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Published: Friday, 4/12/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Call off opening day over rain? Not a chance

Players, fans tough it out for Toledo’s rite of spring

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Carol Vargo turns bratwursts as Cody Witt, right, tries to warm the ears of his grandmother Alice Witt during opening day for the Toledo Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field. Carol Vargo turns bratwursts as Cody Witt, right, tries to warm the ears of his grandmother Alice Witt during opening day for the Toledo Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field.
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In the end, the best call during Thursday night’s home opener at Fifth Third Field might have been the one the umps never made.

They let the Toledo Mud Hens and the Louisville Bats play the whole game.

The two teams fought, they clawed, they slogged their way through all nine innings, any point at which it seems the umps could have called the game.

Truth be told, it wasn’t a pretty performance by either team. Yet somehow the two teams managed to disregard the chill that penetrated their bones — with temperatures during the game hovering around 38 degrees — and remained as oblivious to a continuous soaker as you can ask any professional ballplayer to be.

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That’s the beauty of minor league baseball. It’s for the fans.

Not that any of them were thrilled about the elements, either, mind you. But declaring a rainout and postponing the home opener? That’s sacrilege, man.

Just ask Brandon Bollin, 36, of Sylvania, who hosted a tailgate party for about a dozen people a block from the stadium.

He and others said they view the home opener like New Year’s Day.

Mr. Bollin goes to most home openers but also is a baseball devotee in another sense: He was drawn to the woman who became his wife after seeing her wear a Detroit Tigers top in an online dating service photograph.

“If it is absolutely unbearable, OK,” he said of the weather. “But I know they’ll do everything they can to play if it’s just a little rain and a little cold. If they can come out and play the game, then we can come out and enjoy the game.”

A little rain and a little cold?

Forget the 4-1 win by Louisville because, in reality, the home opener is not about the score. It’s about taking in the sights, the smells, and all of the other stuff that signals the arrival of spring as much as the arrival of the first robin.

Much of the sellout crowd left long before Toledo scored a run in the ninth and what would have been the winning run was at the plate with the bases loaded.

Still, they left happy. Not in a delirious sense. But happy to get the home opener under their belt.

Fans like Anna Campos and Jackeline Herrera, two 13-year-old girls from the east side, showed their mettle. They’re part of a group that has been coming to home openers for years.

The two giggled while their bodies shivered and their teeth chattered a few rows behind home plate. They know better days are ahead. Bundled in a fuzzy pink wrap and sheltered by a green jacket, they hung in as long as they could while the cold set in and the steady downpour obstructed their view.

“Yeah, but we made a tent,” Jackeline said as she explained away the odd sight of them hunkered down, almost by themselves, in a part of the ballpark that rarely has empty seats.

If there was an MVP for Thursday’s game, it would be the ceiling over the lower concourse. Nearly all of the people holding tickets in the stands took cover along that walkway to stay as dry and warm as possible. For a game that’s traditionally one of the hardest sellouts of the year, there was enough room in the stands to play jai alai. Or soccer.

“It’s a tradition,” Julie Morgan, 47, of Perrysburg said of the home opener. While working at Sliders Grill to help raise money for her daughter’s cheerleading and gymnastics squad in Millbury, her hands got so cold — even in wool gloves — that she held them inches from the hamburger grill to warm up.

“I’m surprised there are this many people here, frankly,” she said. “Obviously, something is bringing them here. Toledo loves its Mud Hens.”

Toledo also loves the psychological warmth that the idea of a Mud Hens home opener brings after a long winter.

Fans said they yearn for the charm and broader meaning of that first game — even if the weather doesn’t always cooperate.

“It’s a sign of spring. It’s the start of a new season. It’s a rebirth,” Bob Wekwert, a 70-year-old usher from South Toledo, said, beaming. He has worked 24 consecutive home openers, only one of which he remembers being postponed.

Little Jase Bowser, 3, grandson of Rick and Pam Lynch of South Toledo, seemed unfazed by the cold in winter coat and a homemade Detroit Tigers fleece cap. He and his grandparents are part of a group of 50-some friends and relatives who meet annually at the ballpark for the home opener. Jase has now been to all three that have been played since his birth, his grandparents said.

“It’s supposed to mean spring is here, isn’t it?” Ms. Lynch, 59, said with a chuckle as she held the toddler while standing along the concourse.

Carol Vargo, 70, of Curtice attended her first home opener. She was part of a group that worked a concession stand for St. John’s Lutheran Church in Williston.

“We feel sorry for the players,” she said, commenting on how everyone was talking about the cold and rain.

She said she’s coming back next year, though, especially if her church needs her for concession sales. Ms. Vargo said she’s also worked a stand the church had at the Huntington Center for Toledo Walleye hockey games.

“We’re just going to order warmer weather,” she said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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