Next seasons’ Baseball Trip will be a little later this time, in June instead of May. One of the reasons for the change, is that we wanted to hit the Midwest League All-Star game on June 17th in West Michigan. This should be a great experience as I’ve never been to an all-star game before. This will be the hardest game to get tickets for, so I really need to be on the ball when they go on sale. The next day takes us south to Columbus, OH to check out our first Clippers game. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the stadium and franchise, so it should be a game to remember. The day after is a double-header for us. We start out with the Toledo Mud Hens for a day game. We saw the Hens back in 2007, and look forward to another great time at Fifth-Third Field. After we see the Hens, we head east to see the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and our first New York-Penn League game. Travelling in the early spring usually prevents us from making these games, since they start their season in mid-June. We stay busy the next morning, hitting the big city of Cleveland to check out the Baseball Heritage Museum. I don’t know much about this, so if anyone has been there any info would be appreciated. Next we enjoy more Midwest League action visiting the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, just east of Cleveland. Lake County and Bowling Green are the only two MWL teams I haven’t visited yet, as they transferred from the South Atlantic League a few years ago.
The next stop on our journey should be interesting, visiting Canton, OH, and just south of that the Temperance Tavern and Cy Young Museum. Again, I don’t have much info on this, so if anyone has visited there I’d appreciate your input. That’s just one stop on our way to Washington, PA to see the Wild Things in Frontier League action. Washington is an independent team, but it look like they have a nice stadium. The town was just awarded a pro softball franchise called the Revolution, too, so that’s something else to look into. The next morning, we travel north to see the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, the Erie Seawolves. This is another team I’ve wanted to see for some time, and look forward to checking out some of the Tigers’ prospects. Another double-header for us, we go a little farther east to check out our second New York-Penn League team in the Jamestown Jammers. And..our trip concludes with the newly dubbed Akron RubberDucks. This should be a fun adventure if the weather holds, and it should be better in June. If anyone has been to this region and can recommend any other points of interest or eating establishments, I’d love to hear about them.
On Friday Kalamazoo Baseball introduced their new team name and logo. The new team entering the Northwoods League will be dubbed the Kalamazoo Growlers. The team will play in 2014 at Homer Stryker Field, who last hosted the Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League. The manager for the new team will be Joe Carbone, who is the second most winning coach in the Mid American Conference history at Ohio University. He is a two-time MAC Coach of the Year, and was the Midwest Region Coach of the Year in 1997. The Growlers have also two players from Western Michigan University lined up for next season, also, in catcher Brent Sunde and outfielder Jared Kujawa. Although I spent my childhood watching minor league hockey in Kalamazoo with the K-Wings, I look forward to seeing the Growlers play ball. Kalamazoo also has a great history of baseball, as the first College World Series was played there, also. They’ll have a good rivalry with the Battle Creek Bombers just to the east. I still think that if these two communities would have worked together, there could still be an affiliated minor league program located just between the two cities.
Well, Nick Castellanos has been mentioned on this blog about a billion times, so one more time probably won’t hurt anything. He did have a great season with the Toledo Mud Hens this past summer, that earned him a call up to the Detroit Tigers in September. Despite not making the playoff roster, many believe he has a great shot a being the Tigers’ everyday left fielder in 2014 (with the Tigers trading Prince Fielder, he looks to have a shot at starting at third base now). Also mentioned many times before, we had the luxury of watching him play for the West Michigan Whitecaps back in 2011, and he was nice enough to sign a baseball for Lily. So, here is another interview from MiLB.com, this one done by Sam Dykstra. Enjoy…
Castellanos: I think I approached it pretty well. They were trying to find a spot for me in the lineup with Prince [Fielder] signing and Miguel [Cabrera] moving over to third. I know I’m not going to be playing third base as long as Miguel is in the organization, so when they approached me to make the move, I knew it was just about trying to find a spot for me, and that was easy to take. It’s going to be my best path to the big leagues right now, and that’s a good thing. I do miss third base, though. Eventually at some point, I’d love to go back.
MiLB.com: How long did it take to you get to comfortable out there in left field?
Castellanos: It was difficult at the beginning, to be honest. I had never played outfield in my life before that. It’s not like I was trying to learn shortstop again, like I did in high school, or making a move over to second. I had never done that in my life, so it was a different feeling out there. I felt uncomfortable at the beginning, with the game being so far away. But I have to give credit to our outfield coordinator, Gene Roof. He spent all day and all night with me trying to get everything down, and I feel much better out there.
MiLB.com: Another part of the transition was the move up to Triple-A Toledo. What was that like?
Castellanos: I had to mature a lot more up there, that’s for sure. You’re facing great pitchers, day in and day out. In Triple-A ball, every guy you’re facing has their approach down and knows exactly what they’ll do with you when you come up to the plate. Plus, the bullpens in Triple-A are just day-and-night better than the ones you’re facing at the lower levels. You just have to get a feel for some of the flamethrowers, make adjustments like anywhere else and be prepared for what you’ll see.
MiLB.com: That being said, you were able to handle Triple-A pitching fairly well. Why was that?
Castellanos: I think that just goes to my confidence at the plate. All I need are at-bats and a little bit of time, and things usually get around to where they need to be.
MiLB.com: Where does that confidence and your general hitting prowess come from?
Castellanos: Most of it is that I’m always working on hitting. I’ve been hitting all the time since I was little, since I started playing really. I’m always trying to learn about the game I love, and the only way I can do that is to keep working hard at it. With that, whether I’m 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 on a given day, I’m still having fun at the plate because I like it so much up there. That amount of fun contributes to my success a little. I don’t mind putting work in because I enjoy it that much.
MiLB.com: Because of that hitting ability, you were able to get a callup to the Tigers in September during their playoff run. Describe that experience.
Castellanos: Just because who I am, I wish I got to play more when I was there, but they were competing to finish first in the division and stuff, so that happens. I got to start four games, and I was pretty happy with the way I hit when I did start. But for me, playing off the bench is difficult, you know? When I come to the park, I’m ready to go and want to get out there. I got some pinch-hit at-bats in the seventh inning or later, so that was something I had to get used to — preparing starting in the sixth, being on call, stuff like that. But above all, it was about getting used to the Major League life — the plane rides, what time to get to the field, what to do in the pregame. It was a good learning experience for that stuff.
MiLB.com: One of the things about joining that Tigers team, too, is that it’s a squad that is heavy with veterans. Was there anyone you sought out in particular?
Castellanos: First, everybody in that locker room is such a great guy. It’s easy to come into as a rookie because of that. But one guy that’s super-knowledgeable and just a super guy overall is Torii [Hunter]. He makes himself so open and so approachabl,e not only to the veterans but to the rookies like myself, too, and that’s a big help.
MiLB.com: What did you talk to him about specifically?
Castellanos: Above all, they were mostly outfield questions. I’d watch him out there and then try to pick his brain about why did he go after a ball here and why did he go that way there. The thing about Torii is that he picks up pitches so well. So if I saw him do something that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, I tried to talk to him about it. Overall, he just makes the game fun. He’s been in the game for 17, going on 18 years, so it’s great he can share stuff with me.
MiLB.com: Besides Hunter, it must have been interesting to play with Miguel Cabrera, not only because of who he is, but because you’re a guy from the Miami area.
Castellanos: It is pretty wild. In ’03, I watched the World Series with him in it, and I was actually there when he went “oppo” against Clemens after he threw at him. I was idolizing Cabrera when I was little, and then the first run I scored in the Majors was driven in by Miguel. It’s cool how everything comes full circle like that. Being 10, 11 and watching him play and now I’m with him on the field. Beyond that too, Alex Fernandez — my coach in high school — won a World Series with Jim Leyland, and I played under him too. Just cool how that all happens.
MiLB.com: Speaking of Leyland, you got to play under him right before he retired. What was that like?
Castellanos: Leyland is very professional in everything he does. From a player’s perspective, he’s fun to watch and has been doing it for so long. I think someone said that he’s filled out something like 4,800 lineup cards in his career. Anyone with that much experience in baseball, you know you have to listen and respect what they do. I feel like I know so much about baseball already. But compared to Leyland, and beyond that, [bench coach Gene] Lamont and [former hitting coach and recently named Mariners manager Lloyd] McClendon? I don’t know anything. All I can do is watch them, learn and see how Jim would manage a game, even if that meant sitting there thinking, “Why would he do this?” Being around him, I was able to just add a lot of knowledge that wasn’t there.
MiLB.com: Leyland’s also known in baseball circles as a fairly colorful character. Got any good Leyland stories?
Castellanos: The biggest thing that comes to mind is one day [Sept. 4] we got beat pretty bad by the Red Sox. It was the day [David] Ortiz got his 2,000th hit, and we lost by a lot [20-4]. I went into the clubhouse thinking, “Man, if we’re in Toledo right now, we’re going to get chewed out.” And then he walks in and just says, “Well, tomorrow’s a great day for an off-day, huh?” And that was it. It was really loose and easy, and it was his way of telling us to pick up our heads and keep on pushing through because there were a lot of other big games coming up.
MiLB.com: After those big games were through, the Tigers moved onto the playoffs, but you were left off the postseason roster. How did you handle that?
Castellanos: It was pretty nerve-racking, knowing I couldn’t help or contribute in any way. All I could do is watch from my living room in Miami. There were even a couple of times I had to turn off the TV because I couldn’t watch anymore.
MiLB.com: Many see you as likely to be on the big league roster come Opening Day. How do you approach the offseason with that in mind?
Castellanos: Pretty much like any other offseason really. I don’t want to put any added pressure on myself. I just have to work hard and be ready come spring, just like I always have.
MiLB.com: If it does come down to it, that you are the starting left fielder for the Tigers on Opening Day, how ready do you feel for that opportunity?
Castellanos: Oh, 100 percent. With the instruction I’ve gotten from the people that have helped me in the outfield, I know I’m ready. I know I can help the team right now. It’s tremendously exciting to think about. Any time you play in the big leagues is a great opportunity, and I’m ready to do that every day.
MiLB.com: With all this being said, probably the biggest thing to happen to you this year was the birth of your first child. Does Liam have a bat in his hand yet?
Castellanos: No, he’s only three months so he hasn’t touched anything yet, but he does have a couple of gloves and a couple of bats with his name on them already. When he was born, that was better than the big leagues. My Major League debut was on Sept. 1, and my son was born Aug. 1. I was there when he was born, but on the morning of Aug. 3, I had fly back to Toledo and didn’t get to see him again until Sept. 1. When I did get that callup, all the reporters were asking me, “How did you feel about your Major League debut?” What I really wanted to say was I just want to spend time with my son.
It definitely puts your perspective on an 0-for-4 day, I’ll tell you that. Whether I’m 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, I still have a beautiful, healthy son that I care a lot about. To strike out with the bases loaded or make an error in the field, it doesn’t mean so much anymore.
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Los Angeles Dodgers‘ hurler Clayton Kershaw has won the Cy Young award for being the best pitcher in the National League. With a recor of 16-9 and a microscopic ERA of 1.83, not too many can really argue. Before he became a star on the west coast, however, he honed his stills in the Midwest League as a member of the Great Lakes Loons in 2007. I remember a lot of talk about him back then, like everyone knew that this kid was going to be that good. In 25 starts for the Loons, he ended up 8-7 with a 2.95 ERA. The sad part is, though, I never was able to see him pitch down in Midland. And to think, just one season later, he was making his big league debut with the Dodgers. A new team in 2007, the Loons had Lance Parrish as their manager, who was a member of the 1984 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers. So, the only game I attended that season, I was more determined to meet a local hero like Parrish then an up-and-coming superstar. That was my mistake, though seeking an autograph from a starting pitcher isn’t an easy task. On days they pitch, they’re not allowed to sign autgraphs, and on days they don’t they’re not really out of the dugout, or even in uniform at times. It would have been nice to have seen him pitch, but it’s always good to have alumni do well and make through the system, and in Kershaw’s case excel at the highest level.
Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons
Congrats to Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays on winning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award. I was lucky enough to see him play back in May while he was still a member of the Durham Bulls of the International League and even back in 2010 when he was playing for the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. Wil posted a .293 average, with 13 home runs, and 53 RBI’s this season with the Rays. Just another example to get out to the Minor League ballparks when you get a chance. You never know what future award winners you’ll be witnessing.
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This past season I was lucky enough to see the Dodgers second ranked prospect Corey Seager play a couple of games with the Great Lakes Loons. Seager had a solid season in his first full year of pro ball, hitting .309 with 12 home runs, 33 extra-base hits, with a .918 OBP to boot. The 19-year-old was promoted to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Single A Advanced) for the second half of the season. He’s currently playing in the Arizona Fall League for the Glendale Desert Dogs, and took part in last weekend’s Fall-Star Game. Having two brother also playing professional baseball must add to the pressure, but he seems to handle himself pretty well. Here is the interview from MiLB.com by Josh Jackson:
MiLB.com: It seems like this was a really big year for you on a lot of different levels, with you doing what you did in your first full pro season, with the Dodgers having the season they had and with the success of both of your brothers. Have you felt like it’s all been kind of a magical stretch?
Corey Seager: Yeah, you know, it feels like it’s been really crazy, actually. This was [Kyle’s] second full year in the Majors and he was looking to have a good year like he did. For me, I didn’t really have any expectations for myself other than to just play hard every day all season, and I ended up having a good year. I was just trying to get through the season. And it was awesome to see my middle brother get drafted and go to the Mariners and be in Kyle’s organization.
MiLB.com: How much are you able to pay attention to what they’re doing on any given night or week during the season?
Seager: I checked up on my eldest brother [Kyle] every night. We texted or talked every night or almost every night. I kept up with my middle brother [Justin] every week, usually on the weekend. When he was in school, it was hard to follow what he was doing when he had games in the middle of the week. But I’ve gotten really close to both my brothers over the last couple years. We’ve spent more time talking to each other and keeping up, and it’s been really fun.
MiLB.com: And what about following what goes on at the big league level? Obviously, your job is to stay locked in on your game, but, for example, when the Dodgers went on a 42-8 run, how tuned into that were you?
Seager: Yeah, I definitely follow the Dodgers. I was checking the box score every night. My brother [Kyle] gave me the good advice not to ever look ahead. He told me, ‘Make every level your Major Leagues. Don’t push, stay in the moment.’ That’s really good advice. I definitely checked the box scores but not for any other reason to see what they were doing. I checked, but I didn’t put much thought into what might be going on with them.
MiLB.com: Having so much going on on the periphery could be overwhelming for some players your age. Do you have to get into a certain mind-set to only take from that stuff the time and energy that will help you?
Seager: Yeah, for sure. You never want to root against anybody or anything like that, but you can’t get caught up in somebody else’s game. You root for everybody, but you really need to remember that the most important thing, by far, is to handle your own business.
MiLB.com: Since Justin joined the Mariners system, are you feeling a little outnumbered in the family? Are your parents going to root for Seattle harder than L.A.?
Seager: I’m pretty sure I’m going to get ganged up on during the holidays. That’s probably going to happen. But I was really excited for [Justin] when he got drafted. And I’m really looking forward to working out with both of them during the offseason. That should be good.
MiLB.com: Have you guys ever been on different teams in the same league growing up or did the age differences keep that from happening?
Seager: I’ve never played against them. I played with my middle brother in high school for two years but never against either one of them. If that happens, it definitely will be weird.
MiLB.com: Speaking of high school, when you were drafted last summer, were you tempted at all to go the college route? Or after you went where you went in the first round, did you know you wanted to jump in and start working on improving your game full-time?
Seager: You know, I was really excited to go to [the University of] South Carolina and I had a good relationship with South Carolina. I told them ahead of time, if it happens that I’m drafted between this spot and this spot, I’m going to sign. It did happen that I got drafted in those spots and once it happened, I was really glad it wasn’t [on the cusp of my limits], because that would have been a hard decision and I would have really had to think about it.
MiLB.com: Did you know what you wanted to study, if you were going to go to South Carolina?
Seager: Not really. That was something I was still kind of thinking about, still deciding.
MiLB.com: What you’ve been able to do as a pro shows you were ready. You had a pretty darn good first full season. Looking back, is there anything you would have liked to have done differently or any particular part of your game you wish you’d been able to develop more?
Seager: I had a pretty good year, fortunately. There’s not one specific thing I can look at and say I wish I’d done much better. Obviously, you’re always looking to improve on everything. I want to get faster on defense, get to some more balls and just kind of my overall game — there’s all kinds of things I want to improve on overall.
MiLB.com: Is that really what this experience in the AFL is all about for you?
Seager: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a quicker game. I’m getting used to that and working on improving everything against better quality players.
MiLB.com: I’ve heard that the AFL can be especially tough on guys who haven’t faced Double-A pitching before, because there are so many pitchers who can get younger batters to chase breaking pitches that start in the zone. Has that been kind of a challenge?
Seager: Yeah, for sure. Everybody here is a top guy in his organization. Every pitcher has good quality off-speed stuff and throws well and hits his spot. There’s a real difference with the control they have over all their stuff. I’m always hoping to swing at a strike, and [facing this high-quality pitching] changes your approach a little bit. You’ve got to be a little quicker. And you’ve also got to be quicker on defense. I think this is really improving where I’m going defensively.
MiLB.com: Is it kind of weird to be down there playing right now? The World Series just ended and now you guys are kind of the only game in town, the only pro ballplayers still playing competitive games in the States.
Seager: Well, I don’t know. It’s just, my year hasn’t ended. I’m grinding out the year. It’s definitely a little weird, kind of a weird feeling.
MiLB.com: And for a guy who’s just had his first full season — you’ve been playing almost every day for about eight months now, right?
Seager: This is definitely the longest I’ve ever played consistently. Everybody here is a little bit nicked up or has a little bit of fatigue. We’re all just trying to grind out at-bats and play the game right. A little fatigue is a part of it for everybody here.
MiLB.com: What’s the most fun you’ve had with a team?
Seager: Probably making the playoffs [this season], after playing that long season and then to get there. That was really fun.
MiLB.com: Did you go to a lot of Minor League games in Kannapolis growing up?
Seager: I went to a few Intimidators games but not many, really. I was pretty busy all the time playing ball as a kid, plus both my brothers were playing, so we were pretty busy during the baseball season.
MiLB.com: Did you have a favorite Major Leaguer growing up?
Seager: Derek Jeter, probably. I’d have to say Derek Jeter.
MiLB.com: Yeah, for a shortstop, that’s probably going to be the answer, right?
Seager: Well, yeah, he’s a good guy and he’s a good all-around player — he does everything right on the field.
MiLB.com: And if you weren’t a pro ballplayer, do you know what you’d want to be doing for a living?
Seager: Not really. No, I can’t answer that question for you. Sorry.
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Over the weekend the kids participated in the Little Lakers skills camp and Parents Night Out on the campus of Lake Superior State University. It was a chance for the kids to learn more baseball and softball, and for us parents to get a break for a few hours, too. The Laker softball team ran the kids threw some drills, played games, and fed them some pizza. Even though I was supposed to go out and get some ‘me’ time, I only stayed away for an hour or two before checking up on the kiddoes. They broke up the girls into about three groups, but there was only five boys, so Trevor was in a group with Brian and a few other little ones. I was able to get a few pics of them doing some drills and games, but the Student Activities Center still is so dark. They all had a good time, though, and got a good workout in. The players and coaches always work really well with the kids during the camps. I hope the team holds more during the winter.
Yesterday was the Arizona Fall League‘s all-star game, properly termed the Fall-Star Game. The game is the half-way point of the AFL schedule for some of the best prospects in baseball. The game also featured two of this season’s most successful West Michigan Whitecaps players, and Detroit Tigers prospects. The West beat the East 9-2, but second baseman Devon Travis and relief pitcher Corey Knebel both made appearances. Travis went 1-2 with a triple and an RBI. Knebel pitched only 0.2 of an inning, giving up a home run, a solo shot, and striking out a batter.
Both players are suiting up for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall, a team that featured prospects from the Tigers, California Angels, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, and Washington Nationals. Travis is hitting .233, with two home runs, three doubles, and eight RBI’s. Knebel has a 1.50 ERA in eight games, with two saves, and seven strike outs. Three other former Whitecaps playing for Mesa are pitchers Tommy Collier (2012) and Kenny Faulk (2010), and shortstop Dixon Machado (2011). Collier has a 0.64 in four appearances, with 10 strike outs and giving up only one earned run. Faulk is 1-1, with a frightful 11.37 ERA. He did strike out eight and have one hold. Machado is batting .188 in only nine game, and added four RBI’s for his efforts. Other players in the Tigers system that are playing with the Solar Sox are pitcher Blaine Hardy and outfield Tyler Collins.
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