Mid-American Conference baseball takes center stage this afternoon at 1 p.m. when the University of Toledo takes on Bowling Green State University in a doubleheader at Fifth Third Field.
A Toledo-Bowling Green matchup creates a lot of electricity on its own, but the venue for this meeting has the combatants shifting into an even higher gear.
“I think it's a thrill for all of us to play in a pro park, and since it's a brand-new place that a lot of people haven't had the chance to see yet - that just adds to the excitement,” UT coach Joe Kruzel said.
“Throw in the fact it's Toledo against Bowling Green, and you've got the makings of a huge day for MAC baseball and the area.”
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students, and a crowd of 6,000 to 7,000 is expected to be on hand at the new home of the Toledo Mud Hens. It will be the first non-Mud Hens game at Fifth Third Field.
For BG coach Danny Schmitz, a former Mud Hen who played at Skeldon Stadium as a member of the Minnesota Twins farm system in the mid-1980s, the day carries a special significance.
“It's a great way to showcase MAC baseball, and it means a lot to both programs to have the opportunity to play in that facility,” Schmitz said.
“I played in the old place, and this is no knock on Skeldon Stadium because it served the Hens for a long time, but Fifth Third Field is a tremendous source of pride for the team, the area, and baseball fans in general. When we told our kids we would be playing there - their eyes just lit up, they were so excited about it.”
The idea to put the MAC rivals in the new park for a weekend doubleheader was hatched by Bruce Rumpf of Job 1 USA, the principal sponsor for the event, according to Kruzel.
Rumpf was looking for a way to help support the fund-raising effort behind UT's indoor baseball practice facility, which is under construction. A portion of the gate from tomorrow's doubleheader will benefit the UT program.
“I think it's a great package, since people can see the new ballpark, watch some good college baseball, and help out UT baseball at the same time,” Kruzel said.
Toledo won yesterday's series opener 13-4, with left fielder J.D. Foust slamming three home runs and Mitch Maier and Mike Meinhart contributing solo blasts for the Rockets. UT scored four runs in the third inning and five in the ninth.
Kelly Hunt homered for the Falcons.
Toledo's J.R. Duffey (2-2) went the distance to pick up the win, while BG's Doug Flere (2-6) was the loser.
The Falcons (17-18) have an 8-6 record in the MAC East, which puts them in second place behind Kent State.
The Rockets (13-22) are 5-8 and in last place in the MAC West.
The final game of the series will be at 1 p.m. tomorrow at BG.
“Just to add to the importance of the whole thing, this is a very big weekend for both teams in terms of the conference races,” Kruzel said.
“We're at the point in the season where the outcome of a four-game weekend can separate the top from the bottom in the league. All of the conference games count, so this is a huge series for both teams.”
Since both teams are loaded with area players, Schmitz said he expects the stands to be full of family members and friends, as well as baseball fans who are anxious to get their first look at the new facility.
“It's like I told our kids - if you can't get excited about playing down there at Fifth Third Field, and about playing Bowling Green, then you don't have a heartbeat,” Kruzel said. “But I'm sure the kids on both sides are real excited about this event. This is great for the city, the new ballpark, and for MAC baseball.”
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