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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2005

International League notebook: After 250 games, fans still flocking to Fifth Third Field

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Monday's game against Indianapolis was the 250th game in the history of Fifth Third Field, which gave Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli a chance to reflect on the successes of the ballpark.

"Fifth Third Field has exceeded our expectations on so many levels, one story could not cover all of them," Napoli said.

A total of 1,876,617 fans came to Fifth Third Field in those first 250 games. In the last 250 games at Skeldon Stadium, the Hen's previous home, the total attendance was 1,126,590. What's more, the three largest single-season attendance figures in Toledo's pro baseball history are the three full seasons the Hens have played at their current downtown home; in each of those first three seasons the Hens exceeded 500,000 in total attendance.

"Based on the community's size, we should draw [400,000] to 450,000 on an annual basis, " Napoli said. "The community's acceptance and enthusiastic support of a downtown Toledo ballpark has been exceptional."

In terms of single-game sellouts, the Hens hosted crowds of 8,943 (Fifth Third Field's listed seating capacity) 89 times in those first 250 games, or in 35.6 percent of their games. The Hens have had crowds of 10,300 or more (the "unofficial" capacity of the ballpark, which includes standing room) 57 times (22.8 percent).

Skeldon Stadium hosted crowds of 8,943 or greater just 27 times in its last five seasons and had just 15 crowds in excess of 10,025 (Skeldon's capacity) in those five years.

"Our ticket sales and service departments have been outstanding," Napoli said. "But our catering and concessions have been beyond our expectations, too. Those are two areas fans experience every time they come to the ballpark, and I would suggest we 'get it right' in those areas most of the time."

Napoli said that one advantage the Mud Hens had in the creation of Fifth Third Field was that, coming later in the ballpark building cycle, there was plenty of information to be gathered from other cities where new ballparks already had been built.

"The beauty of being the 90th new ballpark is that it allows our staff to do extreme research [on other ballparks]," Napoli said. "We noticed that the [honeymoon period] is typically two seasons, or at best three.

"The beauty of our business is that people are willing to tell us what we need to do to improve."

That has helped the Mud Hens avoid any type of attendance drop in this, their fourth season. Through the team's first 40 dates the Hens drew 282,109 fans, an average of 7,052 fans per opening; that's ahead of the 6,988 in 2002, when the team set the single-season attendance record for a Toledo team by drawing 547,204.

By the time the current homestand ends tonight, the team should climb over the 300,000 attendance mark for the season, earning a spot among the top 10 single-season attendance totals with 28 dates remaining.

DENNEY UPDATE: Buffalo pitcher Kyle Denney was released from the hospital Tuesday, two days after being hit in the head by a line drive. On that play Denney suffered a cerebral contusion, a skull fracture, and a ruptured eardrum.

Denney was placed on the disabled list Wednesday, but no timetable was given for his return.

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME: Darnell McDonald has been a tremendous pickup for Durham, having hit seven home runs in his first 16 games with the Bulls.

He had a pair of two-homer games, with the second home run in each case being the game- winner. McDonald, who was released by Buffalo earlier this month, has never hit more than seven home runs in a season in his pro career before this year.

RECORD-BREAKER: Syracuse first baseman Kevin Barker has collected 41 RBIs this month, the most in franchise history since at least August of 1998, when former Hen Patrick Lennon drove in 37. Barker, who spent spring training in 2003 with the Mud Hens, was called up from Double-A New Hampshire on June 3 and has hit .402 with 11 doubles and nine homers in 27 games.



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