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Saturday, November 29, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

PLAY BALL!

Hens rule downtown roost as fans flock for opening day

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Despite many empty seats, the Mud Hens counted a sellout crowd of 12,787 on opening day.
Despite many empty seats, the Mud Hens counted a sellout crowd of 12,787 on opening day.
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Stacy Bacome and her 10-year-old son Connor huddled under fleece blankets as the wind whipped through Fifth Third Field after the first pitch of the Toledo Mud Hens’ baseball season.

Sure, it had rained before the game. And the chilly gusts were strong enough to ruffle the mascots’ yellow feathers and prompt some fans to opt for earmuffs instead of baseball caps.

But the Bacomes still had innings of baseball to watch, plus plans to cheer on the Toledo Walleye later Friday during a special, downtown baseball-hockey doubleheader — the prospect of which delighted hardcore Toledo sports fans.

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Raindrops, gray skies, and brisk breezes weren’t going to quash their spirits. Neither were the Mud Hens, who suffered a 3-1 loss.

It was opening day, and they had their game faces on — even if many in the crowd of 12,787 huddled under roof instead of in open seats.

“We’ve always wanted to come to opening day, and it just worked out,” Ms. Bacome said of being part of what was considered a sellout crowd in the stadium that counts 8,943 seats. “We both love baseball.”

Mud Hens fans seemed to collectively shrug off the less-than-perfect weather and embraced the traditions of opening day downtown.

The Toledo Firefighter honor guard presents the colors during the Mud Hens season opener against Louisville on Friday at Fifth Third Field. The Toledo Firefighter honor guard presents the colors during the Mud Hens season opener against Louisville on Friday at Fifth Third Field.
BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

They cheered with resiliency, if not rollicking abandon, and crowded the concourse sipping beer or clutching coffee cups. They hunched over scorecards and munched on pretzels, hot dogs, and popcorn.

Fans walked sidewalks and streets around the ballpark and ducked into bars and shops from which music and laughter echoed.

Before the game, ushers wiped rain drops from seats.

No matter the conditions, opening day promised one thing: Baseball is back.

Most spectators pulled on sweatshirts or jackets, but a few, such as Austin Seay of Toledo, wore shorts.

“Players are back here, the stadium’s back ready to go. It’s just the excitement,” he said. “It’s springtime — it’s supposed to be spring, even though it’s cold today.”

Grace Hoye, 8, niece of fallen firefighter Stephen Machcinski, throws out one of the first pitches. Mr. Machcinski’s nephew Brandon Hoye waits by her. Grace Hoye, 8, niece of fallen firefighter Stephen Machcinski, throws out one of the first pitches. Mr. Machcinski’s nephew Brandon Hoye waits by her.
BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

Amid the festivities, fans and players paused for a moment of silence before the game to honor Toledo firefighters James Dickman and Stephen Machcinski, who died in the line of duty at an apartment fire in January. An honor guard and bagpipers paid respects, and firefighters lined up from the dugout to near home plate.

Mr. Machcinski loved the Hens. On this opening day, his niece and nephew joined Toledo firefighter representatives to throw out the ceremonial first pitches.

After a reflective moment, the mood — if not the weather — lifted. Fans returned to cheering on the Hens against their opponents from Louisville.

Jacob Nichols, 10, of Jackson, Mich., donned a bright yellow Hens hat with an orange beak — a statement of true fandom visible several sections away. He and his family sat in the front row near home plate and said they weren’t bothered a bit by the weather.

The Slusher family from Westland, Mich., also drove south for opening day, bringing sons Justin, 7, and Jason, 9. Justin nibbled a cookie iced to look like a baseball, with white frosting and stitches piped with red. Next to the cookie rested a real baseball, grass stains and all, that he caught during pregame warmups.

Outside the gates, fans Audrey Mays of Dayton and Cathy Trimble of Monclova Township snapped a photo in front of the ballpark, then hurried across the wet street.

Rain didn’t end their fun. “I love that everyone comes out,” Ms. Trimble said. “It’s like the best day of downtown Toledo of the year.”.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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