THE magic of Fifth Third Field continues to pay dividends: The Toledo Mud Hens are champions of the International League!
The Mud Hens concluded an improbable and remarkable season Thursday night, capturing the IL s Governors Cup in Indianapolis, finishing off the Indianapolis Indians in three games after dispatching the Norfolk Tides in five.
The Hens had not won a Triple-A championship since 1967 and hadn t won a single playoff game since 1980.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the psychological and economic bounce a new ballpark gives a city subsides after the initial excitement wears off.
But there is nothing conventional about Fifth Third, and there is nothing conventional about the enduring transformation it has brought to downtown Toledo and to a Mud Hens baseball franchise that was barely breathing at old Skeldon Stadium in Maumee.
And the excitement shows no signs of wearing off. The team s amazing run from worst to first a late season swoon in 2004 dropped the Hens into the IL s west division basement produced another distinction: a new one-season record for attendance.
Team officials say 2005 attendance at Fifth Third was 556,995, more than 9,000 better than the old record set in the ballpark s inaugural season in 2002. Want more evidence of Toledoans love for their Hens?
Look at the playoffs. Combined attendance for the seven games played in the other three playoff cities Norfolk, Buffalo, and Indianapolis, was about 25,000. The Hens, with five games at home, drew roughly 35,000 fans by themselves!
General Manager Joe Napoli and his staff know how to market a good product, and the players gave them one. Not only are these guys good, they genuinely cared about their fans, the city, and each other. Team chemistry, often a cliche, was an undisputable asset of the 2005 Hens.
The team compiled the best record in Triple-A baseball this year, winning 95 games, including six in the playoffs. Manager Larry Parrish was the IL manager of the year. The team s most versatile player, Kevin Hooper, played all nine positions in the regular season finale.
That s how it went in the Summer of 2005. A kids game was played by kids happy to be here, and more than half a million people watched the magic.