I’m taking a small break from minor league baseball to focus on some minor league hockey. Why would I do this, you ask? Easy, when my own Grand Rapids Griffins captured the Calder Cup last night with a 5-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch. The Calder Cup is awarded to the playoff champion of the American Hockey League, which is comparable to Triple-A in baseball. The Griffins won the series four game to two over the favored Syracuse team. Grand Rapids won the first three games of the series, but the Crunch battled back to win two and bring the series back home. It would have been nice to have won it on home ice at Van Andel Arena, but a championship is special no matter where it’s won. Griffin captain Jeff Hoggan accepted the Cup at center ice, and Tomas Tatar was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the series most valuable player, scoring 16 goals and 21 points in 24 games. In net, Petr Mrazek made 24 saves for the win. First year head coach Jeff Blashill made a fine showing also, and is a native of our little town of Sault Ste. Marie here in the U.P. This is the first championship in the 17 year history of the Griffins, and 27 years of pro hockey in Grand Rapids.
To celebrate, more than 4,000 fans were in attendance at Van Andel Arena this evening to see the Griffins and the Calder Cup. The team was also able to thank their fans. We knew this would be a special season when we saw them play in February, I swear! I would love to see the Whitecaps pick up on this, and have the Griffins honored at one of their game. They could even have a championship puck give away or something, or have the Calder Cup on display. Anyway, this is very good for the city of Grand Rapids, and congrats to the Griffins!
Little League Baseball is in full swing up here in Michigan. The boys are having a great time on the field, and are getting better every time out. Lily decided to take a year off, but is still keeping busy and helps out with Brian’s tee ball team when she can. The weather has been pretty good to us so far this month, too. Brian has been hitting the snot out of the ball off of the tee, and has one of the best arms in the league. Trevor is really working hard, playing smart, and his monster 2-RBI double is probably his highlight so far. Sooo…here are a few gratuitous pics of the boys doing their thing.
The West Michigan Whitecaps are celebrating their 20th season, and along with that allowed the fans to vote for their all-time favorite players. There have been more than 600 optomistic young men that have taken the field for the Whitecaps, with 102 of them breaking into the big leagues. The players were voted for by position in an on-line ballot, and here are the 14 that made the cut.
Manager-Tom Brookens (2007)
Catcher-Brandon Inge (1999)
First Base-Robert Fick (1997)
Second Base-Scott Sizemore (2007)
Shortstop-Brent Dlugach (2005)
Third Base-Nick Castellanos (2011)
Outfield-Matt Joyce (2006), Cameron Maybin (2006), Avisail Garcia (2009-10)
Designated Hitter-Eric Munson (1999)
Relief Pitcher-Francisco Cordero (1997), Ed Clelland (2005, 2007)
You can read the full story HERE on the Whitecaps website. Of all the winners, only Castellanos and Clelland have not played in the Major Leagues. The results are not that surprising, though, knowing the popularity of some of these guys in West Michigan. One of the few positions I voted different was Eugenio Suarez (2012) at shortstop.
Promo photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Fifth-Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: As much as I loved my time in North Carolina, it was good to be back in Michigan, and have the home field advantage. It felt comfortable to be back in my own ballpark, and to see the Whitecaps play for the first time this season. After riding in airplanes most of the day, it was nice to be in the fresh air and wandering around Fifth-Third Ballpark. We were also one of the lucky ones to get an Avisail Garcia bobble head at the gate. It was good to see the best mascot in the minors, Crash the River Rascal, hamming it up on the concourse with the kids. I wandered down and watched the Whitecaps warm up, and got some good pics of the team. I was excited to see guys like Devin Travis and Danry Vasquez in action. It was also cool to see new pitching coach Mike Henneman, who was one of my favorite Tigers when I was younger. Henneman seemed to be joking around with his staff a little, and keeping his pitchers loose. It was good to see some familiar faces and be back home, and this will go down as one of the best baseball trips ever.
The game did not go our way, and the Whitecaps home field advantage did them little good as the Hot Rods shut them right down. Starting pitcher Charlie Gillies took the loss, but had no run support. He gave up three runs and struck out three, in just over five innings of work. Both second baseman Jared Reaves and third baseman Mario Martinez went 2-4, but could not help get a run across the plate. Win or lose, however, there’s still no place that I’d rather be. Final score: Whitecaps 0, Hot Rods 4.
CMC-Northeast Stadium-Kannapolis, NC: Wow…what to do on a day when we only have one game scheduled to attend? Well, if you’re into the nascar thing, then you would have enjoyed our experiences. Our first stop was in Concord, NC, home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite the advertising of daily tours around the track, we found they were cancelled because some trucks were practicing all weekend. Great luck, so we poked around a bit and headed out. Just down the street there was a nice little car museum, so we decided to check that out. The highlight for me was seeing a couple of cars used in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (if you’re not first, you’re last…). We still had plenty of time before our game in Kannapolis, so, sticking with the nascar theme, we decided to head back into downtown Charlotte to the nascar Hall of Fame. Our experience there was ok, but decided just to head back north to Kannapolis. We arrived a little early, but noticed that the gates were open. The ballpark wasn’t really open to the public then, but I started chatting with head of ticket sales, and he was nice enough to open the gift shop for me so we could get our souvenirs and put them back in the car before the game. The whole Intimidators staff was very friendly, and treated us well. We actually had time to take and little snooze in the car before the gates officially opened. Before heading inside, though, I took a few pics of the race car parked in front of the stadium…sticking with the nascar theme, of course. Kannapolis is the birthplace of deceased nascar driver Dale Earnhardt, and the Intimidators are named after him. Inside, we had plenty of time to explore the small ballpark before the game began. This included hanging out with mascot Tim E. Gator. The concourse was nice, and wide open. There were some good eats, too, but we just stuck with beer and hot dogs. I bought seats in the V.I.P. section, right next to the Intimidators dugout. On a two dimensional seating chart, the seats looked great, but in reality, I had a huge pole directly in front of me, and couldn’t see anything. With a small crowd, we quickly found new seats. CMC-Northeast Stadium is a nice, unique, ballpark, and was a good low-key end to our adventures in North Carolina, as I really love the South Atlantic League.
The in-game action started out well for the home town nine. They scored three runs in the first inning, and one run in the fourth to take a 4-1 run lead. Things would fall apart in the late innings, though, as they gave up four and five runs in consecutive innings to go down 10-4. They battled back in the eighth, scoring three runs to cut the Suns’ lead to three, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer. The Intimidators got great production our of right fielder Jason Coats, who went 3-5 with four RBI’s and two runs scored. Brandon Brennan took the loss on the hill for Kannapolis, going 6.1 innings and giving up four earned runs. Relief pitcher Todd Kibby really got roughed up, though, not even lasting one innings and giving up four runs on three walks and one hit. Final score: Intimidators 7, Suns 10.
BB&T Ballpark-Winston-Salem, NC: Ok, so we were in Winston-Salem a few days ago, and now we came back to see the Dash play in more Carolina League action. I really wish we could have stayed and explored Asheville a little more, but this is the life we’re leading on these trips. Our evening starting with an amazing dinner at Tripps Restaurant, where my dad was reunited with an old army buddy that he hasn’t seen in many years. It was an amazing experience to listen to their stories and see them catch up. It was hard to break away, but we finally did and headed to the ballpark. The home of the Dash, BB&T Ballpark, is very impressive for single-A baseball. It had a nice large parking lot, which made things easy for us to get in and out. We entered through the outfield, which is something we’ve been seeing more and more of in recent years. The modern park is very beautiful, and looked like it didn’t have a bad seat in the house. I liked the fact that the concourse goes entirely around the field, too. Thier mascot Bolt was entertaining, and played some tricks on the umpire before the game. I never saw him in the stands interacting with the fans, though, which is too bad. The ballpark is really nice, but to me it seemed a little sterile. Maybe just because it’s so new, and that we were at a game during the week without a huge crowd. Still lots of fun, and a ballpark worth visiting.
The game saw the home team get roughed up a bit, especially early. Dash pitcher Chris Bassitt only lasted 2.1 innings, and gave up nine runs. The bullpen seemed to keep the visiting Pelicans in check the rest of the way, though. Shortstop Chris Curley led the offensively, going 2-4 on the night. Left fielder Grant Buckner, however, had the two RBI’s going 1-4. Final score: Dash 2, Pelicans 9.
McCormick Field-Asheville, NC: I just want to start off by stating that I loved this game. I love McCormick Field, and this should be on every baseball fans bucket list. Another downtown stadium, so parking is a little rough. That, however is the about the only thing you’d have to worry about. The stadium is located on a large hill, or mountain, I guess, which make for some nice scenery. The whole setup of the stadium is nice, with the concourse and gift shop in a nice setting. Part of the concourse is limited by part of the mountain, also. Our seats were great, as we got the dugout suites right next to the home team dugout. This luxury comes with snacks, drinks, and a chicken dinner from Bojangles’. We really felt we were treated like royalty! It was a day game which saw some buses of school kids enjoying the game also. This helped make for a great atmosphere, as well as the loyal regulars of McCormick Field. Another unique aspect, is that one lucky fan gets to deliver the game ball via a zip line. It was fun to watch, and must have been a great experience for that fan! The fact that it was a day game make it a little warm for us, but I can only imagine how awesome a night game would be here. The home team put on a great show, and I also got my first South Atlantic League game ball. This honestly rivals Durham for the best game on the trip. You can also see McCormick Field at the end of the movie Bull Durham, where Crash hits his record breaking home run.
The game itself was a good one for the Tourists. When we saw the Drive a few days before they looked like a pretty solid hitting team, but Asheville hurler T.J. Oaks seemed to keep them of the kilter all day, as he went seven innings and only gave up the one run. The Tourists took the game over with a huge seven run fourth inning. It seemed like they were pounding doubles off the wall left and right. Second baseman Juan Ciriaco seemed to be the player of the game. Not only did he toss me the game ball, but he went 3-5 with an RBI. Rosell Herrera also pitched in, going 2-5 with a pair of RBI’s. Final score: Tourists 8, Drive 1.
Hickory Crawdads vs. West Virginia Power (South Atlantic League)L.P. Frans Stadium-Hickory, NC: The fifth day of our trip was pretty busy also. We spent the morning and afternoon visiting some Civil War battle fields, and I was in heaven at the Under Armour outlet store. We then started the long road back west toward Hickory. We pulled into L.P. Frans Stadium ready for some baseball, though. There seemed to be another small crowd, but there were a few buses that arrived to fill the seats. Our seats were front row, right behind home plate. It’s a given you’ll have to deal with some netting with these seats, but the netting just seemed to keep going and going. I don’t think there were many seats at all with a clear view. Not sure if this is just the team teams in the Carolinas that love the net, or the SALly league. Hickory seemed to be a team that is community based, and the fans all seemed to know each other for the most part. Again, I’m sure with a bigger crowd the atmosphere would greatly improve. They did have a nice play area for the kids and a carousel, also. The Crawdads do host a nice game, and this was a good addition to our trip.
The game gave us a victory for the home team, but not much offense for either team. Center fielder Lewis Brinston led the ‘Dads going 2-3 with a double. On the mound, C.J. Edwards earned the win going over five innings. Final score: Crawdads 2, Power 1.
Carolina MudCats vs. Lynchburg HillCats (Carolina League)
Five County Stadium-Zebulon, NC: It was a bit of a day of polar opposites, as we arrived in Zebulon to watch the MudCats. The GPS couldn’t find the stadium address, either, so getting there was a bit of a chore, but once we got our of Raleigh and headed east, it was all good. It was a Monday night, and it’s been my experience that games on this night are generally not well attended. I really didn’t expect, like, fifteen to twenty fans to be there, though. Really…I’m not exaggerating. Lucky for the MudCats, too, that I was meeting up with an old friend that I played baseball with in high school, to add to the attendance. At least it was a quiet game, so my buddy Chris and I could catch up a bit, and talk about old times. I also had a chance to explore the ballpark some and get some pictures. Five County Stadium is very unique, and I really like the way it’s set up. There are not too many rows of seats in the lower level, but mostly in the upper level. The upper level seats hang over the dugouts, and really give you a nice view of the game. As with most of the stadium in North Carolina, there was plenty of netting, too, to protect the fans. A little too much for my tastes, but I was able to move around it to get some more pictures. Despite the low attendance, the on field DJ still had some fun with the fans who were there, and the mascot Muddy the MudCat (a giant catfish) wandered the concourse, as did a gorilla chasing a giant banana. See how fun the minors are? I’m sure the atmosphere is better when the stands start filling up this summer, and I did very much enjoy my first Carolina League game in Zebulon. At least I was able to catch a foul ball, but waited until there was two outs in the ninth inning to do it!
As for the game, the home team didn’t rally much with such an empty stadium. The HillCats, however, really had their bats heated up, as they put eleven runs across the plate. Shawn Morimando took the loss for the MudCats, giving up seven runs, but only five of them earned. Carolina did have a couple of players got 2-4, though, in catcher Ryan Battaglia and third baseman Yhoxian Medina. Tough loss for the hometown MudCats, but I’m sure things will get better once some fans are in the stands. Final score: MudCats 4, HillCats 11.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Durham Athletic Park-Durham, NC: I’d be crazy not to check out the old stadium in Durham. You know, the one they filmed that movie at? It’s located just a mile or so from the new one, and it still sits in a neighborhood like it does in the movie. It seems like it’s still in use, as the outfield was being mowed when I got there. My luck, too, because the outfield gate was open, allowing me to sneak in a get a few pics, anyway. I was just amazing, though, to think that back in 1988 it was full of Hollywood magic, and Bull Durham would become one of the most loved baseball movies of all time. The first thing I did when returning home, was to watch the movie again (ok, it wasn’t the first thing, but I did watch it). It was cool to see where I had been, and knowing I’d been to Asheville, too, that was featured toward the end of the show. Our day wasn’t done yet, though, as we still needed to head west for some Carolina League action that night. I know what you’re thinking, though. Seeing four ballparks and two games in one day is a little excessive. Even for the Carolina League.