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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2005

Huge crowd flocks to home opener; head usher, fans embrace new season as team wins big

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Hugging? There's no hugging in baseball!

Unless, of course, you're Ted Dennison, a Toledo Mud Hens usher for 16 years.

"Ted!" shouts Christine Hauser. "Gimme a hug!"

And so Mr. Dennison temporarily stops cleaning off the seats and wraps his arms around her, and then shows Mrs. Hauser and her husband, Ron, to their seats behind home plate.

"He's my buddy. Ted's just great," Mrs. Hauser explains. "I'm not really a big sports fan, but I love to come and joke around with Ted."

Ah, the scenes of a Mud Hens home opener - a record 8,000 hot dogs sold, more than 8,000 cups of beer downed, one ton of popcorn gobbled up, hardy fans shivering in the April shade, and Mr. Dennison giving hugs.

Head usher Ted Dennison pauses to pay respect during the national anthem.
Head usher Ted Dennison pauses to pay respect during the national anthem.
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And what a home opener it was, with a record 12,500 tickets sold and an 8-1 Mud Hens victory over the Durham Bulls.

For Mr. Dennison, 78, a retired Sylvania schoolteacher, the day started early.

As the Mud Hens head usher, he showed up at 3:15 p.m., more than two hours before the first pitch of the game.

Wearing a Mud Hens baseball cap and a red Mud Hens shirt, he patiently waited for his family - the fans - to show up. At 4:40 p.m., he made a prediction.

Lonnette Vanderpool laughs with head usher Ted Dennison, a retired Sylvania teacher who has been helping fans find their seats at Mud Hens games for 16 seasons. Lonnette Vanderpool laughs with head usher Ted Dennison, a retired Sylvania teacher who has been helping fans find their seats at Mud Hens games for 16 seasons.
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"About 5, they'll be pouring in," he said.

Sure enough, within 20 minutes people began to stream into his section behind home plate.

"Oh, I've got to give him a hard time," he said, pointing to a teenager making his way to his seat.

Motioning to his knees, he said, "I've known him since he was this tall."

He strikes up a conversation with the youth, Mark Cunningham, 17, and Mark's father, Glenn.

"He used to seat us at the old ball park. He's the best usher here," Mr. Cunningham said. "Ted takes care of us."

A lot of work goes into that care, too.

Fans cheer the action at Fifth Third Field. A record 12,500 tickets were sold for the game, which the Mud Hens won.
Fans cheer the action at Fifth Third Field. A record 12,500 tickets were sold for the game, which the Mud Hens won.
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Up and down the stairs, over and over, Mr. Dennison escorts arriving fans to their spots, making sure their seats are cleaned off with a rag and squirt bottle he carries with him.

"It's hard work. We get people who come out and don't last a day," said Mr. Dennison, a World War II veteran who's had a hip and knee replaced.

"And opening day is a difficult one. It's not easy because you do a lot of running around up and down the stairs. If you're 25, it's not bad. But when you're older, it gets tiresome by the ninth inning," Mr. Dennison said.

"You keep wondering if next year he'll be back, but he keeps showing up," marveled his friend and fellow usher, Larry Howe of Holland, who along with his daughter, Jamie, was helping fans in a section next to Mr. Dennison's.

But Mr. Dennison, a lifelong baseball fan - "I'm a Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds fan, but I'm being converted" - said he looks forward to coming to the ballpark.

"Almost every usher works the same area. So, over the years, you get to know the fans, and it makes a big difference. The people know us, and we know them," Mr. Dennison said.

Mud Hens outfielder Curtis Granderson signs an autograph for Dominick Runyon, 5, of North Baltimore, Ohio. Granderson and his teammates had a big day on the field, too.
Mud Hens outfielder Curtis Granderson signs an autograph for Dominick Runyon, 5, of North Baltimore, Ohio. Granderson and his teammates had a big day on the field, too.
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Some fans have been with him from his days as an usher at the old ballpark - Ned Skeldon Stadium at the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee.

Others are more recent converts, like Ron and Ann Pfeiffer, who farm near Graytown.

"It was the winter before they opened the new ballpark and I said, 'We ought to start going to games,'" Mrs. Pfeiffer recalled.

They've been season ticket holders ever since.

"Toledo fans are great, they truly are," Mr. Dennison said after sending the Pfeiffers on their way.

And they give pretty good hugs, too.

Contact Luke Shockman at: lshockman@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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