Former West Michigan Whitecaps second baseman, and current Toledo Mud Hens outfielder Justin Henry has been named the International League’s ‘Batter of the Week’ for August 20-26. Hitting in the lead-off position for the Mud Hens, Henry had 14 hits last week with a .538 batting average. He collected hits in five different games in a Toledo five-game win streak. Henry had three consecutive three-hit games during his hot streak, with four games with at least one run scored. He was second in the IL with a .581 on-base percentage after collecting four walks, and adding a pair of stolen bases. Justin is now third in the IL with 135 hits this season. While with the Whitecaps in 2008, he hit .295 with 24 doubles and one home run. Henry was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the ninth round of the 2007 draft. I’m not sure why the Tigers would turn him into an outfielder, with so many in the system, and not having too many infielders. I’d like to see Justin get the call this weekend, but my gut feeling is that Detroit will go with Avisail Garcia from Erie. All the best to him, though!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth-Third Field-Toledo, OH: Last Saturday the Fox Sports Detroit Girls blessed Fifth-Third Field in Toledo with their presence (not to be confused with Fifth-Third Field in Dayton, Fifth-Third Ballpark by Grand Rapids, or Fifth-Third Bank Ballpark in Kane Country….my god…). The Girls were on hand to help root on the Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate and help support the military, who was being honored all week by the Mud Hens. It’s a pretty fair drive from the Canadian border straight down to Toledo, but if I would have known that the Girls were going to be there, we would have tried to make plans! My window of opportunity for the kids and I too meet them is running out quickly, with the Minor League regular season ending in less than a week. My only hope now is for the baseball Gods to smile upon me, with Lauren and Allison magically appearing at the West Michigan Whitecaps game this Sunday…our last outing of the 2012 campaign. My only other chance for removing the Fox Sports Detroit Girls from my baseball bucket list is if they make it to a Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL hockey) game this winter. The Girls were a lucky charm, too, as the Mud Hens beat the Louiville Bats 5-1.
Fifth -Third Ballpark-Compstock Park, MI: In another chapter in the in-state rivalry of the West Michigan Whitecaps and the Great Lakes Loons, the ‘Caps were able to stay hot and take the home series three games to four. Game one was showcased by West Michigan pitcher Jeff Ferrell, who stayed as hot as the August sun this month. He threw 6 2/3 innings, giving up only two hits and striking out four, and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Ferrell is 3-0 this month with a 0.74 ERA in his last four starts, as has already been named Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for his efforts earlier this month.
“I’m just trying to keep the ball down and mix up my pitches the best I can.” Ferrell told the Grand Rapids Press. “All of my pitches have been working for me this month, and that has been a big part of my success right there.”
He got some run support early, on a solo home run by Lance Durham. Jeff McVaney would hit a three-run shot in the sixth innings, propelling the ‘Caps to a 4-1 win. Brandon Loy had two hits in the game for West Michigan also. Will Clinard preserved the win in relief, striking out two batters with the bases loaded to earn the save.
In game two of the series, the Whitecaps were down 5-0 early, but battled back to within one, 5-4, before the rain hit. The hour and a half rain delay seemed to wash away all of the ‘Caps momentum, and the over-worked bullpen got hit hard when play resumed. In the 13-4 loss, West Michigan gave up a season high runs, hits (19), and four relief pitchers combined to allow nine runs and 14 hits in six innings. Starter Wilsen Palacios took the mound for his first start in ten days, but couldn’t make it out of the third innings. The ‘Caps were only able to connect for six hits, with Jason Krizan going 2-3. Eugenio Suarez hit a two-run double in the fifth inning, and Jason King hit one over the wall in the fourth.
“That was key,” ‘Caps manger Ernie Young told the Grand Rapids Press. “Any time you can score with two outs, it is going to benefit your ball club. I would like to get some one-out runs, but today was outstanding. Even though we got behind early, I thought we did a good job of making their pitcher throw some pitches that inning and we were able to capitalize. It is always good for your confidence when you can come back and win a ball game after losing the day before.”
Down 2-0, the ‘Caps started their comeback in the third inning on a single by Aaron Westlake, an RBI double by McVaney, and two-run single by King. In the fourth inning, Westlake struck again with a RBI single to make it 5-2. On the hill, starter Tommy Collier tossed three innings giving up the two runs. Relief pitchers Brennan Smith and Jade Todd kept Great Lakes off the scorecard the rest of the game.
The series finale was the most dramatic game of them all, believe it or not. The game went back-and-forth with neither team being able to pull away. Things looked good for the ‘Caps in the seventh inning, when Westlake tied the game on a deep home run. The Loons answered, though, when Tyler Ogle hit his first home run of the season to help his team re-take the lead. Westlake was 2 for 4 in the game with two RBI’s, but his ninth inning walk would prove crucial. Set the stage for Jeff McVaney, who’s two run blast sent the Whitecaps and their fans into a frenzy, giving them the 6-5 walk-off win.
“I don’t think there is a better way you can win a ball game than a walk-off home run,” McVaney told the Grand Rapids Press. “I knew the situation, and I knew we had to get that run in. I thought about driving the ball to center field, and I definitely had home run in the back of my mind. I was trying to swing extra hard. Both teams came up with clutch hits and clutch pitches. It was good for our team, especially when we are trying to win every game to get into the playoffs. It was definitely a good moral boost to have a win like that.”
McVaney ended the game going 3-5 with two singles and the homer. On the mound, starter Kyle Ryan had his best recent outing. He gave up only one run on three hits in his five innings pitched. Will Clinard would earn the win, despite giving up the go-ahead run in the ninth. The Whitecaps now lead the season series with the Loons 12 games to 7. This season’s end is rapidly approaching, and we’re hoping to make one more game before it ends!
It’s been an extremely hot summer for us up north here. We’re not really used to the high 80′s to 90′s we’ve been experiencing the last few months. Along with the humidity, it can be brutal. The kids had a tough time playing in the heat sometimes, especially Lily, who played ball during the heat of the day. It’s starting to cool off, though, and we’re getting the rain that we really do need. This just makes fall look like it’s closer than it is, though, and with school just a couple of weeks away, and Trevor already in having football practice, it just reminds me that the summer is very quickly coming to an end…
Peanuts comic courtesy of the late great Charles M. Schulz
Yesterday would have been the 58th birthday of former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. The age of 58 is considered fairly young, as ‘The Bird’ was taken from us early in a tragic accident in 2009. Also ending early, was Fidrych’s baseball career. For that one magic season, though, in 1976, he showed the world what baseball was really all about. He started the season as a non-roster invitee at spring training, and ended the season leading the American League in wins with a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, and winning the Rookie of the Year award. He also finished second in the Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer. More than all of that, the captured the imagination of a certain child in mid-Michigan…making him a baseball fan for life. I admit, I was caught up in all that Fidrych did on the mound, and it was no wonder opposing GM’s would beg Detroit to alter its rotation to make sure he would pitch in their stadium. They knew it would be a sell out. Fans all over the country couldn’t get enough of antics of talking to the ball and manacuring the mound. He would even congratulate his teammates on a good play, or go give them a pat on the back if they made an error. For years I carried a Fidrych card in my back pocket that I had cut off of the bottom of a Hostess Twinkies box. It’s corners are jagged and it has a crease down the middle, but I still have that card to this day and it is one of my most prized possessions. I was lucky enough to meet him back in 1995 at a baseball card show and he was very thankful for his fans. When my kids were born, I mailed him a coupled of cards and he was nice enough to sign them for Lily and Trevor and send them back. He is actually Lily’s favorite player, as she grew up with stories of his craziness on the mound, but I feel bad she will never be able to meet him. He had made a few appearances at the Whitecaps ’70′s nights, too, and that would have been a fun experience. I do have a DVD of a Monday Night Baseball game during the ’76 season, where he pitched a great game en route to a victory over the New York Yankees. I’m still always in awe that the crowd would not leave until he made a certain call. I think a lot of us kids saw in him what we saw in ourselves, just a kid having fun playing a game, which is the way it should be. Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych was larger than life. He was a super hero and a rock star all rolled into one. After all, he was the first athlete ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone…
Fifth Third Field-Comstock Park, MI: The first game of the three-game series between the West Michigan Whitecaps and the Bowling Green Hot Rods was marked by controversy. The highly contested ballgame went into extra innings, and it seems the ‘Caps had the victory as Eugenio Suarez crossed the plate after being driven in by a double by Aaron Westlake. He and Westlake were being mobbed by teammates, although their celebration would be short-lived. Home plate umpire Ben Guttenberger ruled that Suarez did NOT cross the plate, and that he was out after being tagged by a Hot Rods player. Despite the fact that every reply proved that he did touch the plate, the call stood. The Whitecaps went on to lose 2-1 in 15 innings.
Manager Ernie Young told MLive.com: “I don’t know what to say. That’s a call that…Damn, I really don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words on that play.”
Westlake now leads the Midwest League in doubles with 34. He was also in shock, after being dubbed the hero for his efforts.
“We were celebrating as a team, it’s already been a long game and you think the game is over and all of a sudden something like that happens. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails. That’s baseball. We still battled together. In the end, we did score that winning run. I’ve got not much more to say about that.”
The Whitecaps pitching staff kept their team in the game the whole time, though. Starter Marcelo Carreno on allowed one run on five hit, while striking out one and walking one. Slade Smith, Jade Todd, and Melvin Mercedes kept the Hot Rods at bay the rest of the way.
The Whitecaps would bounce back in game two of the series, for the 3-2 win. Suarez scored the eventual winning run in the third inning, stomping on home plate just to drive the point home that he had scored. It was another Aaron Westlake doubled that scored him, too.
“I was frustrated about last night, and wanted to let everyone know that I touched home plate”, Suarez also stated to MLive. com. “I felt so bad right after the umpire’s call because I know that I touched home plate. I knew it wasn’t my fault and the umpire made a bad call. I tried to forget about it.”
On the mound for the ‘Caps, Jeff Ferrell game up one run on six hits in five innings. Reliever Nick Avila came in and protected the lead in the late innings. Westlake ended up with two doubles and two RBI’s to lead West Michigan offensively.
Bowling Green won the rubber match, though, 10-4. On the hill, West Michigan hurler Chad Smith had thrown four hitless innings before getting knocked around in the fifth. This is just Smith’s third start since being promoted from the short season Connecticut Tigers. He’s been on a pretty strict pitch count and hasn’t pitched more than four innings in his last two starts. He as a 17th round pick by Detroit last year, and is still making his come back after Tommy John surgery last season.
Wuerfel Park-Traverse City, MI: Well, it was that time of the summer again, when I packed up my scruffy lookin’ nerf-herders and headed downstate for our annual ‘Star Wars Night’ trip. This year we decided to check out our favorite characters from a ‘galaxy far, far, away’ at the Traverse City Beach Bums instead of in Grand Rapids at the Whitecaps. The kids were excited, and had fun meeting the characters. There weren’t nearly as many as we’ve seen in the past at the ‘Caps, but we had a good time regardless. They had Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers, an Imperial Officer, and the lovely Princess Leia on hand. I would have liked to have seen Boba Fett and maybe some droids, but maybe next year. It was pretty hot and there was an impending storm, so it could be that limited some of the costumes and attendance. Lucky for us we made it through the game without a drop on us! In the game itself, the Bums were taking on the Southern Illinois Miners. TC was leading up until the 5th inning, when the Miners stormed back to take the lead. Scott Dunn took the loss on the mound for the Bums, giving up two runs, and striking out three in 4 2/3 innings. Final: Miners 5, Beach Bums 1. May the Force be with you…
A trip to Traverse City wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Pirate’s Cove. It was a beautiful day out, and the kids and I were lucky enough to spend it doing the zip line, bumper boats, go-karting, and the water coaster. I had to fudge Brian’s age a little so he could drive his own kiddie kart, but he did a great job, and is actually a better driver than his mom… Anyway, this was a great day, a day spent with family (we met Papa and Nana at the ballgame) and fun, and one you feel very lucky to have had. I feel lucky to be able to do this for my kids, and hope we can take in at least one more game before school starts.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Swift Field-Village of Bay View, MI: This is something I’ve wanted to see for a while now, but trying to find out when and where these games are taking place can be a challenge. The kids and I travelled to Petoskey over the weekend to see one of the games of the Kilwins Fudge Bucket Classic tournament, featuring the hometown Mossbacks and the Regular Base Ball Club of Mt. Clemens, also known as the Mt. Clemens Regulars. The tournament does have a website, but it still states the participating teams and schedules are still to be determined, despite the fact the games are all over. Lucky for me, though, one of the participants answered one of my e-mails and let us know when and where the games were. When we arrived at the game, there was a small crowd, and I’m sure that they would have some more fans will just a little advertising. The kids are I thought this was a lot of fun, and there were picnic tables for us to sit at and a park for the kids to play on, too, when they weren’t watching the game. The game was played basically in an open field, with ‘bases’ that I assume were just bags filled with sand or something. The most amazing thing is that in the 1860′s era, there were no baseball gloves, and seeing these guys catch and field bare-handed is quite impressive. A few line-drives smacking off open hands can really bring you into the reality of the game. Make no mistake, these guys know how to swing the ‘timber’, as well, and can run the bases pretty effectively. There were many ‘tallies’ scored during our time watching the game. Going back to the beginning, though, the game starts with both team lined up on the field and the one umpire explaining the rules and so on. The home captain welcome the visiting team and thanked them for coming before the home team introduced themselves. The visiting team captain then thanked the home club for having them, and the visitors were announced. There is just the one umpire who sits at the scorers table, and the game is played on the honor system. The umpire is only called upon if there is a dispute. Although these games are played for fun, they are very competitive and everyone plays hard. These games are so much fun to watch, and I highly recommend them to any baseball, or base ball, fan. The kids got a kick out of the old uniforms and style of play, and were impressed with the players making plays without gloves. I wish I could report the results of the tournament, but we only stayed to watch the first game, and results are not posted on the website or their local newspaper. I guess the one thing that these players have in common with the trail-blazers of the mid 1800′s is that they play this game for fun and pride. No large contracts or scandals here…
The Standings: The West Michigan Whitecaps are still treading water in the Midwest League Eastern Division, but are sinking a bit. They are currently 21-22 in the second half, and are six games out of first place. They hit a little speed bump with a five-game losing streak, but have bounced back and won two games in a row from the talented Lansing LugNuts, 7-1 and 6-3, who ran away with the first half title. Manager Ernie Young, though, will have to have some Aces up his sleeve, if the ‘Caps are going to capture a playoff spot this season…
Ferrell Honored: Whitecaps pitcher Jeff Ferrell has been named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for July 30-August 5. Ferrell had an extremely impressive showing against the Lake County Captains last week in the ‘Caps 6-0 shut-out win. He retired all of the 21 batters he faced before being taken out of the game after seven perfect innings of work. His outing included 11 ground-outs and six strikeouts in 79 pitches, and gave up only three hits. Ferrell, just 21 years old, underwent Tommy John surgery just 14 months ago. He started the 2011 campaign with the Whitecaps, before injury his elbow that led to the surgery. He missed the rest of last season and the start of this season, before joining West Michigan in May. So far, he has a 4-4 record with a 4.42 ERA, with 60 strikeouts, and holding the opposition to a .209 batting average. Ferrell is a native of Wilmington, North Carolina and a 26th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers.
Fifth-Third one of fifth best: The Whitecaps home, Fifth-Third Ballpark, was mentioned as one of five Minor League ballparks on the Fox News website recently. The story titled ‘Five Minor League Baseball Parks You Have To Visit’, stated that the stadium in Comstock Park, Michigan has the best food for baseball fans. The Fifth-Third Burger certainly still packs a mighty punch. The story can be found here: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/08/01/five-minor-league-baseball-parks-have-to-visit/?intcmp=features
MudHen Marathon: The Tigers Triple-A affiliate in the International League, the Toledo MudHens suffered a tough 10-9 loss Monday night to the Rochester Red Wings. One-run losses are always hard to swallow, especially when they are in extra innings….19 innings to be exact. The contest took over 6 1/2 hours to compete, and featured plenty of former Whitecaps. For the Red Wings, Clete Thomas went 2-8 with a walk and two runs scored. Wilkin Ramirez was 4-9 with a double, run scored, and an RBI. Pitcher Luke French threw for 3.1 innings, giving up two hits and five strikeouts. For the MudHens, Andy Oliver pitched 2.0 innings giving up one hit and striking out 3. Luis Marte gave up one hit, but was burned for two runs in just 0.1 innings. Luke Putkonen pitched five innings, giving up four hits, no runs, and striking out three. Jose Ortega threw for 2.0 innings giving up six hits and three runs.
Rond-on the move: Former Whitecaps pitcher Bruce Rondon has been promoted from the Double-A Erie Seawolves to Toledo. He fills a spot after on of the MudHens’ pitchers was injured in the 19-inning loss. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski stated that he believes that he’s ready for the Triple-A level, though. Rondon started the season at Lakeland, going 1-0, with a 1.93 ERA, with 15 saves, and 34 strikeouts. With Erie, he was 0-1 with a 0.83 ERA, with 12 saves on 23 strikeouts. He struggled with his control last season with West Michigan, issuing 7.6 walks per nine innings, but his walk-to-strikeout ratio this season is 3.8.
Fifth-Third Ballpark photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Ferrell photo courtesy of MLive.com
Thomas photo property of Minoring In Baseball