Mud Hens work, triumph together

Toledo's group effort leads to title, Triple-A Team of Year kudos

The Toledo Mud Hens dominated the International League en route to their first title in 38 years. (Toledo Mud Hens)

By Zack Hample / MLB.com | November 10, 2005 12:59 PM

There's no "I" in Toledo.

The Mud Hens had just one player who led the International League in any category -- starting pitcher Jason Grilli tossed three complete games -- but it was their group effort that earned the league's best record and their first championship in 38 years.

For that effort, the Mud Hens have been selected as MiLB.com's Triple-A Team of the Year.

Led by Manager of the Year and former Major League All-Star Larry Parrish, Toledo got off to a 7-1 start and dominated the league all season.

"One of the things that made this team special is how well they played together and pulled for each other," Parrish said. "It was a very fun club to be around."

Three of his players -- center fielder Curtis Granderson, shortstop Gookie Dawkins and utility man Kevin Hooper -- added to the fun by coming up with a pre-game dance which, incidentally, got some strange looks from their opponents.

"It was something you'd normally associate with football, a way to get loose before the games," Parrish said. "They started doing it in May. ... I told them that if we made the playoffs, I'd get in it with them."

He did.

On June 23, the Hens took over sole possession of first place in the Western Division and never let go. From July 2-10, they enjoyed a nine-game win streak during which they outscored their opponents by a whopping margin of 67-17. By the end of the regular season, they had a Triple-A-best .618 winning percentage and 89 wins -- and that's when Parrish kept his word.

Over the course of the season, the Mud Hens had 21 players who also spent time with the Detroit Tigers, including utility man Ramon Martinez, who made history in his first of three rehab games. On April 26, Martinez went 6-for-6 with six singles in a 14-1 laugher over Louisville to become the first Toledo player since 1895 to collect six hits in one game.

Two other players also made history. Dewayne Wise hit for the cycle May 14, and Hooper played all nine positions -- and earned the save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning -- in the regular season finale Sept. 5.

Stunts aside, Hooper was the team leader.

"Hoop just had that ability to get it done and mix well with everybody else, and at the same time, he was sometimes my go-between with the players," Parrish said. "I think he'll make an excellent coach someday."

"(Hooper) is the most unselfish person," added Grilli, who finished 12-9 with a 4.09 ERA and led the team with 167 1/3 innings pitched.

Meanwhile, the Mud Hens pitching staff led all of Triple-A with a 3.70 ERA while giving up the fewest hits (1,224) and runs (583). Toledo's pitchers paced the International League with 15 shutouts and surrendered the fewest home runs (116).

Toledo plowed through the postseason behind Marcus Thames, the Triple-A Playoff Performer of the Year, who batted .407 with three homers and 10 RBIs in eight games. The Hens defeated the Norfolk Tides, their first-round opponent, in a decisive Game 5 before sweeping the Indianapolis Indians in the finals to take home the Governor's Cup.

"I'm putting together my scrapbook right now, reliving my whole season," Grilli said. "This is the most fun I've had in my entire career."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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