Take Me Out to the Ball Game

For many of us, baseball is the all-American sport. Baseball has given us idioms (“touch base,” “out in left field,” and “batting a thousand”), classic movies (Field of Dreams, Major League, and A League of Their Own), and even a few classic songs.

Going to a ball game is a lot of fun. But most fans will admit that the game itself can be a bit hard to follow and slow at times, especially for younger attendees. This can make it harder to justify taking the whole family to a major league game, especially when you figure in the cost of tickets, parking and food.

The Minors

Happily, there is a solution: minor league baseball. Minor league games are less expensive, and the ball parks are smaller than the majors and cater more to families. Many of them have playgrounds or even splash pads for those hot summer days. Is the level of play as high as at a major league game? Frankly, no— these are “farm” teams, where players get started in their careers, improving their skills as they move up the ladder. So although you might not see the best current players, you do get a chance to see future stars.

In fact, there are four levels of minor league teams. Triple A is the closest to the majors, followed by double A, High A, and Low A. Teams always play within their leagues, so you won’t see the Mudhens (Triple A) play the Akron Rubber Ducks (Double A). That said, there are plenty of possibilities to check out a game: there are six teams within about a two and a half hour drive of Toledo, though not all of them are within Ohio’s borders.

The Fun

Minor league teams often go the extra mile in providing special events during or after the games. Fireworks are particularly common, if you’re willing to wait until it’s dark enough. Bark in the Park, where people bring their (leashed) dogs, is another popular event. Other special promotions include Trivia Night, Hip Hop Night, T-shirt giveaways, Military Appreciation, Toga Party, Dinosaur Night, Star Wars Night, just to name a few. For a full list, check the schedule on each team’s website.

The Food

Of course typical ballpark fare is offered at the minor league parks: hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn and beer. But many of the minor league teams also have local specialties that you won’t find elsewhere. At the Fort Wayne TinCaps, it’s all about the apples, including Apple Pie Bites with caramel sauce, apple crisp and apple dumplings. The Akron Rubber Ducks have “Not Your Routine Poutine,” with not only French Fries, cheese curds and gravy, but also pulled pork, bacon and green onions. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options are also more common, though hardly standard.

The Mascots

Team mascots are inherently geared toward fun fan interaction. Minor league teams frequently run with this idea, with their mascots often being anthropomorphized animals, cartoon-ish critters with high kid appeal. Since minor league parks are smaller, it’s easier for the mascots to have time to interact with more of the fans. In fact, many teams have multiple mascots. Whether it’s Johnny TinCap in Ft. Wayne, Rubberta the rubber duck in Akron, or Heater the dragon in Dayton, the mascots are very friendly and happy to interact with fans.

The ‘Hens

The Toledo Mudhens earned national fame on TV’s MASH thanks to Corporal Max Klinger, played by Jamie Farr, who often wore a Mudhens jersey. The Mudhens are the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. They play at Fifth Third Field, which seats 10,300 fans. The Mud Hens have averaged more than 500,000 fans annually since opening in 2002, selling out 507 times. Mascots Muddy and Mudonna are always ready to hang out with the fans! Opening Day was April 5th in 2022, and the house was packed— the Mudhens have sold out on Opening Day for the past 19 years.

A Muddy’s Buddies Kids Club membership includes a club member hat, a newsletter highlighting upcoming family themed events, and a $20 Mud Hens gift card that can be used towards game tickets, fanwear at the Swamp Shop or treats at the stadium. You can also download a “Design a Jersey” coloring page and a 23 page kids’ activity book for free from the Mudhens website. Website: milb.com/toledo

The List

The half dozen teams closest to Toledo are:

Play ball!

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