Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
“If you build it, they will come.”
In October of 2012, the Mud Hens announced that Fifth Third Field would host an outdoor Walleye game as a part of a 10-day celebration called “Winterfest”. GM Joe Napoli stated it was contemplated for over three years, Promedica was the headline sponsor, and that it would take place in late 2014. 5 years of planning, for just 10 days.
Winterfest was designed to showcase our downtown jewel while celebrating and marketing our Winters.
Last year, Toledo was named for having the “Worst Winter”. I don’t need to remind you of the snow amounts or the bitter cold– if you were here it’s tattooed on your soul. I think it’s the snow and cold that give Toledoans a thicker skin than most.
Many of you might be asking “Why would anyone ‘celebrate’ the awful cold and horrible snow?
It’s hard to see the beauty in something that we have to shovel off our driveways.
Some people that walk this earth, never get to see, feel or taste a snowflake. They see it on TV, read about it, maybe it’s the backdrop of a movie, but never get to experience it. As you are well aware, Northwest Ohio has four true seasons. We love our Spring, Summer and Falls, but most of us carry a love/hate relationship with our Winters.
As we are trying to re-brand ourselves on a global scale, why wouldn’t we celebrate and embrace the one thing that makes us very different from other places in the world?
Winterfest was and will continue to be a game-changer for this community.
Of course, only in Toledo, could we host a “Winterfest”, promote it for two years, and Mother Nature doesn’t get the memo. How unlucky can one city be? We have 80 plus inches of snow in January, and no water to drink in August. We throw a 10 day festival about our cold and have 8 days of “unseasonably warm” weather.
It only snowed a few times during Winterfest, once on the final day during the makeup Walleye game and the other during the Battle of the Badges– a game played between the Toledo Police and Fire Departments. I am positive that Steve Machcinski and Jamie Dickman nudged somebody upstairs.
I decided to experience Winterfest differently. I wanted to see what it was like the other 95% of the time, when the Walleye wasn’t on the ice.
I chose two o’clock on a Tuesday, it was the perfect choice. It was 40 plus degrees, with a strong, cold wind and no snow falling nor even in the forecast. I brought photographer and Instagram superstar, Eric Shanteau, with me. I wanted his eye to capture the true beauty of Winterfest.
The stadium was empty, the main gates wide open and the cost to walk in was free. As a father of four, I knew what was going on the moment I heard the first cowbell… travel hockey.
The perfectly placed ice rink that covered the Mud Hens infield, featured a game between two teams filled with 9 year-old children. One squad was coached by former Toledo Storm player Gordy Hunt, the other came from Canada. There was music, a live video feed on the scoreboard, nervous fathers yelling instructions, hockey moms ringing bells and plenty of smiles. There were no mascots, no remote-controlled balloon dropping prizes, just an ice rink full of kids playing a game of hockey, having a moment they will never forget.
Winterfest not only showcased the Walleye, our Fifth Third Field, brought tens of thousands of people to Downtown Toledo (in the Winter)… it supplied something.
Winterfest created lifetime memories for every person who walked through the gates.
For ten days straight, Joe Napoli and his incredible team, gave thousands of people a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that happened right here in Toledo.
Decades from now, one of the boys I watched play hockey on a Tuesday afternoon, will be telling his grandkids about that game. His story will detail how blue the sky was, how cold the wind felt, how proud his parents were and depending on what team he was on, the score. You don’t forget an experience like that, even if you weren’t victorious.
Five years of planning for 10 days of memories, seems like the perfect formula for Toledo’s future.