I’m not going to over analyze the Prince Fielder signing by the Tigers any more than it has been. The papers, web sites, and talk shows have already done that to death. Some experts have the Tigers winning the Series, others have them flopping this season. Whatever. They’ll play their games this summer, and whatever happens, happens. Am I excited about the upcoming season? Of course, I am. But no more than I am or would be for any other baseball season. The reason for this post is to simply drive home the point I’ve been trying to make for the last three years I’ve been on MLBlogs…get to your local Minor League ballpark. The fact is, you really don’t know what future star you’ll be seeing. You never really know what player you might see that will play on your favorite team one day. Personally, it’s fun for me to watch MLB games on TV and say “I saw this guy play in Toledo”, or “Savannah”, oh, well, Hell…pick one. Here are some pics of Prince playing for the Beloit Snappers as a mere 18-year-old, in front of probably mostly Tiger fans at Fifth Third Ballpark. I also read that daddy Cecil was in a suite watching his son play, too. Most fans probably thought that the future Tigers would be wearing the Whitecaps uniforms. Who knew??
Ernie Young Returns: Ernie Young will return in 2012 for his second season managing the West Michigan Whitecaps. The Whitecaps were 70-69 under Young last season, and barely missed the playoffs. He also led Team USA to a silver medal at the Pan-Am Games in October. Also returning for his fifth season in West Michigan will be pitching coach Mark Johnson. Scott Dwyer will be replacing Ben Oglivie as the hitting coach in 2012. Dwyer spent the last two seasons as the hitting coach for the short-season Class-A Connecticut Tigers.
2012 Winter Banquet: The 18th annual Whitecaps Winter Baseball Banquet took place yesterday at the DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids. It was hosted by ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian. Kurkjian has been with ESPN since 1998, as a reporter for Baseball Tonight and senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Also in attendance were current Detroit Tigers pitchers Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. The event included a silent auction with proceeds going to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Programs and the Detroit Tigers foundation. It’s estimated that about $461,000 has been raised from the previous banquets.
Whitecaps HOF: Two former players and one manager have been selected to the 2012 West Michigan Whitecaps Hall of Fame. Having the most impact on baseball in West Michigan without a doubt was former manager Matt Walbeck. Walbeck led the Whitecaps to a Midwest League championship in his first year at the helm in 2004. Two seasons later, he won another championship in 2006 (the Whitecaps won the title in 2007 under Tom Brookens after Walbeck was promoted to AA Erie). He managed the ‘Caps for three seasons with a 238-181 record. Walbeck seemed to enjoy this time with the Detroit Tigers Class A team, too, in his statements to the Grand Rapids Press:
“It was a perfect spot to start my managerial career. It’s a great sports town, with super fans there and I just could not ask for a better situation for me and my career as a manager. It’s a tremendous honor, and something that I am really looking forward to (the HOF). It’s truly and honor to be among the names that are in that Hall of Fame.”
Joining Walbeck, are former players Ramon Santiago and Ben Greive. Santiago (currently with the Tigers) earned midseason and postseason Midwest League All-Star honors during the 2000 season. He was named the best defensive shortstop by Baseball America and finished the season with a .272 batting average. Grieve played for the ‘Caps in 1995, and came in as a first-round draft pick by the Oakland A’s (parent club at the time). He broke into the big leagues with Oakland in 1997, and hit .288 with 41 doubles and 18 home runs as the 1998 American League Rookie of the Year. All three were inducted at the Winter Banquet.
Tiger Fridays at Fifth-Third Ballpark: Oh, yes, Tiger Fridays will be back for the 2012 season. The year six former Tigers will be a guest of the Whitecaps and signing autographs for baseball fans. The lineup includes: Lance Parrish (June 8), Bill Madlock (June 22), Willie Horton (July 6), Jon Warden (July 20), Howard Johnson (August 3), and Elroy Face (August 24). I can image that July 6 with Willie Horton will be a mad house. I haven’t had much luck getting to many of these games, but the few I’ve been to have been a lot of fun. Be prepared to wait in line for you autograph, though, and they usually give out a bobble-head at the gate.
Young photo property of M.I.B.
Walbeck photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Wow…It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since we were blessed with Brian in our lives, and team M.I.B. became complete. Time seems to fly when you have kids, and this last whole decade has basically been a blur. This should be a fun year with Brian, as he’s finally old enough to start tee-ball. He’s excited about playing and going to all the baseball games over the summer. He talks about the Whitecaps and Beach Bums quite a bit. Happy birthday Bri!!!!!!
Brian the day we brought him home sporting his first Whitecaps jersey:
League: International League (AAA)
Home Field: Alliance Bank Stadium
Location: Syracuse, New York
Notable Alumni: A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado, Ron Guidry, Roy Halladay, Fred McGriff, Denny McLain, Thurmon Munson, Dion Sanders, Hank Sauer, and Stephen Strasburg.
Fun Facts: The first stop on our baseball trip this coming season will be in Syracuse. Lots of baseball history in this town, as they’ve been sporting professional baseball since 1877 with the Syracuse Stars. The Stars fielded to Major League teams, with one in 1879 (National League) and in 1890 (American Association). Syracuse was without a team sporadically, but was mostly able to field a team either in the Eastern League or New York/Penn League. The Chiefs name can be traced back to 1934, when the Jersey City Skeeters moved to Syracuse to become the Chiefs. The current franchise came in in 1961 when the Montreal Royals, and Syracuse has had a team ever since. There have been two players in history to have four home run games under their belts. Gene Locklear did it on July 14, 1977, while Michael Aubrey hit four over the fence on May 04, 2011 against the Durham Bulls.
Logos courtesy of the Syracuse Chiefs