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Published: 4/15/2005

Opening Day: What's in a name? Lots of sales when it's the Mud Hens

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Biscuits, Lugnuts, BlueClaws, Isotopes - they've got nothing on the Mud Hens.

In the past 10 years or so, minor league baseball teams have come up with flashy new names as a marketing draw. But the merchandise for Toledo's ballclub has maintained its selling popularity.

The Mud Hens have been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in merchandise sales for minor league baseball since 2002, the year Fifth Third Field opened, said Craig Katz, Mud Hens manager of souvenir sales. The Hens have been a mainstay on Minor League Baseball's Top 25 list for decades.

Part of the continued fanfare for the Mud Hens comes from mentions on M*A*S*H reruns and Major League replays on television. The Mud Hens' souvenir team also makes an effort to consistently have new things for fans to buy.

"We have a great name and a great logo," Katz said. "We work very hard to bring new and fresh merchandise every year."

Randy Mobley, International League president, agrees that the Mud Hens staff has helped with the upkeep of its celebrity.

"Before most teams in minor league baseball were nationally and internationally recognized, the Toledo Mud Hens were," Mobley said. "The club has done a good job of maximizing that. And now the entire operation is getting recognition. The new ballparks help teams be more recognizable, but nobody does a better job of it than the Mud Hens."

The most popular Mud Hens item sold in the Swamp Shop is the "duck bill," a plastic whistle that makes a duck call sound the Hens call a "Muddy Call." In 2004, the Mud Hens sold more than 2,000 duck bills at $2.95 each, Katz said.

Also top sellers are Mud Hens logo baseballs that can be had for about $5. The store sells 10 types. Katz said fans will often buy the balls for autograph opportunities.

This season the Mud Hens are offering 30 new styles of T-shirts and 30 new hats, Katz said. Also, the women's and the children's clothing lines have been expanded.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.

• When: Today, 5:30 p.m.; tomorrow, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2

p.m.; Monday, 6:30 p.m.

• TV: Today on BCSN.

• Radio: 1470.

• Affiliation: Durham, Tampa Bay.

• Pitching probables (Hens listed last): Today, RHP Jim

Magrane (0-0, 6.23 ERA) vs. RHP Nelson Cruz (0-0, 9.00);

tomorrow, RHP Jason Roach 1-0, 2.84) vs. RHP Andrew

Good (0-0, 5.40); Sunday, RHP Brian Sweeney (0-1, 3.12) vs.

RHP Jason Grilli (0-0, 0.00): Monday, RHP Doug Waechter

0-1, 6.30) vs. undecided.

• Bull heads: Durham has earned a berth in the postseason

six times since entering the International League seven years ago, winning back-to-back Governors Cups in 2002 and 2003. Two former Mud Hens are on the Bulls roster in 1B Eric Munson,

who is hitting .217 with a pair of RBIs in six games, and RHP Jimmy Haynes, who is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA. OF Damon Hollins leads the team with a .375 batting mark. SS B.J. Upton, one of the top prospects in Tampa Bays minor-league season, is batting .179 with four errors in seven games. RHP Lee Gardner is the Bulls closer; this season he has a win, no saves and a 2.08 ERA.

• Hen happenings: The two teams met in Durham to open

the season, with Toledo winning three of the four games. Last year the Hens were winless in six games in Durham and 4-8 overall against the Bulls. LHP Doug Creek pitched for the Bulls briefly in 2000 and spent parts of three seasons in the Tampa Bay organization. OF Alexis Gomez had eight hits in his fi rst 15 at-bats this season and was the IL s early leader with a .533 batting average. RHP Chris Spurling has two wins in two appearances, having allowed just two hits and a walk in fi ve shutout innings. Three different Mud Hens Craig Dingman, Jason Karnuth and Vic Darensbourg have posted a save this season.

• Special events: Today is Opening Day and is a sellout,

with 12,500 tickets sold. Tomorrow is called Opening Night by the Mud Hens and will include a post-game fireworks show. The team also is giving away magnetic schedules today and tomorrow. Sunday will be Kids Opening Day and include a pre-game autograph session and a post-game chance to run the bases.

• Next home series: vs. Charlotte, April 19-22.



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