Crowds don't flock to minor league playoff games - that's what the rules say. The explanation behind it claims that people are just not that interested because it's football season, the kids are back in school, and the major league pennant races are usually heating up by now.
None of that seemed to matter last night at Fifth Third Field.
The first playoff game in downtown Toledo was historic in a multitude of ways. A lot of the history that was made involved the multitude that was on hand for the opener of the Toledo-Durham series.
When the Mud Hens sold all 8,943 seats at Fifth Third in advance of the game, they gave the International League its first sold-out playoff game in 20 years.
The Hens went beyond the sold-out point, filling the picnic areas and selling some additional standing-room tickets after that to reach last night's official attendance count of 10,300. That gave Fifth Third the distinction of hosting the second-largest IL playoff crowd on record, according to figures released by the league.
That standing-room throng is a world apart from the 808 fans the Hens drew for a playoff game against Maine at Skeldon Stadium on Sept. 5, 1984 - the last time Toledo was in the playoffs. The following night they played before a home crowd of 780.
“I guess tonight's crowd is just another example of what a fairy tale season this has been for us,” Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli said. “Everything else that is going on this time of year has traditionally translated into a dip in attendance for the minors, but I think Toledo is unique. The community has always had a love affair with the ball club, but I think now that love affair has extended to the ballpark.”
The Hens nearly doubled their largest previous home playoff crowd of 5,208, which was accomplished exactly 22 years ago against Rochester with the assistance of an appearance by the San Diego Chicken. The largest playoff crowd the Mud Hens had ever played in front of took place the following day in Rochester when 5,220 showed up.
Playoff baseball had always been a lousy draw in Toledo - until last night. In 17 previous home playoff games, the Mud Hens have drawn a total attendance of 29,323.
Tonight's game is also sold out, with just a few standing-room tickets available, Napoli said.
The Hens jammed 12,134 into Fifth Third on Opening Day, and had one crowd that was larger than last night's 10,300 during this season.
Thirteen times this year they matched that 10,300 figure.
Last night marked the 26th sellout at Fifth Third, the ninth straight, and the 12th in the last 13 home games.
ROTATION CHANGE: The Hens made a change in their starting rotation for the playoffs, moving Jason Beverlin up into the No.3 slot from No.4 so he will start tomorrow's game in Durham. Toledo manager Bruce Fields said the switch took place on Tuesday after he discussed the Hens' rotation with pitching coach Britt Burns.
“Britt said it would be a shame if this series ended up going three games and Jason doesn't get a chance to pitch,” Fields said. “I agreed, and I felt it was right for him to get that chance.”
TV SCHEDULE: The series moves to Durham tomorrow for three games, if necessary. TV5 will broadcast those games using a feed from Durham. Tonight's game is also scheduled to be on TV5.