DETRICH / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge
Beulah Reny is madly in love.
The 83-year-old Toledo woman has fallen head over heels for the Mud Hens.
The courtship began more than five decades ago when Mrs. Reny attended her first game at Swayne Field.
That stadium at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue closed for business in 1955, but the Hens returned 10 years later to a converted ballpark in Maumee that once served as a horse-racing track.
Mrs. Reny returned, too.
That's when her love affair with the Mud Hens first started to blossom.
Mrs. Reny sat through sleet, snow, and rain at Ned Skeldon Stadium to watch her beloved team play. She knew most of the ushers, box-office employees, and players on a first-name basis.
She helped promote the team by serving as the longtime president of the booster club, which had more than a few hundred members at its peak.
Mrs. Reny remembers when Kirby Puckett played for the Mud Hens in 1984. She witnessed Jose Lima's no-hitter against Pawtucket in 1994.
She also saw plenty of bad baseball. The Hens had one winning season in their last 15 years at the Ned.
Mrs. Reny was among the overflow crowd of 11,723 that turned out for the final game at Skeldon Stadium on Sept. 3, 2001, against Columbus. Her eyes welled with tears as she attempted to say good-bye to the old barn, widely regarded as the worst stadium in Triple-A baseball for most of its 37 years of life.
"When Skeldon Stadium closed, it was one of the saddest days of my life," said Mrs. Reny, whose house is decorated with old photos and mementos from the Key Street ballpark.
"I loved that old stadium. I had a lot of great memories of the place. I didn't want to leave there," she said.
"I love the Mud Hens, but I said at the time that I wasn't going to go downtown to watch them play. I didn't want to go downtown."
That winter, Mrs. Reny had a change of heart. She decided not to divorce herself from the franchise.
Instead, Mrs. Reny and her friends renewed their season tickets and headed downtown to the Warehouse District, where sparkling Fifth Third Field is located.
To her surprise, the Hens went from last to first in their inaugural season and made the playoffs for the first time since 1984.
"I just couldn't stay away from the Mud Hens," she said. "I love baseball too much, I love the team too much."
Tonight, Mrs. Reny will attend her fourth consecutive opener at the $39.2 million facility that opened in 2002.
According to her scorecard, she has been to more than 30 Mud Hens' openers and has seen more than 1,000 of the team's games.
Mrs. Reny even has her own personal chauffeur. Her younger sister, Val Hitts of Toledo, drives her to each and every game. And Val's 80.
They are joined in Section 105, Row A, by longtime friend Sis Deitrick and her son, Jimmy. Sis is 75, Jimmy 45. The Deitricks make the three-hour round trip from their home in Defiance for each game. They have been doing it for close to 25 years now.
"[Mrs. Reny] just loves the Mud Hens," Ms. Deitrick said.
"She still gets excited every time she steps foot in the ballpark. She really gets into the games. She looks at it as one big party. We always have fun," Ms. Deitrick said.
The beer vendors are familiar with Mrs. Reny and her friends. So are the bartenders at the nearby Bronze Boar, where they meet before every game for a beer or two.
Mrs. Reny, Sis, and Jimmy are easy to pick out in a crowd. All three of them are usually wearing some version of a Mud Hens' T-shirt.
Mrs. Reny's sister, Val, doesn't really like baseball. She typically brings along a book to read during the games.
Often her reading is interrupted by Mrs. Reny's screaming or cheerleading.
"I go and yell my heart out for the Mud Hens the whole nine innings," Mrs. Reny said. "They're my team. But if you ask me any details the next morning, forget it. I won't remember much. Sis and Jimmy keep track of that for me."
Mrs. Reny, Sis, Jimmy, and Val have found time to catch the Mud Hens in other International League cities.
They have driven to Buffalo, Ottawa, Ont., Rochester, N.Y., Louisville, and Durham, N.C. And they have been to Columbus more times than they can count.
"We don't let anything slow us down," Mrs. Reny said, "including our age."
Mrs. Reny and the Mud Hens have been soul mates for a long time. A few years ago, unbeknownst to either one, they celebrated their golden anniversary together.
In Beulah Reny's mind, it's a perfect marriage.