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JIm Leyland Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a Perrysburg native, signs autographs before the exhibition game at Fifth Third Field. The Tigers started their regular linup.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a Perrysburg native, signs autographs before the exhibition game at Fifth Third Field. The Tigers started their regular linup.
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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Tigers rule the roost as thousands turn out for Mud Hens' exhibition

Fifth Third Field filled with fans enjoying baseball

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Baseball is back in Toledo for another season and this time it brought the Tigers to town for Day 1.

Fifth Third Field veteran usher Bob Wekwert -- who has shown Toledoans to their seats at Mud Hens games for 23 years -- remembers a disappointing end to the last time the Detroit Tigers came down for a contest against the Mud Hens, their minor-league team.

"It was a few years ago, and it was at Ned Skeldon [Stadium]," Mr. Wekwert said. "I believe it was tied 1-1 and everyone was excited for extra innings, but the Tigers said 'That was it,' and they left."

It was a different kind of disappointment for Wednesday's game -- at least for the local Mud Hens fans, but not the thousands of Detroit-area baseball-lovers who came down for the day.

A sea of Tiger shirts crowded into Fifth Third Field and pushed against a wave of Mud Hens jerseys for the 8-3 Tigers win over the Mud Hens.

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The Tigers started all of their regular lineup, including stars Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and the regulars all played three to five innings of the nine-inning game. Left fielder Delmon Young and catcher Alex Avila each had two hits to lead the victory.

The Tigers started their No. 4 starter, Rick Porcello, against the Mud Hens because their ace, Justin Verlander, will pitch the season opener on Thursday against the Boston Red Sox. Porcello pitched half the game and then minor leaguer Wilsen Palacios took over and earned the win for Detroit.

Gabe Brock, 6, left, and his brother Noah Brock, 9, pose as their mother, Kay Brock, snaps a photo of them with Tigers mascot Paws and Toledo's mascot, Muddy the Mud Hen. Gabe Brock, 6, left, and his brother Noah Brock, 9, pose as their mother, Kay Brock, snaps a photo of them with Tigers mascot Paws and Toledo's mascot, Muddy the Mud Hen.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

When the Tigers' regular position players left the game, many of their substitutes came from the low minor leagues.

The Hen House was packed with 12,000 people, eating hot dogs and drinking beer well before the game's noon start time. Hundreds lined up and down Monroe Street in both directions to get into the park, and for the first time in probably years, scalpers openly and illegally sold tickets on all four corners surrounding the ballpark -- some of them at double the $20 or $25 face value.

Mayor Mike Bell, who was greeting people at the Monroe Street gate, stopped to notice a woman who pulled up in a minivan and yelled out her passenger side window: "Anyone need two tickets?"

Trent Vargas, a 12-year-old student at Gesu School in West Toledo, said he was excited for the game but had no comment about skipping class. His father, Dave Vargas, Jr., called it a big event and laughed off the parent-sanctioned truancy.

"I took the day off from work and I would love to say the Mud Hens are going to pull this one out," Mr. Vargas said before he and his family fought their way to their seats.

Jill Plavcan and her three friends, who all work for Ford in Dearborn, Mich., were among the thousands who made the hourlong trek down I-75 to see their hometown team play Toledo.

"We have been waiting for this for months," said Ms. Plavcan, who lives in Livonia, Mich. "I have never seen the Mud Hens play the Tigers, so we all took a vacation day to come down."

Like many, she was wearing a Tigers jersey -- that of Brennan Boesch.

Kim Olszewski, from Allen Park, Mich., said the four of them missed out on getting tickets to the Tigers home opener but the unofficial opening day at Fifth Third Field was a good substitute.

"We love this park -- it's great," she said.

All proceeds from the game were divided evenly between the Helping Hens Charitable Fund, the official charitable fund of the Toledo Mud Hens baseball club, and the Detroit Tigers Foundation.

Detroit opens its real season on Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park against the Boston Red Sox. Toledo will officially begin its season Friday evening at Fifth Third Field against Indianapolis.

It was more than Detroit residents who were swept up in the Tiger madness in the heart of downtown Toledo.

Sarah Flowers of Deshler, Ohio, could have been designated fan No. 1 with her Brandon Inge necklace and a black tank top that was plastered with the names of several other Tigers players.

"I am a big Detroit fan -- huge," the 22-year-old student said with anticipation before the game.

Jonathan Walker of Bowling Green was meandering up Monroe Street with a few friends and a frown on his face after the game.

"Well, I can't say I love the Mud Hens. I like them," Mr. Walker said. "But I was kind of hoping lightning would strike hell as it froze over, and that the Detroit Tigers would have lost to their own minor-league team in a game on their own field."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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