The Mud Hens’ opening ceremony Sunday evening was dedicated to the Sylvania Police Department in celebration of dispatcher Gary Siegel’s 35-year career.
The retiring Mr. Siegel, 62, was surprised when he was walked onto the pitcher’s mound at Fifth Third Field to throw the ceremonial first pitch for the game against the Pawtucket Red Sox.
PHOTO GALLERY: Mud Hens honor Sylvania police
“I didn’t really suspect it. It was a pleasant surprise,” he said.
He was joined on the field by Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough and police Chief William Rhodus.
“It’s impressive to serve in the city police for 35 years as a dispatcher, and I wouldn’t remember Sylvania city police dispatch without Gary Siegel,” Mayor Stough said.
After the ceremonial pitch the Sylvania police color guard presented the city’s flags and the American flag, which baseball fans saluted while Jennifer Lafferty, daughter of communications chief Steve Lafferty, belted out the national anthem. About 20 police personnel gathered on the field for all three events, and when Jennifer came back to the sidelines near the dugout she was filled with emotion.
The 15-year-old said she practiced every day at least 15 times for the performance, which was sung to an almost full stadium.
“I was more nervous than she was,” said her mother, Sandi Lafferty.
“Nationally, dispatchers around the country only last about eight to 10 years because of the stress of the job. You deal with people at their very worst moments,” Mr. Lafferty said.
Mr. Siegel took on the challenge with respect and an ability to compartmentalize emotions.
A Toledo resident, he began his career as a newsboy for various local radio stations. But when that wasn’t proving to be the career he anticipated, he answered an ad in The Blade that called for someone with radio and phone skills.
Three months in the job, and he was taking calls during the Blizzard of 1978.
“I had to hold down the fort,” Mr. Siegel said.
Back then records were taken down by hand, not computer, and he said the key was organization.
“I took calls down according to lists, who could provide people rides in the community, who provided medicine, and food,” he said.
Mr. Siegel said he could not have held his position for so long without the support of his wife of 21 years, Jeannette.
Now that they have time together, he isn’t sure what they’ll do.
For now he is going to catch his breath.