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New Stadium Sought for Mud Hens

April 27, 1998 GMT

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) _ For more than 100 years, a team named after a bug-munching swamp bird has been swatting baseballs in this blue-collar town.

But the future of the Toledo Mud Hens _ the Detroit Tigers’ top minor-league club, made famous by Cpl. Max Klinger on TV’s ``M-A-S-H″ _ hangs in the balance on May 5.

That’s the day Lucas County votes on a temporary sales tax increase to help pay for a $37 million, 12,900-seat downtown stadium.

Although the team hasn’t said what it will do if the measure is rejected, county leaders fear it will move.

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That would be a sorry end to a franchise that counts Casey Stengel, Hack Wilson, Jim Thorpe, Kirby Puckett and Kirk Gibson among its alumni.

Home for the Mud Hens is Ned Skeldon Stadium, a horse track-turned-ballpark in suburban Maumee about 15 minutes from downtown Toledo. The stadium needs at least $10 million in repairs.

The three-year sales tax increase from 6.25 percent to 6.5 percent would raise an estimated $35 million. Of that, $11 million would go toward an aquatic center in Maumee and $26 million toward the stadium. State and private sources would provide an additional $5.5 million apiece for the new ballpark.

No polls have done on the issue, but supporters say a new stadium would go a long way toward boosting the economy of the city of 330,000 that has battled financial troubles for years.

More than half of Skeldon Stadium’s 10,000 seats have an obstructed view. The ballpark has far too few concessions stands and not enough bathrooms.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who backs the issue, said a new stadium would draw thousands of fans and could be used for concerts and other events.

``This stadium will be an enormous asset to downtown and to all of Lucas County,″ Finkbeiner said.

Opponents, though, don’t like the idea of paying higher taxes.

``People are fed up with taxes in the county,″ said James Boehm, treasurer of People Incensed by the Stadium Tax, predicting the measure won’t be hard to defeat.

Backers hope to cash in on sentiment for a team that has played here since 1883 _ and lost more than games than they’ve won and captured only one championship, in 1967.

Mud Hens executive director Joe Napoli said the team would never threaten to leave Toledo.

``But we must face reality, and the reality is that 75 new minor league ballparks have been built″ in recent years, he said. ``That fact alone has raised the standards for minor league facilities.″