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The clubhouse man has not slept. Because there was no power, he and his assistant had to wash the uniforms and sweatshirts in a local Laundromat. The uniforms are fine now, hanging in the stalls. "You probably think all this is strange, the power going out like this," the clubhouse man says from behind his flashlight. "Uh-uh. Things like this happen all the time. All the time. These are the minor leagues."
I suppose I have come to the right place.
The Mud Hens play at Ned Skeldon Stadium, located in a recreation complex in the suburb of Maumee. There is no megaboard in centerfield to convert the most insignificant plays and statistics into 30-foot wonders, no instant replay to replace memory. The action takes place once, in human dimensions. See it or don't. Lights from a half-dozen Softball fields shine beyond the outfield fences. Sometimes there are more people playing on the softball fields than there are watching baseball.
The ballpark is an architectural mishmash with 10,025 seats. The third base stands were inherited from a racetrack when the park was built in 1965. The stewards' box still hangs from the roof. The first base stands were modernized in a $1.8-million renovation in 1984. Part of the renovation was a cinder-block tower, built on stilts behind home plate. The tower contains the Diamond Club on the second floor (membership awarded to anyone who sells or buys 15 season tickets) and a press box on the third. There is no elevator.
The dominant color in the park is a muddy (Mud Hens?) brown. The seats are silver and red. The obligatory advertisements have been painted on the outfield fences. They run from the Presidential Tuxedos sign at the leftfield line to the Foth-Dorfmeyer Mortuary sign (FAMILY OWNED AND OPERATED SINCE 1892) in right. There are two levels of signs.
"Some of the hitters complain about the second level, about the glare that comes off the signs," says Charlie Bracken, president of the Mud Hens. "Well, do you know what I say? We sell each of those signs for $1,200. That might not sound like a lot of money in the major leagues, but it's a lot of money here. I say that if we could sell enough signs, we'd have a domed stadium. The signs would come right over the top of the field."
The economics of the operation are decidedly small-time. The Tigers pay the team's salaries and the bulk of its travel costs. The Mud Hens—structured as a public, nonprofit operation owned by Lucas County—take care of the rest. A box-seat ticket costs $4; a reserved seat, $3; and general admission, $2.50. Senior citizens and children under 14 get $1 off any ticket. A season ticket for the best box seat in the park costs $175 for 73 home games, a discount of $117. The largest part of the team's revenue comes from concessions. Come to the park and buy. That is the marketing strategy. Bring the kids. Buy. Parking is free. Sometimes even the tickets are free.
"We'll sell the whole park to a company for a night," assistant general manager Jim Rohr says. "The company then can work some giveaway. Whatever it wants. Pepsi, for instance, has bought the whole park for a couple of nights this year. You get coupons. You redeem 'em for tickets. We have a big crowd. We sell a lot at the concession stands."
A revenue boost in recent years has come from mail orders for Mud Hens merchandise. This has been a curious phenomenon, due not to baseball but to the success of actor Jamie Farr, a Toledo native. Farr played Corporal Klinger in the TV show M*A*S*H. Klinger lamented the fact that he was in the Army and stationed in Korea. He tried to obtain a discharge to "return home to Toledo" by wearing a dress.
Mud Hens general manager Gene Cook watched the show, listened to the laments and put together a Mud Hens care package for Farr that included a cap and a 1946 game jersey. He enclosed a letter saying that Farr should "get out of those dresses and into a Mud Hens shirt." Surprise. Farr wore the Mud Hens shirt on the show. He talked about the Mud Hens. He became the most famous Mud Hen of all time.