Location: Fort Mill, South Carolina
Home Field: Knights Stadium
League: International League
Affiliation: Chicago White Sox
Summary: This is actually a very cool logo, in my opinion. And during this coming seasons’ baseball trip, our second game on the schedule will be at Knights Stadium when the Knight take on the Pawtucket Red Sox. This will be my first time seeing both teams. We were in Pawtucket a couple of years ago, but the game was rained out. The team represents Charlotte, North Carolina, but the ballpark is located in one of its suburbs, Fort Mill, SC. From what I’ve read, the ballpark isn’t anything special, but a new one is being built as we speak in downtown Charlotte. There has been some opposition to this, and I’m not sure why, but the new stadium looks like it will be amazing. Too bad we’ll miss that one, but I’m sure we’ll have a great time seeing them this year, too. Baseball in Charlotte dates back to 1901, and the Charlotte Hornets (sound familiar?). The modern version of the team dates back to 1976, when famous wrestling promoter Jim Crocket, Jr. bought the team that was in Asheville, and brought them to town to become the Charlotte Orioles. They were then bought by the owner of the NBA Charlotte Hornets, and named the Knights. They have been in the original South Atlantic League, which became the Southern League, and then landed a Triple-A franchise in the International League. During their affiliation with Baltimore, the likes of Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Curt Schilling played in Charlotte. During their stint with Cleveland, fans were able to watch young versions of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. The mascot is a Dragon named Homer, and I’ll do my best to get a photo with that guy. Charlotte looks like a great city, and I am really looking forward to our visit. There is so much else to see and do, also, including the Charlotte Motor Speedway and President Polk Memorial. P.S.: I know this is the second LoM this month, but if I’m going to get through all the teams before my trip, I’ll have to double some of them up!
Unlike affiliated Minor League baseball teams, ones of the Independent Pro nature have a bit of an advantage when it comes to choosing their players, and setting the rosters for the coming season. Such as the Traverse City Beach Bums, as they’re already getting their roster set for the coming season, and bringing back some top guns from the last. The biggest returnee, is last seasons’ Frontier League MVP Jose Vargas (pictured). In 2012, Vargas became just the second player in the history of the league to knock in 100 RBI’s. He also hit .290, with 29 home runs, six triples, and 18 doubles. Vargas’ 29 dingers set a single season record for the Beach Bums. He went to bat 410 times, which was tops on the FL, and 78 runs scored tied him for third in the league. Playing at short-stop and third base, this will be his third season with the Beach Bums, and his durability has really been an asset to the team. Vargas has played in all 192 games in the last two seasons, which is the longest current streak in the Frontier League, and second longest in Independent Pro baseball.
Also returning to the Bums will be All-Star second baseman Ryan Still. In fact, Still was both a mid-season and post-season All-Star, hitting .301, with four homers, and 34 RBI’s. He also set a league record by earning 110 base on balls last season and led the league with 82 runs scored. Still also became just the third player in Frontier League history to reach an on-base percentage of .500 or more. The Beach Bums also return two key pitchers to the mound. In the starting rotation is Jacob Clem. Clem went 7-4 with TC last season, with a 3.02 ERA in 20 games last season. He pitched 128.1 innings, more than any other pitcher on the Bums’ staff. Returning to pitch out of the bullpen will be Matt Miller. Last season he went 6-4 with 12 saves, and a 2.25 ERA. He also tied for the team lead, throwing 41 games as a releiver. Miller walked just six batter in 64 innings of work in 2012. The kids and I are really looking forward to seeing some Beach Bums games this season, too. They really like seeing games at Wuerfel Park, and Traverse City has so many other fun things for us to do. Trevor even plans on attending a couple of baseball camps with the Bums this season, so we can’t wait for the season to start!
Top photo courtesy of The Record Eagle (Traverse City)
Bottom photo courtesy of The Leader (Kalkaska)/Greg Gielczyk
Six must be a lucky number for the West Michigan Whitecaps this year, as first a half-dozen former players were got invites to the Tigers training camp. Now, six ‘Caps alumni will be playing in this season’s World Baseball Classic representing their respective countries. The latest player to sign on, is Warwick Saupold. He pitched for the Whitecaps last season and will be representing Australia. A relief pitcher, Saupold was 2-1 during his time in West Michigan, with a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 58 batters in 28 games.
Representing Venezuela will be Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez played in West Michigan back in 1996, when they were affiliated with the Oakland A’s. He hit .255, with 12 home runs and 68 RBI’s. He’s been playing in the majors with Oakland, San Diego, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Colorado.
Former Tigers’ closer Fernando Rodney will be playing for his home country of the Dominican Republic. He played for the Whitecaps way back in 2000, going 6-4 with a .294 ERA. In 22 games he had 56 strike-outs and only gave up two home runs. After leaving the Tigers, Rodney went on to pitch out of the bullpen for California/Anaheim/Los Angeles and Tampa Bay.
Representing the great maple leaf will be Chris Robinson for team Canada. Robinson was a catching prospect for the Tigers when he played in West Michigan in 2005, hitting .257, with eight doubles and two home runs. He’ll be in pursuit of base hits and cheap gasoline while playing in the WBC. He threw out 12 baserunners from behind the plate for the Whitecaps, too.
One of my favorite former Whitecaps, Jair Jurrjens, will be playing for the Netherlands. He was part of one of the worst trades in Tigers’ history, in my opinion, but needs to find his form back to be effective in the WBC. With West Michigan in 2005, he went 12-6 with a 3.41 ERA. He had a whopping 108 strike-outs in that season, also. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2008, and I love to see him back in the Detroit system.
Giovanni Soto pitched 16 games for the Whitecaps before being traded to the Indians that same season. He went 6-6 with 2.61 ERA in West Michigan, while fanning 76 and pitching two shutouts. He would go on that season to win the Midwest League Championship with the Lake County Captains, and threw a no-no last season for Akron. He’ll be representing Puerto Rico in the WBC.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Being a non-roster invitee to major league spring training, is like being in high school, and getting a birthday party invite from the prettiest girl in school. For six former members of the West Michigan Whitecaps, being invited to the Detroit Tigers camp must seem pretty sweet. The Tigers have 17 non-roster invites in all.
Of all the invitees, utility man Don Kelly has the most experience at the big league level. He recently re-signed with the Tigers, after being told after the World Series that there would not be room for him on this years roster. Kelly played for the Whitecaps back in 2002, batting .286. He had 21 doubles and 59 RBI’s, plus an impressive .728 OBS. Kelly only hit .186 at the major league level last season, but due to his versatility and experience he may have a chance to crack the roster. An obstacle in his way, though, is that the Tigers are looking for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Dirks in left field, and Kelly is a lefty.
Top prospect Nick Castellanos (pictured above with Lily) will be at the Tigers camp, also. He did his time in West Michigan in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. After a slow start, he really had a solid season, hitting .312, with seven home runs and 76 RBI’s. He patrolled third base at Fifth Third Ballpark, but was moved to the outfield last season, after Miguel Cabrera took over the hot corner in Detroit. Castellanos made 23 errors at third for the ‘Caps, and ended the year with a .917 fielding percentage. With his defense not being his strongest asset, the move could be good for him, but he just needs time to develop those skills, so I doubt that he’ll be making an appearance at Comerica this season. Be patient, though, his time will come. Castellanos was the Tigers Minor League Players of the Year in 2011, also.
Two of the three catcher invited to camp played for the Whitecaps, too. James McCann was the Tigers’ second round pick in 2011 after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas. He played nine games for the Whitecaps in 2011 also, hitting only .059, with two singles and one double. He only made one error, though, and threw out 4 runners out of 19 attempting to steal. Curt Casali was also drafted by the Tigers in 2011, after playing his college ball at Vanderbilt University. He played parts of two seasons in West Michigan, 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he played 25 games hitting .227, with two home runs and 14 RBI’s. He only made one error behind the plate, and threw out seven base runners. In 2012, his average increased to .288, with 12 doubles, eight home runs, and 25 RBI’s. He only allowed on passed ball, and threw out 20 potential base stealers. In my opinion, the Tigers are still a little weak at catcher, so if either of these guys has their bat catch fire, they have an outside chance of making the roster.
Kenny Faulk pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2010. His record was 5-4 with an impressive 2.16 ERA. He made 12 saves, giving up no home runs, and striking out 78. His ERA inflated last season at the Double-A level, so he’ll need to bring that down a bit before getting consideration. I’d have to gauge his fast ball, and see his secondary pitches before making an informed opinion on his chances to make the team, though. I look forward to seeing him in spring training, and hope he can earn a spot.
Another weakness in Detroit is at the short stop position. Last season, though, the Whitecaps’ Eugenio Suarez won the Golden Glove as the best short stop in the minor leagues. He played 119 games at short, and 15 at second base, so he does have versatility at middle infield. He had a .971 fielding percentage, with 257 put-outs and 349 assists at short. He had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at second. At the plate, Suarez hit a very respectable .288, with 34 doubles, had 64 RBI’s, and stole 21 bases. Keep in mind, these are all in 2012 at the Single-A level. He’ll still need a few more seasons to develop, but the Tigers I’m sure are very happy with the way he’s progressing, and I’m confident he’ll be scooping ‘em up at Comerica in no time. Just not this year.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Although no players were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this season, the West Michigan Whitecaps will be. Holland, Michigan native, and former ‘Caps and Tigers pitcher Andy Van Hekken will be inducted during the Whitecaps Winter Banquet ceremonies on January, 23. Van Hekken pitched in West Michigan during the 2000 season, winning 16 games that is still tied for a team record. He still ranks in the top ten in team records for winning percentage at .727 (8th), ERA with 2.45 (8th), and the strikeouts to walk ratio at 3.41 (10th). Van Hekken made his major league debut for the Tigers in 2002, pitching a complete game shutout victory against the Cleveland Indians. He went 1-3 that season in five appearances, with a 3.00 ERA. He then spent the next two seasons in the Tigers farm system, as well as the systems for the Reds, Braves, Astros, and Royals in the following seasons. His latest stop is in Korea last season, playing for the Nexan Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization. Van Hekken will report back to the Heroes after the Banquet.
The Whitecaps Winter Banquet not only features the HOF induction, but dinner, a live auction, and guest speakers. This year, the guests will include Tigers President/CEO/General Manager Dave Dombrowski, outfielders Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks, and pitcher Drew Smyly. The proceeds from the banquet and auctions go to the Whitecaps Community Foundation, which in turn donates the funds to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program and the Detroit Tigers Foundation. The YMCA program, that is funded by the Whitecaps and Fifth Third Bank, provides about 1,900 children the chance to participate in a structured activity that provides guidance in their lives, per year. I would love to make it to this event at some point, but at $80 a ticket, it’s just to rich for my blood when you have three kids to bring along. This is a great event, though, for a great cause.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
The Detroit Tigers organization recently re-acquired Gustavo Nunez, now they have re-signed West Michigan Whitecaps alum Michael Hernandez to a minor league deal. An outfielder, Hernandez played for the ‘Caps in 2006, then split time in Lakeland and Erie in 2007. While in West Michigan, he hit a solid .278, with 13 home runs and 63 RBI’s. He was a two-time Midwest League Player of the Week, as well as being an All-Star in the Florida State League. He was traded to the Texas Rangers after the 2007 season, in the deal that brought Armando Galarraga to Detroit. He was released by Texas, spent a couple of years in the Mets system, and recently has been honing his skills in the Atlantic League. The Tigers have also signed right-handed pitcher Michael Dubee to a minor league deal. Pitching out of the bullpen the last few seasons, Dubee was 4-4 last season, with a 4.07 ERA. He also had 53 strike-outs between the Yankees and Blue Jays Double-A affiliates. Both players were signed simply to add depth the organization, but I hope they both have solid seasons.
Photo courtesy of MotownSports.com
League: South Atlantic League
Home Field: Flour Field
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Summary: The first team we are scheduled to visit on this years’ baseball trip is the Drive, as they host the Augusta Green Jackets. This will be my first time seeing this team, though I am familiar with the South Atlantic League. I’ve seen the Savannah Sand Gnats in Georgia, and the Charleston River Dogs in South Carolina back in 2009. I’m very excited to visit Flour Field, as it looks like a beautiful ballpark. It’s located right downtown, and the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson museum is right next door, which we plan on visiting also. The Drive franchise started out in Shelby, NC, as the Shelby Reds. The team has also been the Columbia Reds, Columbia Mets, and the Columbia/Greenville Bombers. The Drive name comes from the fact that the U.S. BMW Manufacturing plant and Michelin plant are in the area. Apparently the locals really wanted the team name to have something to do with Joe Jackson, but they went with the Drive instead. The mascot is a big frog named Reedy Rip’it, who looks a little like Wally the Green Monster in Boston. I can see myself getting a majority of Brian’s souvenirs here, though. The Drive’s secondary logo even looks a tad Boston Red Soxish. Flour Field also has a version of the Green Monster wall, also. Again, I’m really excited to catch a game here, as I am our other destinations. More to come!
Baseball just might return to Kalamazoo, Michigan yet. The city sent out a request for proposals, and the league that responded was the Northwoods League. The Northwoods League is a collegiate wooden bat league, the same one that the Battle Creek Bombers are in. The team would play at Homer Stryker Field, recently re-named Mayor’s Riverfront Park. The NL now has 16 teams, and is based in Rochester, Minnesota. All the players are NCAA eligible, are not paid, and use wooden bats just like the pros. If the deal goes through, a new team could move into Riverfront ballpark by this fall, with plans to start play in 2014. From the pictures, it looks like the ballpark has been kept up, but it still may need some work. Sean Fletcher, director of the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Department, is optimistic.
“The big thing is just getting it game-ready, inspecting it, routine maintenance and getting ready for a team to play ball,” Fletcher told the Kalamazoo Gazette.
The city wants at least a three-year contract, with the team managing all aspects of Mayor’s Riverfront Park, including field maintenance, concessions, merchandising, and advertising. It’s a pretty tall order, and the city should find out within the next few weeks if the Northwoods League will grant them a team. I think it’s fitting that a summer college team would call Kalamazoo home, since it’s the sight of the very first two College World Series. Having a natural rival in Battle Creek won’t hurt either. In fact, in my opinion, if these two communities would have worked together and built a ballpark between the cities off the highway, their Midwest League team would not have moved to Midland. Battle Creek hosted the Michigan Battle Cats, Battle Creek Yankees, and Southwest Michigan Devil Rays before the team left in 2006 to become the Great Lakes Loons.
Kalamazoo did have two recent teams in the indy pro Frontier League. The Kalamazoo Kodiaks played from 1996-1998, before moving to London, Ontario, to become the London Werewolves. The Kalamazoo Kings played at Homer Stryker Field from 2001-2010. The team stated they would cease operations for the 2011 season, but never started up again. It’s too bad I never had the chance to get back to Kalamazoo and see the Kings play. I did see them up in Traverse City playing the Beach Bums, though. Having a new team would give me a second chance to get down that way and see some more baseball! Some fans from the area state that the ballpark isn’t in a great part of town, but I doubt the city will consider building a new stadium for this league, but I wish them all the best in getting a team.
Yesterday was Allison’s last official day as a Fox Sports Detroit Girl. She’s out in California now, and no doubt she will be successful in everything she does. We here a M.I.B. wanted to say ‘thank you’, and wish her all the best. She and Lauren have done a great job representing Detroit sports and the state of Michigan. Allison was also one of the few Fox Sport girls chosen to attend last year’s MLB All-Star Game in Kansas City. She’s already had an un-credited cameo in Iron Man 2, and rumor mill has it she’s dating Captain America himself, Chris Evans. As a Marvel fan when I was a kid, I think this is pretty awesome. I believe that she had a hand in choosing her successor, though her and Lauren set some pretty high standards. All the best, Allison!
Photo courtesy of Fox Sports Net/Fox Sports Detroit/FSD Girls
The kids and I had a great time in 2012, and really look forward to 2013. This years’ baseball trip will take us to North Carolina, where we have 12 games planned in just one week! We hope to see the Bulls, Dash, Drive, Knights, Grasshoppers, and Intimidators in action. Before that, though, we plan on attending the ‘Crosstown Showdown’ in Lansing, MI, with the LugNuts defending their home field against the Michigan State Spartans. Trevor’s a Sparty, so this is a game he really wanted. We have plans for the other teams in Michigan, too, including the Beach Bums, Loons, Whitecaps, and BC Bombers. Thanks you again to all who have stopped by M.I.B., and all the best to you in 2013!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 20,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals