Mud Hens relief pitcher Preston Larrison signs autographs for fans from the dugout during the Mud Hens championship rally at Fifth Third Field.
The Toledo Mud Hens, the 2006 International League champions, hoisted their Governors' Cup into the air, bringing hundreds of the team's most die-hard fans out of their seats and onto their feet with cheers and applause.
"You guys are awesome," relief pitcher Preston Larrison told the crowd on the chilly late summer evening.
They were at Fifth Third Field last night to celebrate the team's back-to-back league titles and another season of record-breaking attendance.
And what a celebration it was.
At left, Toledoan Jack Sniderhan, 8, slides into first base during the evening celebration recognizing the team's second Governors' Cup title in a row.
The night was filled with proclamations from the Lucas County commissioners and Toledo's mayor, highlights of the playoff games on the stadium scoreboard's video screen, team members' introductions and remarks, autographs, and fans running the bases with reckless abandon.
"We came out because it's awesome they won the Governors' Cup two years in a row," said Stephanie Thober, 35, of South Toledo, who along with her 10-year-old niece, Taylor Downey, made sure they didn't miss the victory rally.
"We never miss opening day; we never miss closing day," Ms. Thober said.
While the rally featured the requisite politicians' speeches and end-of-the-season thoughts from Hens management and the half-dozen players in attendance, the organization made it clear that the heroes of the evening were the team's loyal fans.
Oregon resident and season ticket holder Kathy McNeal gets an up-close look at the Governors Cup during a celebration at Fifth Third Field. The Mud Hens organization emphasized that the fans played a big part in the club s second championship season in a row. It was justice that we finally got to win the championship here this year in front of you fans, Larry Parrish, the Mud Hens manager, said. The Hens won last year s championship on the road.
"It was justice that we finally got to win the championship here this year in front of you fans," Larry Parrish, the Hens' manager, said.
The Hens won the league title Saturday by beating the Rochester Red Wings 10-1 in Game 5 of the championship series. The team was on the road in Indianapolis when it won the cup last year by defeating the Indianapolis Indians.
As Mr. Parrish left the field and walked into the stands, he was stopped by season ticket holder Rita Lenhart, of Springfield Township, who handed him a wrapped box of chocolates.
Mrs. Lenhart said she had read that the manager compared baseball teams to boxes of chocolates because "you never know what you are going to get."
"So I gave him a box of chocolates with a note that said 'I hope next year's team is just as delicious," Mrs. Lenhart said.
Up on the concourse, Jody Sohnly of West Toledo stood in a line of fans waiting for players' autographs, holding what she said was her season's unlikely good luck charm - a pink baseball cap promoting an Illinois state park. Ms. Sohnly was asking players to sign the cap because she wore it to 20 games.
"They won every one, except for one, and that's because I wore the wrong shirt," she said with a laugh.
An asterisk to last night's victory rally was the Hens' 5-2 loss Tuesday night to the Tucson Sidewinders in the Triple-A championship game in Oklahoma City, which Mr. Parrish said "felt like an exhibition game."
And the fans didn't let that loss dampen their spirits.
"We're still [league] champions," said Roger Nye, 55, of East Toledo. "They can't take that away from us.
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