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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

Familiar mascot is a fan favorite

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer John Wagner talked with Muddy the Mud Hen, one of the most famous sports mascots in the country.

The baseball world recognizes Muddy the Mud Hen as a symbol of Toledo, but the TV comedy M*A*S*H made the team and its mascot even more famous around the world.

Muddy's given name is Fulica americana. For those who don't speak Latin, he's better known as a coot, rail or marsh hen.

With the exceptions of a few years, Toledo baseball teams have historically been known as the "Mud Hens" since the 1896 team played at Bay View Park, a home field surrounded by marshlands frequented by mud hens.

Toledo's International League franchise was extablished in 1965, and Muddy was born in 1979 when Gene Cook was general manaager. Among the highlights of his career was a Converse shoe contract in the mid-1990s, a first for professional mascots, and the introduction of mascot partner Muddonna in 2002.

"PEOPLE KNOW ME. They are aware of me whenever they come to the ballpark. No slight to my friends, the players, but some times the fans won't know who the players are initially. The fans know who Muddy is, and I take a lot of pride in that. I'm out to put on a show every night, and my goal is to entertain the fans and make sure they have a good time.

"I can't control the outcome of the game, the wins and the losses, but as long as I can put a smile on their face, I've done my job. To be able to watch them walk away and know they had a good time - and that I played a major role in that - makes me realize how important I can be to the team.

"I love to meet the fans - that's the best part of the ball game, getting to meet fans and people that love the Mud Hens. My favorite thing to do is give a hug to a little kid, because it brings a smile to both of our faces. I do get hand-cramps sometimes from giving out autographs.

"But there is one don't: Don't pull my tail. People sometimes pull a feather off my tail, and that doesn't feel too good on my end. Give me a hug instead. And if you're under two-foot tall, sometimes I might miss you, so give me a nudge or let my handler know so I can welcome you to the ballpark.

"I loving dancing on top of the dugout - Muddonna and I try to do that at least once a game. Whether I'm dancing to, "Cotton-Eye Joe" or "The Hokey Pokey" or "The Chicken Dance," that's something I love to do. But the kids are my favorite part [of the game], and seeing them smile is what makes my job worthwhile.

"THE SHOE CONTRACT was one of those opportunities that made sense to me: All of the major athletes have shoe contracts, so why don't the major mascots? So the team made some contacts with some shoe companies, and Converse came out and gave me an opportunity to wear the canvas, high-top Chuck Taylors. The agreement was that I would get five pairs of Chuck Taylors during the season, and that's how I became the first mascot with a shoe contract. That contract made me feel phenomenal. I was right up there with the major athletes - Michael [Jordan] and Muddy!

"DURING A TIGER exhibition game in the mid-90s, I was up on the Mud Hens dugout doing one of my dance routines. I was inching closer to the edge of the roof of the dugout, and the next thing I knew I was making that dive into the dugout. I slipped, fell off the edge and landed right on top of Tigers pitching coach Rick Adair.

"I remember Alan Trammell was standing in the on-deck circle, and I wondered, 'How many times do you think Alan Trammell had to hold up one of his at-bats because the mascot had fallen into the dugout?'

"I don't know if you'd call it memorable or unfortunate, but I lived to tell about it. I suffered a bruised beak and a wing tear, but I went back to the locker room and got fixed up.

"THE CHANGE [in my appearance] came when I realized we were moving from Skeldon Stadium to Fifth Third Field. I realized [the new ballpark] would result in a make-over for the entire organization, so I took it upon myself to change. I whipped myself into a new shape. I participated in an off-season conditioning program and changed everything about my diet before the 2002 season. The result is the new, improved Muddy.

"WHEN WE WON the championship last year I was able to make the trip to Indianapolis. That was extremely exciting. Normally I stay in Toledo, but it was a great opportunity to go with the team and see the championship. That was one of my favorite moments, and it was a great experience.

"MY RELATIONSHIP with Muddonna? We're good friends. We have a lot of the same things in common: we love to dance, we love to eat birdseed, and we love to give hugs to kids. Some may say it's flirtatious, while others may say we're just good friends. But I like Muddonna and, since we have a lot of things in common, that's what makes it fun to hang out with her.

"[Muddonna] and I were at an appearance recently, and someone told us she had [previously] come to a Mud Hens game with her mother, who was ill at the time. I had met her, cheered her up and put a smile on this mother's face.

"Even though this mother was no longer living, this person [I was talking to] said she would always remember the time we had spent with her mother. It is touching to know we have that kind of impact on people, and that we can provide memories for people that live with them for years and years."



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