As a sports fan, the best way to impress others in the stands, at the bar, or on Internet message boards is to know who the next stars will be.
Toledo s Fifth Third Field and the nine other minor league baseball parks within a few hours drive of Toledo offer ample opportunity for baseball lovers to discover the major-league regulars of tomorrow and spend little while doing so.
And for those seeking big-league action, there are plenty of options within four hours of Toledo, including the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, and the Chicago Cubs.
If they hadn t already, many Toledoans discovered the magic of the Mud Hens last season during the Hens International League championship run. More than 500,000 fans went to games last year, setting a new attendance record.
Eleven players from last year s squad returned this year to contend for a repeat title.
On the sidelines, Mud Hen mascots Muddy and Muddonna liven up the atmosphere. Post-game fireworks shows are planned every weekend the team is in town, and children can run the bases after Sunday games. An added bonus this year is the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 12 at Fifth Third Field, with several days of festivities leading up to the game.
Looking for more minor league possibilities? Day-trip and overnight options abound.
If you re a Detroit Tigers fan, head over to Comstock Park, Mich., near Grand Rapids. The West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class A team of the Tigers, play in the Midwest League. Burke Badenhop, a Perrysburg native and Bowling Green State University product, is one of the Whitecaps starting pitchers.
You can get into the Whitecaps park, Fifth Third Field, for $5. One of the Whitecaps most popular promotions is Field of Dreams, which is planned for July 21 this year.
Fans get to come onto the field after the game and hit a ball onto the field covered in prizes, Whitecaps spokesman Brian Oropallo said. Whatever the ball hits, the fan wins.
Cleveland Indians fans can travel to Akron to see an Aeros game in Canal Park. The Aeros are the Double-A team for Cleveland, and players such as Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore played there just a few years ago.
The Columbus Clippers, International League rivals of the Mud Hens, are the New York Yankees s Triple-A affiliate. Tickets range from $6-10 at Cooper Stadium.
The Clippers offer promotions every day. On Friday nights in right field, fans can listen to live music and have $1 food and beverages. On Sundays, families up to six people can get in the ballpark for $10.
Dayton features young farm hands of the Cincinnati Reds. The Class A Dragons play at another Fifth Third Field, which was named by the Wall Street Journal last year as one of the top 10 minor league ballparks to visit. Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns, current stars for the Reds, once played for the Dragons.
The Dragons are a hot ticket in Dayton, with a long waiting list for season tickets, but the ballpark features a lawn beyond the outfield where there s almost always room for fans. For nonstop entertainment, the team employs four mascots: Heater, Gem, Wink, and Roofman.
In Fort Wayne, Ind., fans can see many of the players whom the San Diego Padres drafted last summer play for the Wizards. Tickets at Memorial Stadium start at $6.50.
The Wizards were named the Midwest League s team of the year in 2003 and 2004. Promotions include $1 food and drinks on Mondays, occasional post-game fireworks, and post-game autographs on Sundays.
A total of 49 players have reached the major leagues after being a member of the Wizards, team spokesman Jared Parcell said.
Other minor league teams within reach of the Toledo area include the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays (Class A, Devil Rays) in Battle Creek, the Lansing Lugnuts (Class A, Blue Jays), the South Bend Silver Hawks (Diamondbacks), and the Lake County Captains (Indians) in the Cleveland suburb of Eastlake.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.
Interested in watching some professional baseball? Several major league ballparks and numerous minor league venues are within day-trip distance while others could provide the opportunity for an overnight visit.
Toledo Mud Hens
Triple-A Detroit Tigers affiliate
Ballpark: Fifth Third Field
Web site: mudhens.com
Ballpark: Jacobs Field
Web site: indians.com
Ballpark: Great American Ball Park
Web site: reds.com
Ballpark: Comerica Park
Web site: detroittigers.com
Ballpark: Wrigley Field
Web site: cubs.com
Chicago White Sox
Ballpark: U.S. Cellular Field
Web site: whitesox.com
Double-A Indians affiliate
Ballpark: Canal Park
Web site: akronaeros.com
Triple-A Yankees affiliate
Ballpark: Cooper Stadium
Web site: clippersbaseball.com
West Michigan Whitecaps
Class A Tigers affiliate
Ballpark: Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, Mich.
Web site: www.whitecaps-baseball.com
Fort Wayne Wizards
Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres
Ballpark: Memorial Stadium
Web site: fortwaynewizards.com
Class A Reds affiliate
Ballpark: Fifth Third Field
Web site: daytondragons.com
Southwest Michigan Devil Rays
Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Ballpark: C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, Mich.
Web site: southwestmichigandevilrays.com
Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays
Ballpark: Oldsmobile Park
Web site: www.Lansing Lugnuts.com
South Bend Silver Hawks
Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks
Ballpark: Coveleski Regional Stadium
Web site: www.silverhawks.com
Lake County Captains
Class A Indians affiliate
Ballpark: Classic Park,
Web site captainsbaseball.com