Gabor Erdos, left, has a ball signed by Toledo Mud Hens pitcher Bryan Garcia after throwing out a ceremonial first pitch Wednesday, August 23, 2017, at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio. Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
Hungarian-born Gabor Erdos returned to the city that helped foster his love for baseball when he threw out the first pitch before the Toledo Mud Hens game at Fifth Third Field on Wednesday night.
Erdos was just 21 when he first came to the United States through a Sister Cities program in 1995. He interned with the Mud Hens in the team’s ticket department.
“I was only here for a month, but it was a life-changing experience,” Erdos said. “My obsession with baseball got even more obsessive.”
Erdos worked at Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee where the Mud Hens played before moving to downtown Toledo. Now 43, Erdos has become a highly-regarded umpire who works games throughout Europe.
“I fell in love with umpiring when I went back, and started doing it in the U.K.,” Erdos said. “I started going to clinics and investing in proper gear. Now, I’m one of five umpires that can umpire at the European level.”
Erdos was at the downtown stadium with his wife, Rachel, and 10-month-old son, Stanley. The family, which lives in London, was on the field for the ceremonial first pitch before the Mud Hens’ game against Columbus.
“This is absolutely amazing to share this experience with my family. It’s absolutely incredible,” he said.
“I’ve never had the first pitch. I haven’t thrown a baseball for two weeks, so I wished I had done a bit of practice. You can see why I don’t play, I just umpire,” Erdos said, chuckling.
Erdos was born and raised in Veszprem, Hungary, near the city of Szeged, which is one of Toledo's Sister Cities. Longtime Toledo Councilman Peter Ujvagi, who now represents East Toledo, said he remembered Erdos as an eager intern.
“Twenty-two years ago, he was a young man who was very fascinated with American baseball. So he appreciated the opportunity to intern with the Mud Hens,” Ujvagi said.
Erdos, who worked in the Mud Hens’ ticket office, said he was impressed with the high technology.
“We had touch-screen computers with a pen and we would book the tickets. People would pay for tickets at the window without any money in their hand, which was incredible to me,” he said.
Erdos first helped found the Veszprem Fireballs baseball team in Hungary. He played at various levels in the Hungarian league. The Mud Hens sent 10 hats and jerseys bearing the team’s logo to Hungary, as well as some catcher's equipment and baseballs.
“So everyone could name the Mud Hens over there,” he said.
Erdos moved to London in 2009, and umpired in his first game that same year. He has since umpired in Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Erdos said he loved old Skeldon Stadium, which was an old horse racing track that was converted into a baseball stadium. But he said he is in awe of Fifth Third Field.
“The stadium and the whole development around it is amazing. It's just incredible, especially comparing it to Ned Skeldon,” Erdos said.