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Published: Monday, 4/18/2005

Mud Hens notebook: Munson returns to site of his hitting success

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Three seasons ago, Eric Munson hit 24 homers with 84 RBIs as the Hens opened Fifth Third Field by gaining a playoff berth. Three seasons ago, Eric Munson hit 24 homers with 84 RBIs as the Hens opened Fifth Third Field by gaining a playoff berth.
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Three years ago, Eric Munson was a key contributor on the most exciting Mud Hens team in recent memory.

Munson slugged 24 home runs and drove in 84 RBIs in 2002 as the Hens, in their first season at brand-new Fifth Third Field, won 81 games to claim the International League's West Division title.

"It was a fun year because we had a pretty good team and went to the playoffs," Munson said about that season. "It was the first year of the ballpark and drew a good number of fans, so I had a fun year here."

Unfortunately for both Munson and the Mud Hens, that's when most of the fun ended.

Toledo has posted back-to-back 65-78 seasons since and Munson, who spent the last two years in Detroit, now finds himself back at Fifth Third Field. The 27-year-old now plays for the Durham Bulls - coincidentally, the team that swept the Mud Hens in those 2002 playoffs.

In 2003 Munson played in 99 games for the Tigers, hitting 18 homers with 50 RBIs before a displaced fracture of his left thumb ended his season. Last year Munson hit 19 homers in 109 games, but he batted just .212 and by season's end had been replaced at third base by Brandon Inge.

Soon after the season ended Detroit parted ways with Munson, who was the third overall pick in the 1999 draft.

"It was a little different, but it was all part of the game," Munson said of the past offseason. "I didn't have a good year last year, so I knew there was a possibility that I wasn't going to be back with Detroit.

"It's all part of the game, so you just move forward and try to catch on elsewhere and try to get back to the big leagues."

Munson said he felt no animosity towards the Tigers.

"Not at all," he said. "It happens. I'm not the first person it has happened to, and I'm not going to be the last. It's just one of those things that's part of the game."

In January Munson signed a minor-league contract with Minnesota, which released him at the end of spring training.

"It just didn't work out," Munson said of his time with the Twins. "I didn't have a great spring, so they released me with a week to go. Then I signed with Tampa Bay."

Yesterday Munson, who served as the Bulls' designated hitter, doubled twice in five at-bats to raise his batting average to .222.

MAKING CHANGES: Chris Shelton was in the Mud Hens' original lineup yesterday, but swelling in his right knee forced Toledo manager Larry Parrish to radically alter that lineup.

Defensively, only the three outfielders and third baseman Jack Hannahan remained in their original positions. Brandon Harper moved from catcher to replace Shelton at first, while Sandy Martinez switched from DH to catcher.

Ryan Raburn, the second baseman in the original lineup, moved to the DH position, with Kevin Hooper jumping from shortstop to second. Gookie Dawkins entered the lineup at short.

The Hens' batting order also changed at four spots. Alexis Gomez moved from the fifth spot up to Shelton's third position, Raburn and Harper moved up one position to fifth and sixth, respectively, and Dawkins was inserted into the seventh spot.

PITCHING SWITCHES: Both Toledo and Durham have been forced to make changes in their starters for today's game.

Durham was expected to start Doug Waechter, who instead was promoted by the parent Devil Rays Friday. Former Mud Hen Jimmy Haynes will start in Waechter's absence.

For the Hens, the back-to-back rainouts in Charlotte pushed back Kenny Baugh's last start to Thursday, meaning he could not pitch today since he has had only three days' rest.

Left-hander Doug Creek is expected to start for Toledo, with right-hander Lee Rodney, who was promoted from Double-A Erie Saturday, available in relief.

THREE-DOT DATA: Shelton is expected to be available for today's game but outfielder Dewayne Wise, who injured his foot while batting Saturday, remains day-to-day. Raburn celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday but was hitless in three at-bats.



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