January 19th, 2012

Whitecaps Update 1/12

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

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