said it has been on the drawing board for just as long.

“Gosh, probably since we opened the Huntington Center,” Napoli said.

“The NHL, ECHL, our staff, even the AHL … we’ve been swapping notes on this for the better part of three years. They’ve all been terrific. You know, the hockey community is very collegial and so focused on helping make the sport more popular.

“We wanted to be the first [in the ECHL] to do this, but we wanted to make sure we could do it extremely well, as well as this community deserves. We’ve finally reached the point where we’re comfortable with that.”

An opponent (how about those old rivals, the Fort Wayne Komets?) for the Dec. 27, 2014 game will be announced later. It will be just part of an event that Napoli said will embrace youth hockey, college hockey, open skating, ice-sculpting, etc.

“We really want to make this a downtown event, from the main library to the museum to the zoo, from the Valentine Theatre to the Huntington Center,” Napoli said. “We’re really hoping everybody jumps on board to make this a true festival.”

■Fifth Third Field seats 8,943 with standing room/picnic areas expanding the capacity to 10,300. The Mud Hens’ stadium had a rink area roped off on its field Thursday.

“Even from the standing room areas in the outfield, you’re going to be able to see the game just fine,” Napoli said. “And from the main seating bowl and the club seats, well, the sight lines are going to be pretty darned good.”

■ I have more often than not sided with labor during pro sports contract disputes because, more often than not, owners are greedy souls.

But Stu Siegel, a former managing partner of the Florida Panthers, wrote an essay for Sports Illustrated that included the following paragraph:

“Under the last collective bargaining agreement the piece of the pie served up to the players reached a whopping 57 per cent. That meant, on average, 57 per cent of a team’s revenue paid the salaries of 23 players.

That left 43 percent to cover everything else,” which includes team executives, coaches, scouts, a minor league system, arena leases, all employees and other operating expenses.

It’s probably not that cut and dried, but it makes you think.

■ It is doubtful the Indians will pay Terry Francona the $4 million he made in each of his last three seasons in Boston, but he’ll likely be paid more than any of his predecessors. That could be a welcome sign that this low-budget operation is about to crack its wallet.

The Tribe has rarely if ever paid market rate for a manager because they’ve hired some of the most nondescript names in the game. Of the past 16 Cleveland managers over 44 seasons, only Alvin Dark (1968-71) and John McNamara (1990-91) came with any real credentials. And only Mike Hargrove accomplished enough to merit big bucks.

Contact Blade Sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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