There’s no question that Toledoans love their Mud Hens.
Through April showers and the sweltering heat in August – reveling in victories
and enduring heartbreaking losses - the faithful flock to Fifth Third Field to cheer on their favorite boys of summer.
Among those throngs are a die-hard group of fans who love their Mud Hens even more. Game after game, the players’ wives, fiancées and sweethearts take their seats, some of them not so much fans of the sport, but absolute die-hard supporters of the men they love.
Many might imagine the life of a professional baseball player (and his wife or girlfriend) as exciting and glamorous, traveling from city to city, enjoying fine dining and signing autographs.
But living out of a suitcase, being away from family and friends for months at a time and the uncertainty of not knowing where you might be next week, next month or next year is also part of the reality of the baseball lifestyle.
The Press recently had the opportunity to sit down with Detroit Tiger/Toledo Mud Hen Clete Thomas and his wife Susie Brooks Thomas, looking to get a glimpse into their lives during baseball season.
The Press: Coming from living in Tampa to Toledo and the Midwest, was that a happy prospect?
Susie: Yeah. It’s fun. We’re open to change. You have to be.
When we first got married, we were in Erie, Pa. and I was definitely in a weather and a culture shock – we’re both from Florida.
I had to adjust to that, and to Clete being home a week, gone a week, home a week, gone a week.
The Press: Was that hard?
Susie: We already had one dog and Clete wanted another one. He broke me down and we got a puppy and I’m glad because it kept me busy.
The Press: Did you two meet in college?
Susie: Yes. At Auburn. Clete was playing baseball.
The Press: Were you a fan?
Susie: No I was never a baseball fan. When we first met, I was thinking, “I’d never date him” (because of the baseball aspect).
Clete: And I thought she’d never date me.
Susie: Anyway, we started dating and he won me over. I had never actually been to a baseball game in my entire life. Not ever.
We dated for almost a year and then got engaged. A year and five months later, we got married.
So to answer your question, when we were dating at Auburn, he only had one season left, so I had my little taste of baseball.
The Press: Did you grow to love it – baseball?
Clete: Be honest.
Susie: I like it now. Baseball’s fun but…it’s a long season, as hard as it can be on me, I think about him playing just about every single night. He really has such drive to succeed, and I love that about him. He’s gone every day from about 1:30 until the game’s over.
The Press: So when you got engaged, you kind of knew what you were signing up for?
Susie: Sort of – you could say that. The whole time we were engaged, it was long-distance. He bought a camper when he was in West Michigan when he was in Low A (a sub-class of Class A), and every year he would trailer it back to Auburn and live in his mobile home.
In the minors, you don’t really make that much money – you eat a lot of Vienna sausage and tuna.
The Press: When did you get married?
Susie: In January 2007 – the off season. Everyone in baseball – all the wives – our anniversaries are usually right around the same time because you have to plan November to January weddings.
The Press: Did you earn a degree? Are you pursuing a career?
Susie: I majored in psychology and sociology, but I’ve kind of put a career of hold. When we needed extra money, I worked for my dad’s veterinary hospital. My dad wanted me to be a vet. (An animal lover, she brings her two dogs along when she travels.)
The Press: Clete, what did you major in?
Susie: He once told me he was majoring in baseball. Ha ha! He got drafted his junior year.
The Press: Some people think being a professional athlete is glamorous – travel, the “star treatment,” etc.
Clete: People do think that – before I got into professional sports, that’s what I thought. For some it might be. But you work hard year-round.
Susie: It’s a wonderful life, but I wouldn’t say it’s glamorous. All the moving can be hard. By the end of every season, I can’t wait to go home and not do anything and not go anywhere. But then about two months into the off-season, I want to be on the move again.
The Press: So you’re in Tampa during the off-season?
Susie: Yes. Last year, Clete was rehabbing from the surgery he had. We’re going to buy a house this year in Tampa. We’re excited about that.
The Press: Susie, do you go on the road much?
Susie: I bring the dogs with me when we’re in Toledo or Detroit. They’re wonderful company for me, but sometimes they can become – not a burden I wouldn’t say because I love them so much, but - a lot of the wives can travel a lot. I can’t fly anywhere because of the dogs.
And we always have to find a place that takes dogs.
It seems like all the problems happen when Clete’s not around. Recently one of the dogs got sick and I had to take him to the vet and clean up the hotel carpet. It's funny now though.
The Press: So you stay in hotels, rather than in an apartment?
Susie: If we had more of an idea of how long we’d be somewhere, it would be easier to try to get an apartment but Clete has gone back and forth between Toledo and Detroit. You never know when that’s coming,
The Press: Clete, it must be exciting to get called up to the Tigers.
Clete: It’s great but it can be hard for her. She has to spend a lot of time by herself.
The Press: When he’s away, how do you keep yourself busy and find things to do, especially in unfamiliar places?
Susie: I read, I hang out with the dogs. Sometimes I’ll hang out with one of the other wives. Some of them have kids so they’re busy – I don’t know how they do it.
The Press: Do you talk to each other a lot when Clete’s on the road?
Susie: Yeah, we talk a lot on the phone. We manage.
The Press: So if you’re at the game and Clete’s not having a good night and you hear someone yell something at him or about him, does that bother you?
Susie: It depends on if I think he’s bothered. I don’t really think he hears it, though. It sometimes bothers me and sometimes it makes me laugh.
It depends on what they say. Everybody says Clete has a “deer-in-the-headlight” look, which I kind of think he does.
Mostly, the fans are very loyal – I noticed that especially in the minor leagues in Erie and in Toledo - it’s cool to see many people come to game after game. Clete wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for fans.
The Press: How does Clete deal with fan admiration?
Susie: Clete is shy. He doesn’t think he’s a big deal.
Clete: I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I don’t see why I would be a big deal. I just do my job. It’s something I love to do and I’m lucky enough to play.
Clete: I like it a lot when kids come up to me – I was in their shoes once.
Susie: Sometimes when people are coming up all around him, he gets uncomfortable. People have misinterpreted his shyness as being stuck-up or rude. I guess that can be part of the stereotype of an athlete.
The Press: Clete’s following his dream. Do you feel like you’re living in his shadow?
Susie: Sometimes it can feel like you don’t have a name. My dad wants me to write a book called, “How’s Clete?” because everyone’s always asking me that. Sometimes I’m like, “Hey here’s what I’m doing.”
Clete’s really good about making sure that I don’t feel like I’m in his shadow. He’s humble and we’re both thankful that God got us here.
The Press: What do you see yourself doing “after baseball?”
Clete: Being either in the woods or on a boat, depending on what season it is.
Susie: I think every athlete’s dream is to play long enough and make enough money to retire at an early age and have a normal everyday life together.
But for now, this life is good. I can do it because he wants it really badly. And we know this is an opportunity not a lot of people get. All of it is truly a blessing and we are thankful for God, family and friends.