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Published: 8/1/2002

Newsweek rates Fifth Third as top minor league stadium

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

With a major league baseball strike looming like a dark thunderstorm on the horizon, Newsweek magazine sought to give its readers some interesting and attractive alternatives at other diamonds around the country.

In a graphic in its Aug. 5 issue, Newsweek called Fifth Third Field, the new $39-million home of the Toledo Mud Hens, the best stadium in the country for minor league baseball, citing its fan-favorite “Roost” seating section and its “majors-quality video board.”

Mark Starr, Newsweek's national sports correspondent who put the piece together, said that although he has not yet seen the park, he has heard plenty from those who have.

“I talked to a bunch of people who travel the minor league circuit, and to some folks at Baseball America, and when we asked them to name the best minor league ballpark, Toledo was on nearly every list,” Starr said. “Although the decision to call Fifth Third the best was somewhat arbitrary, the people I talked to are the people who know.”

Starr said he found the park “impressive on paper” and the feedback on the place has been nothing but positive. The Newsweek graphic also listed the nation's best minor league players (Sean Burroughs and Hank Blalock); best team (Scranton /Wilkes-Barre Red Barons); best rivalry (Rochester vs. Syracuse) and mascot (San Antonio's Henry the Puffy Taco).

“There is no absolute right with these things, but we were just trying to make a point that there are some very attractive baseball options out there if there is a strike in major league baseball,” said Starr, who works in Newsweek's Boston bureau. “We were just using these examples as a conduit to that point.”

Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli said the national recognition was a bit surprising since it came after the stadium had been open for just a few months.

“The fact this happened as quickly as it did is a pleasant surprise since I thought we would need a season or two of exposure before something of this nature could come about,” he said. “I always thought we'd have one of the best, but there are a lot of great ballparks around minor league baseball, so there is plenty of competition for an honor like this.”

Napoli said he felt Toledo did it right, right from the start when going about the task of building a new ballpark for the Mud Hens, who find themselves in the midst of a pennant race for the first time in ages.

“The cooperative spirit of everyone involved has to be a key, and when we held those fan forums early on in the project and sought people's opinions on what the new park should be, we took to heart what the fans wanted.

“This kind of national recognition for Fifth Third Field just continues what, in every respect, has been a dream season. The community as a whole really deserves this.”



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