WHAT an encore for the Toledo Mud Hens: two in a row!
Mud Hens fans who might be tempted to take their team's second straight Governor's Cup championship for granted need to understand just how difficult back-to-back titles are to achieve. It hadn't happened in professional baseball in Toledo in over a century - in 1896 and 1897.
Much of the credit must go to manager Larry Parrish and his coaching staff. Minor league managers never know from day to day what players they'll have; Triple-A teams serve at the pleasure of their major-league clubs - in the Hens' case, Detroit.
But with a club generally considered not quite as talented as the 2005 team, Parrish got everything he could out of these players. Gone to the big club were Curtis Granderson, Marcus Thames, Jason Grilli, and other key parts of the 2005 team. In their place was a collection of guys who played their best ball when it mattered most - late in the regular season and on through the playoffs.
What makes this year's championship especially sweet, of course, is that it was achieved in front of the Hens' hometown fans. Last year's championship was secured on the road, in Indianapolis, forcing most fans to celebrate vicariously, from a distance.
This year, fittingly, the Hens won the cup at Fifth Third Field, in front of one last sold-out crowd, capping an amazing season that set yet another attendance record of more than 570,000 fans. A good club is part of the reason; so is a solid marketing effort by General Manager Joe Napoli and his executive team.
The Hens travel to Tucson, Ariz., for a one-game Triple-A "championship" event tonight against the champions of the Pacific Coast League. No matter how that turns out, the Mud Hens have already climbed the mountain - twice.