Kalamazoo, Michigan will finally be getting a new baseball team for the first time since 2011. The team will be competing in the Northwoods League, which is a summer college wooden bat league. This is the same league that the neighboring Battle Creek Bombers play in. Home games will be played at Homer Stryker Field, same as the prior tenant the Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League (same as the Traverse City Beach Bums). The Kings suspended operations after the 2011 season, and never were able to get the team running again. Fans in the Kalamazoo area have submitted their ideas for a team name, and the finalists are: Cabbies, Clutch, Growlers, Kangaroos (K-Roos), and Krakens. My pick would be the Kalamazoo Kangaroos, but the franchise will announce the winner at an Opening Night Event on November 15th. This free event will feature the un-veiling of the new team name and logo, along with the manager and coaches. Fans will also be able to receive free ballpark food and nonalcoholic beverages, participate in a free raffle, and their will be free kids games as well. Fans will also be able to interact with the team owners and front office staff. I’ll definitely be following this team, and hope to be able to attend a game next season. I’m pretty familiar the the city also, as I grew up on minor league hockey watching the Kalamazoo Wings of the old International Hockey League when I lived in that area.
Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Baseball/Northwoods League
I don’t say this too often, but the weather was perfect this weekend for some softball in Sault Ste. Marie. It had been just over a month since we’d been to a live ballgame, so when I learned that the Lakers were hosting Cornerstone University for some exhibition games, they became the priority of the weekend. It was a long day for the girls, as they played three games on Saturday. Brian joined me, and we saw bits and pieces of the first and third games, but saw the second game in its entirety. Because the games were exhibitions, I couldn’t find results or box scores for any of them. I know the Lakers won the second game, though, as they hit the ball well and produced some runs. They also played solid defense behind starting pitcher sophomore Jade Stein, who pitched a complete game. Brian and I had fun watching the games, and look forward to seeing the girls back in action at home this spring if the weather cooperates.
C.O. Brown Stadium-Battle Creek, MI: It seems to always rain when we visit Battle Creek, and this trip was no execption. We were lucky enough, though, that it stopped in time for us to enjoy ourselves at the ballpark. Here at C.O. Brown Stadium, where my love for Minor League Baseball began, has now seen four generations of my family enjoy baseball here. Because trips to BC usually revolve around family, however, not necessarily baseball, it was good to enjoy the game with loved ones. It was also super hero night at the Bombers game, so even though Brian was a bit tired and grumpy from the long trip, he perked up when he saw the likes of Wolverine, Spider Man, and Batman. The boys also met the BC mascot, Moe Skeeter! My dad also set me up to throw out the first pitch, despite the fact my birthday was last week. I shot a perfect strike, and was even complimented by the Bombers’ catcher. Brian really wasn’t happy with me that I was on the field without him, but he got his turn later in the game. At one point the kids chased the super heroes through the outfield, and he also competed in a race where he had to run with flippers, a scuba mask, and floatie. He did better than the other kids he was racing, but wasn’t happy about falling while running in the flippers. Anyway, we had a super fun time on super hero night, and it’s always good to visit family.
Ok, the game itself pitted the hometown Bombers against the Rochester Honkers in Northwoods League action. The Northwoods League is a summer college wooden bat league. Some of the best college players in the country hone their skills here. Playing for the Bombers is Cam Gibson, son of Detroit Tigers legend Kirk Gibson. During the school year, Gibson suits up for the Michigan State Spartans. Due to super hero night, the Bobers were wearing special jerseys to look like Superman. We had some free baseball, too, as the game went into extra innings. The Bombers only had six hits in the game, but the Honkers’ pitching staff had trouble finding the plate, and walked in some runs. The Bombers scored in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and came through with a run in the 12th for the win. On the hill, Todd Eaton earned the victory, pitching four innings, giving up one hit and striking out four. Offensively, the Bombers didn’t have much going, but Rouric Bridgewater (Arizona State) was 1-3 with a RBI and run scored. Final: Bombers 6, Honkers 5 (12 innings).
And Brian’s on field race:
If you find yourself in Battle Creek with some time to spare, the Binder Park Zoo is a nice place to visit, especially for the kids. The one thing they really got a kick out of is feeding the giraffes! The looks on their faces were priceless! Lots of other animals to see there, too, but the Africa exhibit is probably the best.
Wake Forest Demon Deacans vs. Miami Hurricanes (Atlantic Coast Conference/NCAA)
Gene Hooks Field-Winston-Salem, NC: We were blessed with another beautiful day, as we headed north from Charlotte up to Winston-Salem for some college baseball. You might be wondering how a kid growing up in northern Michigan can become a fan of the Miami Hurricanes. Then again, you might not be. Anyway, I became a fan of the ‘U’ in the 80’s, while watching their sports teams win with attitude and swagger. You can understand my excitement, then, when I realized that the Wake Forest Demon Deacons would be hosting the ‘Canes during the very weekend we would be down there. The game took place at Gene Hooks Field, which is located just off campus next to the football field. It’s formerly Ernie Shore Field, that at one time hosted the Winston-Salem Warthogs of the Carolina League. With the Deacons taking over after the Warthogs became the Dash, and moved to their new stadium, Wake Forest inherited a nice venue for college baseball. I spent most of the game chatting with a fellow Michigander, who now coached football and baseball in the area. It was also senior day for the Deacons, with a pre-game ceremony celebrating their last home game. The rubber match of the series went to the home team, with the ‘Canes giving up six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning that broke a 3-3 tie. Despite the loss, the future looks bright for Miami as freshman David Thompson and sophomore Garrett Kennedy both hit home runs in the loss. It was still a lot of fun for me, and I really wish we could have squeezed more college games into our trip. Final score: Wake Forest 9, Miami 3.
Cooley Law School Stadium-Lansing, MI: Last Thursday we gambled…and lost. As mother nature continued to punish us in Michigan with freezing rain, sleet, and snow, the 7th Annual Crosstown Showdown, pitting the Lansing Lugnuts against the Michigan State Spartans, has been postponed. The Lugnuts announced that the game will be made up on May 1st, as a seven inning game. We won’t be able to make it to that one, but the Lansing ticket office staff was more than helpful in helping us exchange our tickets for a game that we will be able to make it back down for…weather permitting. The kids and I still had a fun day together, though. We took a tour of the State Capitol building that was very enjoyable and informative. Lily and Trevor have been studying government in school, and it’s good for them to actually see where and how it’s applied. Our love of cars also took us to see the R.E. Olds transportation museum. We love to see the old cars and memorabilia. So much pride and workmanship went into the classic vehicles. The most fun the kids had was at the Impression 5 Science Center. This is a hands on play area for kids to build, do experiments, and encounter science and nature first hand. They could have spent all day there, and we’ll probably visit this again after the Lugnuts game here in a couple of weeks. It does get you down a bit, waiting for the weather to clear up to see some baseball games, but we still had fun, and the kids were able to spend some quality time with their Papa for his birthday. We also had dinner at one of my favorite sports bars, the Nuthouse Sports Grill!
We all know how the song starts….’On a cold winter’s morning..’. And that’s exactly how it felt this morning when my alarm blared in my ear, telling me it was time to get up and get the kids ready for school. Despite being the first day of spring, ‘old man winter’ pounded us with another few inches of snow. Throw the high winds and cold with it, and it’s just another winter storm, complete with low visibility and icy roads. Spring has not sprung, and winter looks as if it wants to stay with us for a little longer. Today was also the day that single game tickets went on sale for the Lansing LugNuts. Here’s where the gambling part comes in.. Despite there being several feet of snow on the ground, and temperatures in the 20’s, I took a gamble and ordered tickets for the Crosstown Showdown on April 11th. I’m sure the grounds crew at Cooley Law School Stadium is working diligently to get the field ready for game action, but there’s still no guarantee what the weather will be like and how cold it will be in just a few short weeks. If it was just me, I wouldn’t care too much, but I’m hoping it’s warm enough for the kids to sit through. I rolled the dice, however, so we’ll see what happens. The Crosstown Showdown is the LugNuts opening day exhibition game against the Michigan State University Spartans, based in East Lansing. According to the LugNuts, this is one of the most attended games every season, so I guess we were lucky to get tickets. Trevor is the one who really wanted to see this game, as he’s a Sparty backer, for some reason. It should be a fun day all around, too, as we plan on visiting the State Capitol building while down there, as well as a couple of museums. If I’m going to pull the kids out of school, I have to justify it somehow, right? It should be a good game to watch, also, as MSU is the defending Big Ten champions, and Lansing had a great season last year. So, in a few weeks we’ll pack up and head downstate…and hope that Mother Nature deals us a favorable hand.
Promotion courtesy of the Lansing LugNuts
Ok, hell or high water, I need to make a Battle Creek Bombers game this season. Not just to witness some great summer college league baseball action, but also temp my palate with…the Twinkie Dog. Yes, it’s a hot dog with a Twinkie for the bun. No sure how the Bomber staff acquired all the Twinkies, or maybe they use a knock-off brand, but either way, this is something I need to try. I think the kids are on board with me on this, too, so we can make it a family dinner type thing! Battle Creek is pretty confident in its new concession, too, as they’ve released a Twinkie Dog t-shirt. Anyone in the Battle Creek area can also stop by the ballpark offices for a free sample up until the end of March. That’s a little too far for me to drive for a snack, so I’ll wait until the Bombers season starts! Not that I need much of an excuse to go to C.O. Brown stadium, since that’s where my love for Minor League Baseball started, and where the baseball trip originated! I hope we don’t get rained out, however, like we did last time.
Just north of BC, another one of my haunts, is the Grand Rapids area, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps. The ‘Caps gained some national attention a few years again when they released the Fifth Third Burger. The burger made headlines on CNN, and has been featured on the Food Network, and the Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. This year, the winner of the fourth annual Whitecaps food contest is the Baco…a taco with a bacon shell. The Baco received 30% of the online votes from a list of ten food items that had been dwindled down from a list of 150. My personal vote was for the Bad Joke, a corn dog covered with cheese with two strips of duck bacon in a bun. That fell just short at 27%. Either way, the fans at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park will have many culinary delights to snack on while watching the Whitecaps play this season. Just another reason why I just can’t wait for this winter to be over, and baseball to begin!
Twinkie Dog promo courtesy of the Battle Creek Bombers
Baco photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
There’s really no sign of spring up here in Michigan’s crazy Upper Peninsula. In fact, it seems that there is even more snow, cold, and wind than ever. Things will be heating up for the Lake Superior State Lakers softball team, however, as they start their season today in the Superior Dome over in Marquette. The girls play three game today, taking on Lakeland, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and Wisconsin-Superior. Good luck to the girls this weekend, and all season long. Their season actually kicked off last weekend, though, with the annual ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ spaghetti dinner. There was fun and games, and the kids were thrilled that they won two of the raffles. They won a movie package that included, movie passes, popcorn and candy, along with different popcorn seasoning. Also includes some free movie rentals. The other raffle we won was a cooler, beach towels, beach toys, water bottles, and sun screen. Uh…we’ll have to put that one up on the shelf for a few months, but very thankful that we got lucky. And all the money for the tickets goes to the softball team, so it’s a good cause. Brian had a good time showing off his throwing arm and playing with the balloons. Lily and Trevor drew pictures for the girls on the paper table cloths. We had a great time, but we’re sick of the snow and ready to burn the snowman, already.
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.
Lily has been pretty busy with softball lately. Yes, I know it’s December, but there’s really no off-season for us. Last weekend she participated in a free clinic put on by the Lake Superior State Lakers, where she practiced all aspects of the game. Also, during the week, Lily has some hitting clinics going on. They were very productive, as she was working one-on-one with Lakers head coach Lori Shimasaki. I could really see an improvement in her hitting over the past couple of weeks. Lily had a lot of fun, which is the important thing, and the clinics may start-up again after the first of the year.