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Published: Friday, 4/9/2004

Fans cheer Mud Hens, revitalized downtown

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Luke Pettigout and Jonathan Bieker dressed as Hens. Luke Pettigout and Jonathan Bieker dressed as Hens.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

The Toledo Mud Hens' season opener yesterday brought people downtown in droves.

Some made it into the stadium for the game, but others weren't so lucky and had to settle for nearby bars and restaurants to watch the game on TV.

All, however, had similar observations - they wanted more. More bars. More restaurants. More wins.

Don King of Toledo shows he's ready for a new season at Fifth Third Field. Don King of Toledo shows he's ready for a new season at Fifth Third Field.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

A record-setting crowd - 12,250 spirited fans - flocked to Fifth Third Field under nearly sunny skies for the Mud Hens' first game of 2004.

Despite an 8-3 loss to the Durham Bulls, fans applauded the momentum that the three-year-old stadium has brought to Toledo's warehouse district.

Many fans said they would like to see Toledo's downtown continue to develop.

"The stadium rocks. It makes Toledo," said Mud Hens season ticketholder Tony LoFiego, 22, during pregame partying at Fricker's. "It's a big pickup, but it's not there yet."

For a third consecutive year, the near-holiday experience of the Mud Hens' opening day prompted adults to take vacation from work and allow their children to play hooky from school. They came to kick off another season of America's pastime.

Mud Hens pitcher Eri Eckenstahler signs autographs for young fans in the record crowd that turned out yesterday. Mud Hens pitcher Eri Eckenstahler signs autographs for young fans in the record crowd that turned out yesterday.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

In response, new businesses have opened downtown - yesterday was the official grand opening of The Emporium on Huron Street - and fans are packing them.

Jeff and Tammy Kneisleyof Sylvania were waiting for the first pitch inside the new bar, where splashes of purple highlighted the chairs and walls. The couple were taking their 12-year-old son, Ben, to the game, and stopped to meet and greet other fans at the new establishment.

"This is what Toledo needs - more places like this," Mr. Kneisley said. "Everybody's cautious in the beginning, in the usual Toledo way. Now they see the success, and now they're starting to jump in."

Frank and Jeannine Hughes said the stadium's downtown location brought them to opening day for the second year in a row. The Walbridge couple added that the wins the Mud Hens delivered over the past two years made missing yesterday's game not an option.

In fact, the couple has grown to love the downtown ballpark so much, including the $8 tickets, they have all but abandoned trips to see the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.

"She's a Detroit fan, I'm a Cleveland fan, and now we're both Mud Hens fans," said Mr. Hughes, 71, decked out in Mud Hens garb. "I think it's because of the location - people like coming downtown."

Rodney Brown took a half-day off work to make his way to the game, where he ran into his buddy, Ivan Evans.

Mr. Brown, 42, said he planned to stay downtown after the game to check out some of the new bars and restaurants.

"They can say what they want about the move from Maumee, but this place is festive," he said while checking out the game from the bustling stadium's concourse.

Fricker's manager Fran Oakman held a microphone in front of a table of singing Mud Hens fans yesterday, soaking up the celebration going on around him.

The eatery missed opening day by two weeks last year, Mr. Oakman said, so this year's crowd was a first - although not unlike other Mud Hens game days.

Mr. Oakman said he seconded the fans who want more in downtown, and applauded each new entrepreneurial soul who came to town.

"It'll draw more people. The more you draw, the better it is for everybody," he said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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