"It's amazing what that show has done for us," Bracken says. "The orders come in from everywhere. We always can tell when the reruns have begun in a new country because all of a sudden we start to get requests for merchandise from that country. I think it just started to play in Germany this year. We have gotten a lot of letters from Germany."
"Jamie has been very good to us," Cook says in his office, which features assorted pictures of the actor on the walls. "He's come here a number of times. Once he was here for his birthday. We had a ceremony at home plate. This MASH helicopter flew over the centerfield fence and landed right in the outfield. Two guys dressed as medics ran to home plate with a giant birthday cake. It worked out great."
The second-most-famous Mud Hen in recent years has been NBC sports-caster Bob Costas. On a promo for NFL Live, Costas once introduced himself as "Bob Costas, former utility infielder for the Toledo Mud Hens." Again, Cook went to work. Did Costas really play for the Mud Hens? Cook checked all the records available and found no mention of a Bob Costas. He sent Costas a letter saying that perhaps there had been an oversight in the record books and it could be remedied if Costas came to Toledo. Costas came.
"He was here for a week," Rohr says. "He took infield. He took batting practice. He coached first. He really got into it. We said goodbye to him after the game on Friday night because he was doing a Game of the Week on Saturday, but he went, did the game, then was back just to watch our game on Saturday night."
The highlights of a typical Mud Hens season are the two visits of the Famous Chicken (all ticket prices raised $1) and the one exhibition game against the reluctant Tigers. ("We used to be affiliated with the Minnesota Twins," Cook says. "They hated the exhibition game so much, they paid us $10,000 every year nor to have to play the game.") The rest of the schedule is filled with a succession of promotions honoring groups and charities and supermarkets and candy bars. Radio disc jockeys play softball before games. Big time wrestlers appear after games. A baseball game also is included in the price of admission.
All this help is needed because the Mud Hens are struggling. They have been left behind in the general renaissance of minor league baseball. The team is young—10 of the 23 players delivered by the Tigers are spending their first year in Triple A—and the Hens are in last place in their division of the International League. The Toledo economy is an auto-based economy, and that means it is a lousy economy. The team is last in attendance among 26 Triple A teams. The fact that Detroit is so close does not help...and the fact that the stadium is in the suburbs, not downtown, does not help...and a spring filled with rain does not help. All games seem to be played under clouds.
"You know what bothers me?" Cook says. "Weathermen. They're all so negative. They come on the air every half hour and they say, 'Forty percent chance of rain.' Do you know how negative that is? Why couldn't they say, 'Sixty percent chance of good weather'? Isn't that the same statistic? Have you ever heard 'em say it? I've even talked about this at a Meet the Mud Hens booster luncheon. Weathermen. I heard 'em say just this week that 'two funnel clouds have been spotted over Fort Wayne.' Fort Wayne! So what? Those funnel clouds aren't coming here, are they?"
Cook says this as he looks from his office at a hard rain falling at five o'clock on a June afternoon. The rain will pass—the weathermen say—but the damage is irreversible. The purchase of a ticket to a minor league baseball game is usually an impulsive act. Rain does not help the impulse. Even clouds do not help.
"It's the Independent Order of Foresters Night, too," Cook says. "Those poor Foresters. Can't catch a break. Last year it snowed on Foresters night."
The Mud Hens manager is 42-year-old Tom Gamboa. He is the second manager of the young season. The first manager either quit or was fired. No one seems to know exactly what happened, except that the first manager did not like to fly. Sometimes he would have to leave Toledo after the last night game of a home stand and drive the rest of the night and most of the next day to meet the team at its first road stop. It was not a good situation.