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Sixty Miles From The Show
Leigh Montville
July 23, 1990
NED SKELDON STADIUM NEAR TOLEDO IS AN HOUR FROM DETROIT AND—DREAM ON, YOU MUD HENS—A TIGER UNIFORM
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July 23, 1990

Sixty Miles From The Show

NED SKELDON STADIUM NEAR TOLEDO IS AN HOUR FROM DETROIT AND—DREAM ON, YOU MUD HENS—A TIGER UNIFORM

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"We were playing in Charleston, West Virginia," Cook says. "Jesus strikes out and is so mad he throws his helmet into the stands. Some fan catches it, then won't give it back. A deal is made so the fan can come to the clubhouse after the game and exchange the helmet for an autographed ball or something. We're leaving town. Jesus comes out with the autographed ball. The fan is waiting with the helmet. Everything is fine, then the fan says something. Jesus decks him. Police come from everywhere. A log is pulled in front of our bus so we can't leave. Finally, they let us go, but only because they still don't have the warrant sworn for Jesus' arrest. They follow us out of town and when we stop at a restaurant, they have the warrant. Jesus hides. They finally find him in the ladies' room, where he is standing on a toilet so they can't see his feet. Jesus goes to jail. Cal Ermer, the manager, also goes to jail. It was a mess."

I ask about the origin of the Mud Hens nickname, and I am told that it comes from long ago, 1896, when the team played at Bay View Park and wild ducks inhabited the nearby marshlands. A mud hen is a ducklike bird with a pointed white beak. I ask if there is anyplace I can see a mud hen. I am told, alas, that the birds stop in the Toledo area only for a short time on their migration. They are in Canada now. There are no mud hens in Toledo, and because the stadium is in Maumee, there also are no Mud Hens in Toledo.

I learn the story of Moses (Fleet) Walker, who might have been the first black major leaguer because in 1884 he played for Toledo in the American Association. That year Toledo was dropped from the league, a move some people said was due to the presence of a black player on the roster. A footnote to history.

I listen to a recording of the official Mud Hens theme song, Oh, Them Hens, by the local group Hotlix. ("Gametime, gang, tell all your friends. Hip hip hooray, here come the Hens!") At the top of the eighth inning, I go to the Mud Hens office for an interview with Muddy the Mud Hen. He is the team mascot. His real name is Steve Sophis, and he is a manager at Hill's department store in Bowling Green. His costume consists of fluorescent yellow tights, yellow Chuck Taylor hightops, a Mud Hens jersey, a plastic pink tail and a head made of carpet with a long white beak hanging in front.

"It's my first year as Muddy," Sophis says. "I was working for Hill's sometimes as Lossie the Loss Prevention Dog. I wore a dog suit. Somebody saw me and offered me this job as the Mud Hen. I love it. I love the way kids react."

He says he is looking forward to the visits of the Famous Chicken because maybe he can pick up some mascot tips. He, too, would like to be in the majors.

"You'd like to do this in the big time?" I ask.

"Oh, yes," Sophis says. "The big leagues would be great. Right now, I'm just an amateur chicken."

An amateur chicken?

The night is coming to a close. The kids are still yelling and running through the aisles and buying at those concessions stands. Muddy goes out to work the ninth inning. An amateur chicken. I suppose I have come to the right place.

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