For all the talk about the novelty of the Mud Hens playing at Fifth Third Field wearing off somewhere around Year Three, we're still waiting.
Here it is, deep in the heart of the 2004 baseball season, and people still treat going to a Mud Hens game like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning.
Entering an eight-games-ineight-days homestand beginning last night, the Hens were averaging nearly 7,000 fans in 46 home dates.
"Believe it or not," Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli said, "if the weather cooperates and the team continues to play well and all of the promotions click the way they're supposed to, we may actually set a new attendance record. We've got a chance."
According to Napoli, the Hens could surpass the franchise record of 547,204 fans set in 2002.
I always believed Toledo was a sports town made up of frontrunners, with fans only wanting to support a winner.
I'm pleasantly surprised that people continue to appear in large numbers for Hens games.
It doesn't seem to matter who's wearing the home uniforms, or where the team is positioned in the standings.
If the Hens are in town, and the concession stands are open, Fifth Third Field remains the place to be - and be seen - in downtown Toledo.
"We really pinch ourselves we're so pleased with the way the community has embraced Fifth Third Field. The ballpark and the Mud Hens are now in that same category as the Toledo Zoo and the art museum. It's one of those things where a summertime visit to Fifth Third Field has become tradition for many families," Napoli said before last night's game.
"We notice when we survey our fans that more and more women are coming out. And we're also finding out that young girls enjoy the game because they play softball at a young age.
"Not only are we getting fathers and sons, but we're getting mothers and daughters."
Coming off an exciting first season at Fifth Third Field two years ago, you would think there was no way the Hens, currently in the thick of the International League playoff race, could keep this up.
You would think, after the team's dropoff a year ago, the skeptics would have resurfaced, saying, "I told you so."
You would think, finally, that attending games would lose some of its appeal.
Rather remarkably, however, fans continue to show up.
Even when it became obvious that the Hens wouldn't duplicate the excellence of the 2002 team the following season, the fans kept coming back.
That's been the story the first three years at Fifth Third Field.
Big crowds. Big excitement.
To me, impressive attendance numbers are a bigger story than anything the Hens may have accomplished on the playing field. Especially when you consider that pure baseball fans aren't the only ones coming to the games.
Napoli's feeling is that while pure baseball fans alone aren't responsible for Fifth Third's popularity, he believes casual attendees can be converted once they watch the Hens play.
"Minor league baseball is all about affordable family entertainment," Napoli said. "We hope people come out and enjoy not only the entertainment, but we hope they begin to fall in love with baseball."
My feeling is that Fifth Third Field is a downtown jewel to be treasured.
Look at the fans pouring through the turnstiles and leaving with satisfied expressions, if you don't believe me.
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