Deadline Now: Joe Napoli and Nick Vitucci
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Deadline Now: Joe Napoli and Nick Vitucci

Friday, February 18, 2011

With the Walleye's second season winding down and the Mud Hens new season about to begin, host Jack Lessenberry welcomes back to the program Walleye and Mud Hens President and General Manager Joe Napoli and Walleye Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Nick Vitucci.

Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of Deadline Now:

When I first came to Toledo back in the late 1970s, I was struck by how seedy and unappealing the town’s hockey arena and baseball stadium were. They were way out of date, and I couldn’t imagine taking someone to either on a first date.

But today, there are major league ballparks which aren’t as nice as Fifth Third Field, and the Huntington Arena continues to dazzle fans. Someone told me their reaction was, “wow. You get all this and then they eventually play a hockey game here too!"

Keeping fans excited about minor league sports is always a challenge. Your best players are likely to disappear and be called up to the next level at any moment. In a town like Toledo, major league sports of all kind are available only an hour’s drive north in Detroit, or a slightly longer jaunt east, to Cleveland. And of course, anybody with cable TV has their choice of about a zillion major league games.

However, Joe Napoli and his crew seem to have come up with a winning solution, partly through dedication to providing an excellent product in an excellent setting, and partly through shrewd marketing. Actually I think some of their marketing is better than that I see for major league teams. They’ve got other advantages, too.

For one thing, these players are not only immensely talented, they are full of hustle. Most are eager to prove themselves, to try to get to the next level. This is a hard-working town, and a lot of us can relate to that. We also ought to be more easily able to identify with these Walleye and Mud Hen players than with a major league player making ten million dollars a year.

A friend of mine, now retired, is an immense baseball fan who has lived in many different major league cities. But for her, nothing has ever compared to seeing a young Willie Mays play for the minor league Minneapolis Millers.

The day isn’t that far off when somebody will become a huge star with the Detroit Red Wings, and Toledoans will say. “Oh yeah. We knew him back when he was here with the Walleye.”

I hope you’ll be back here with us next time. For Deadline Now, I’m Jack Lessenberry.