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Published: Thursday, 4/16/2009

Mud Hens opener: Retaking the Fifth

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Despite what the calendar and the weather might say, spring in Toledo officially begins today starting at 5:30 p.m.

That's the time the Mud Hens open their 2009 home season, returning to Fifth Third Field to host Columbus.

The Hens, who come home following a successful road trip which saw them win series in both Indianapolis and Louisville, are 5-2 in home openers since Fifth Third Field opened in 2002. Toledo also has won the last two home openers, including last year's 3-2 victory over Durham.

One of the hitting stars in last year's game was catcher Dane Sardinha, whose fifth-inning home run snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the Mud Hens the lead for good. Sardinha was 2-for-3 in last year's opener and is 3-for-5 in Toledo home openers in his career.

Another Hen who has had success at the plate in home openers is Ryan Raburn. Despite a history of slow April starts, Raburn has collected one hit in each of the three Toledo openers in which he has participated.

The Florida native homered in the Hens' 8-1 win over Durham in 2005, and his two-run homer in the sixth inning of the 2007 contest gave Toledo a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Bulls.

Toledo will send right-hander Ron Chiavacci to the mound today. Chiavacci, a 12-game winner for Toledo in 2007, will face Clippers right-hander Tomo Ohka.

Indians fans will have a special interest in today's opponent, since Cleveland made Columbus its Triple-A affiliate this past offseason after spending 14 seasons affiliated with Buffalo.

That means today's contest is the first of 11 opportunities Tribe fans will have a chance to watch some of their team's top prospects play at Fifth Third Field. Buffalo and the rest of the International League's North Division teams play only four games in Toledo each season.

Toledo's home opener over the years has been one of the best-attended games on the schedule.

The first home opener, April 9,

2002, attracted 12,134 fans to the new ballpark. Since that game, Fifth Third Field's single-game attendance record has been broken four times, all in home openers.

In the 2004 opener the Hens welcomed 12,250 fans to the ballpark, then hosted 12,500 fans at Fifth Third Field in both 2005 and '06. In 2007 the bar was set at 12,600, while last year's crowd is the current record at 12,750.

The Mud Hens say there are a limited number of standing-room tickets still available for today's contest.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419 724-6481.



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