Fifth Third Field in Toledo is one of the best places to watch a baseball game!
It has wonderful color, great ability to follow the ball, wonderful seats, and capability to walk around the entire diamond, festive atmosphere, wonderful concessions, and good baseball. The citizens of Toledo and the surrounding area have supported it wonderfully by selling out over 250 games in its short 10 year history. The large crowds add to the excitement by being able to incite rallies, cheer home runs, and boo the ump when a call is made against the good guys. Fifth Third Toledo (there are also Fifth Third fields in Dayton and Grand Rapids) has a wonderful personality and it has been honored as the Minor League Ballpark of the year, not once, not twice, but thrice.
But before Fifth Third, the Mud Hens played in a much less spectacular park in the Lucas County Recreation Center where the diamond was call Ned Skeldon Stadium, or, referred to by locals, simply The Ned. This park also had its own personality and was home to many wonderful memories. While I wouldn’t trade the new surroundings, there were some things the Ned had that I wish were at Fifth Third. Although change is good, nostalgia isn’t too bad. Following are some things that are different from the Fifth Third and the Ned, in which I thought the Ned was superior.
Logo on the Stadium
Let’s start on the outside. The old Ned had a wonderful larger than life Mud Hen Logo on the side that proudly proclaimed Home of the Toledo Mud Hens. This was where the Mud Hens played. Downtown, it is obviously Fifth Third Field, and while it has words about home of the mud hens and a large Swamp Shop sign, it still doesn’t have the power of a logo that took up 20% of the third base sign of the stands.
The old Ned had wooden aisles where the seats were attached and large gaps under the seats. Many a foul ball would get lost in those gaps and fall into the gravel below. The excitement of chasing a foul ball increased when it went through those gaps as kids would scurry down the ramp to get the ball.
Foot stomping noise
Another wonderful aspect of the old wooden aisles was the noise that was created when a rally was underway. We would make the stadium rock with the loud sound that can only be heard by stomping your feet onto wood. Stomping on concrete isn’t the same, not only does it not make the noise, it is much harder on the ankles and shins.
Hot Roasted Peanuts
Bring this one back to the new stadium. Right behind home plate, the Ned had a concession stand that sold fresh grilled burgers and dogs, but also had hot fresh roasted peanuts in paper bags. You could feel the warmth through the bag and the smell and taste of that treat made many a ballgame for many a fan. They were warm, delicious, and you could drop the shells through those cracks in the aisles. Now they sell peanuts in plastic bags – not as tasty, not as fun, and not as flavorful – but the big loss is the smell. Bring back fresh roasted peanuts !!!!
Roof and Owls
There were box seats and reserved seats down both baselines extending about 30 feet past first base that were covered by an old metal roof. Then there were open air general admission seats past that. In high school we almost always bought the General Admission seats and then jumped to the Reserved. There were almost always large unused sections in the stadium. The roof was an old metal overhang and you could touch it in the top row of the first base side. When a foul ball hit the roof, there was a loud noticeable noise in the stands. (Again kids would race down the ramps to get the foul ball). But to my young daughters, the most memorable thing about the roof was the placement of large plastic owls to scare away other birds from nesting in the rafters. Not sure how successful the owls were are stopping nesting, but the definitely added a feature to the game that is unmatched at Fifth Third.
The Diamond Club
The ‘suites’ at the old Ned were contained in the Diamond Club, which was the old racetrack announcer’s booth and was attached to the roof of the stadium down the third baseline. I believe the access was via a catwalk for a while and then eventually had a set of rickety stairs to get to it. I never sat in the Diamond Club, but did see many celebrities and former major league players through the window. I remember one night watching Gates Brown climb down the steps, thinking that he was a big guy for such an engineering marvel. But he made it down ok, although I think it’s safe to say he breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the ground.
Don’t get me wrong, the modern scoreboards at Fifth Third have a billion times the education factor as the old four line score at the Ned. But it was amazing how that simple scoreboard with four rows of text at the bottom instigated such excitement. Whether it be asking what song the fans wanted to hear between innings, or encouraging fans on first base to say “Mud” and fans on third base side to say “Hens” or it gave a fact of the game. The simplicity of the scoreboard made for a little less high tech atmosphere.
The Scoreboard Races
And those four rows were also home of dumb, yet simple, races. Fifth Third has fully animated multimedia, Technicolor races on the big scoreboard between ketchup, mustard, and relish. The old Ned had a couple rows of boats. The fans would cheer on the little boats as they raced across the bottom of the scoreboard to a thrilling victory.
Of course these are items that were at the Ned when it finished hosting the Hens, there were many other traits the old rec center had before it had several renovations that I will discuss in a future blog. But for now, I’ll leave it at these little items. Fifth Third is wonderful, but there are some pieces of the Ned that didn’t make the trip and are missed. Of course, the good news is that the Ned is still around, albeit now as a stadium for a Roy Hobbs league. So there still is the possibility of a baseball rally being started by fans stomping on wooden aisle and screaming at the top of their lungs. The game takes on the feel of its surrounding, and each has its own personality and memories. Go Hens, wherever you call home!
A Google Image Search for pictures of the old Ned: