I have to admit that 2013 was pretty good to us, and I’m probably going to miss it. We had a rocky start to the baseballs season, with some rainouts in Lansing (along with freezing rain, ice, snow, and so on), but after that it was sunny days ahead for us. It was really difficult to narrow a list down to just nine, as far as the fun things that we participated in this year. In reality, the whole trip through North Carolina could be listed (especially Greensboro and Asheville), it was so much fun. We have some fun things planned for 2014, but you’ll see how hard it will be to top our 2013 list. I am very thankful that we had such a fun year, and that my kids, and my dad, and I could spent this time together.
9) Meeting the Fox Sports Detroit Girls: It’s no secret, we love the FSD Girls here! They do a great job of representing our local teams here in Michigan. The kids and I were lucky enough to meet them at a Grand Rapids Griffins game earlier this year. They were very nice to the kids, especially Brian, who they signed a baseball and his hat for. With luck, we might run into them again at a ballgame next season, maybe at the all-star game or something.
8) Double-Header in Midland: Like I stated, our baseball season got off to a rough start. Here in Michigan, we had a horrible spring that was cold, rainy, and snowy. On this day, though, we took advantage of a rain-out to catch at double-header on a Sunday afternoon at Dow Diamond, home of the Great Lakes Loons. The first game, or games, of the season are always special, and this one was no different. It was still a cold day in early April, with the temperature about 30-40 degrees, but we stayed in the sun and it was pretty nice. The Loons mascots Lou E. Loon and Ral E. Camel entertained the kids between games. We brought the kids’ Papa along for his birthday, and it was a great way to kick-off our 2013 baseball year.
7) The ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum: I really loved visiting Greenville, South Carolina. The city made such an impression on me that I’m trying to get a transfer down there. Can you imagine a state where you can play catch outside almost ten months out of the year? It’s a very beautiful and historic town, with plenty to do for any sports fan. First, we dropped by Flour Field to watch the Greenville Drive, which was a great time. The next day was a thrill visiting the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum. The family that runs it is very nice, and knowledgeable about Jackson for sure. It was a fun experience that I highly recommend for anyone in that area.
6) Back in Battle Creek: It’s hard to believe, but we this is the first game we’ve seen in Battle Creek since the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays packed their bags and moved up to Midland. We were down here in 2010, but got rained out, unfortunately. This is where it all began, though, here at C.O. Brown Stadium. The start of the baseball trip, and my love for minor league baseball. This was the kids first game here, too, as well as the opportunity to see the Battle Creek Bombers in the Northwoods League. The day itself was special, because we were able to spend some quality time with family down there. Plenty of family was in attendance to see me throw out the first pitch, too (a beautiful strike, by the way). Lily and Trevor really enjoyed trying out their Twinkie Dogs, as well. It was super hero night, and Brian was able to chase the costumed staff across the field between innings with the other kids. He also participated in an on-field game that he did great at. This was all-around one of the best baseball days anyone could ask for.
5) Star Wars Night: Well, this will probably make the list every year. This year we were back in West Michigan for the Whitecaps game. There were plenty of characters on hand from that galaxy far, far, away to entertain us this year, too. We were able to get pictures with Boba Fett and all the Imperial Stormtroopers, as well as Darth Vader himself. All the kids got lightsabers, and Brian didn’t have any trouble finding other kids to play with. After the game, the lights went out and we enjoyed the fireworks as this special night came to an end.
4) Running the Bases: Being on the field is always fun, and Brian was able to do a lot of that this summer. As mentioned in #6, he was able to run through the outfield and do a race in Battle Creek. Along with that, he ran the bases at the Loons game in Midland, and the Beach Bums game in Traverse City. The kid is a little speed demon, and he had to slow down so not to lap some of the other kids. As a parent, it’s so much fun to watch your kids having such a good time. At least having some baseball experience under his belt, he knows which way to go.
3) Training for Trevor: Despite a shoulder injury that kept him out half of his Little League season, Trevor was able to take part in a couple of baseball clinics. The first one was put on by Major League Baseball Alumni. Former players like Doug Mirabelli, Roger Mason, Dennis Rasmussen, and Rob Ellis were there and did a great job teaching the kids. They were all very patient and helped many of the kids one-on-one. The second clinic was the Beach Bums Baseball Academy in Traverse City. Trevor was able to learn first hand from the Bums’ players and coaches. He was a little limited to what he could do due to his shoulder, but still had a great time. I wish they had stuff like this when I was a kid.
2) The Durham Bulls Experience: Seeing the Durham Bulls was on my baseball bucket list for a long time, and now I can finally cross that off. The Bulls really don’t disappoint, either. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful game to watch. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park is an amazing place to watch a baseball game, and seeing the Bulls during the 25th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham was an awesome experience. The Bulls have to be one of the most recognized baseball logos in minor league history due to the movie, and a game here should be on every fan’s bucket list. We even visited the old ballpark where they filmed the movie, and they still use it for local games.
1) Coaching the Boys: Yeah, this one is personal. Being able to coach my kids in baseball is one of the highlights of my life, not just this year. Lily decided to take a year off, and I really missed watching her play. The boys had a fun season, though, even with Trevor’s injury. Brian made some big improvements, and is hitting the ball better than any five-year-old should. The kid has a rocket arm, too. Being at the local ball fields three or four nights a week is something I’m truly grateful for.
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.
Lake Superior State University-Sault Ste. Marie, MI: Over the weekend Brian participated in the fun free baseball/softball clinic held at LSSU. The clinic was hosted and ran by the girls’ softball team, and they did a great job with the kids. Brian was a little shy with the girls at first, but warmed up when they offered to play catch with him. He did great from there with the drills and games that were played. He hit the ball well off the tee, and in soft-toss. I really saw an improvement with him catching the ball and he’s always had a cannon for an arm. The lady Lakers will be holding another clinic next weekend, this time with more games and pizza for the kids. With the weather cold, rainy, and snowy, I’m grateful the kids have this to look forward too, and a chance to stay active. It’s tough living up here at times with our nasty winters, as they’re obviously not very baseball friendly. The camps are held in the Student Activities Center at the college, which continues to be my Achilles’ heel when it comes to taken decent photos.
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Back, again, just north of Grand Rapids for our last Whitecaps game of the season. A very bitter-sweet moment, but so much going on at this game, I’m not sure where to start. First, Brian was happy they had a ‘bounce castle’ set up in the parking lot. We didn’t have much time for him to play, but he still was able to bounce around for a little while before we made our way into the stadium. Upon entry, each of us received a free mini-bat, to commemorate the ‘Caps 20th season of play. Brian has been collecting the bats lately, so more for him. It was super hero night at the ballpark, just like in Battle Creek last month, but the only ones dressed up were the Whitecaps’ on-field staff. Still, some of them has some cool outfits. We were at the ballpark early, so we saw the Captains take some batting practice, and waited for the home team to hit the field for their warm-ups. We went down to field level, where we met former Tigers’ relief pitcher, and current ‘Caps pitching coach, Mike Henneman. He was nice enough to sign a baseball card for Brian (a future hurler, himself!). Before the game got underway, we were also entertained by team Ghostrider: basically monkeys riding around on dogs. They would appear a few time throughout the game, herding goats and riding away. When monkeys act like cowboys, everybody wins! It didn’t take the kids long to get hungry, and Lily, Brian, and their Papa stuck with traditional hot dogs. Trevor and I, however, wanted to try the Baco! We made our way through the concourse, and with a sold-out crowd we were moving slowly. We took a break, though, to check out the Whitecaps 2007 Midwest League Championship trophy that was on display. The team was also celebrating the championship during this game, too. We finally made it to the other side of the ballpark to get our Bacos. Trevor didn’t care for it too much, but I thought it was pretty good. Not worth $6 each, but had to do it. Unfortunately the Whitecaps has some of the slowest concessions ever, so we missed a good chunk of the game waiting in line. We decided to head back to our seats through the lower bowl, which was a good idea because Trevor got a foul ball that bounced our way. We were finally able to sit down and enjoy the rest of the game, which was a good one. The ‘Caps also provided post-game fireworks that the kids really love, too. It was a hectic night all around, and sold-out crowds will do that, but still hard to wrap my head around the fact it will be a minimum of nine months before I’m enjoying baseball at Fifth-Third Ballpark again!
Like I stated, the game between the ‘Caps and the Captains was a good one. West Michigan was down 2-0 in the third, but busted out for three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Connor Harrell and David Gonzales started it off with a pair of singles, then Lake County started walking some batters. The Whitecaps scored two runs on walks, then Jason King hit a sac fly for the third run. In the fourth inning, Jeff Holm hit a solo shot to put the ‘Caps up 4-2. West Michigan concluded the scoring in the eighth inning, when Lance Durham hit his team leading 14th home run, after King singled. On the hill for West Michigan, Edgar De La Rosa pitched a solid game, only giving up the two runs in six innings of work. He struck out four and didn’t walk any of the Lake County hitters. The bullpen finished the job, throwing four shutout innings, with Corey Knebel closing the door in the ninth. Holm lead the offense going 2-4, and Gonzalez went 2-3. Final Score: Whitecaps 6, Captains 2.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Beach Bums Baseball Academy
Wuerfel Park-Traverse City, MI: As Trevor’s Little League season came to an early end this summer due to shoulder problems, we weren’t sure if he was going to participate in this baseball academy hosted by the Traverse City Beach Bums. As his x-rays were examined, he was cleared to play, but we also found out that he wasn’t dealing with a sprained shoulder, but a broken clavicle. The bad news is that even though it’s looked to have healed, it also still causes him extreme pain. Trevor is a trooper, though, and gave the camp a go. The gates opened early, and the players came and got the kids promptly at ten a.m. After some stretching and warming up, the kids were separated into five stations. Trevor’s first station was hitting. They did soft-toss with tennis balls in the outfield. He never got under one to get it over the fence, but had a few nice line-drives. His next station was in the outfield, working on pop-ups and fly balls. The Beach Bums really had some fun and unique drills to help the kids adjust to catching a ball on the fly. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of kids this age, so I’m glad they taught them some of these manuevers. The kids’ next stop was the bullpen, for some pitching drills. By this point, Trevor’s shoulder was causing some major discomfort, so he sat this one out. I don’t think he feels like he’s pitching material anyway, as he prefers to be behind the plate. After the pitching portion of the academy was complete, his group headed in for some base-running. They did some good drills that taught them how to run through the bag at first, and round it if the ball got through the infield. The kids really liked sliding on the artificial turf, too. He ended his day doing some infield drills. The Beach Bums did a great job of encouraging the kids, even when they made an error. They reminded them that the pros make mistakes, too, and not to get discouraged.
Overall, this was a very good experience for Trevor. I think he learned a lot and had some fun. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t make it for the second day due to the pain in his shoulder. I really recommend the Beach Bums Baseball Academy, however, for anyone living in the area. There seemed to be kids from all over the northern part of the state attending. I thank the Bums for their work with the kids, I want to personally thank Jason Wuerfel for giving Trevor this opportunity! We will be back next year, and with Brian old enough to join in the fun.
Over on MiLB.com, the Mascot Mania is in full force, with ever fuzzy animal, alien, or funny looking man-thing represeting a Minor League franchise fighting for mascot supremecy. The kids and I have encountered and have been entertained by some great ones on our travels, and here are some of our favorites. Keep in mind, the list will only consist of the mascots we’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting or seeing. This list was also a lot harder to put together than you’d think, trying to narrow so many fun entertainers down to just nine. Ok, then, let’s see where they stand:
9) Rowdie-Indianapolis Indians: We’re not sure yet what exactly Rowdie is, but he sure is fun. He does a good job of getting around the stadium and getting pics with the kids.
8) Mr. Shucks-Cedar Rapids Kernels: Well, this guy just looks really cool. He does a nice job of getting the crowd riled up in Cedar Rapids.
7) Reedy Rip’ It-Greenville Drive: Reedy is a bit of a Wally ‘rip’ off, but that’s ok with me. The Drive is a BoSox affiliate, and they get lots of ideas from them. Reedy did a great job of interacting with the fans.
6) Paws-Pawtucket Red Sox: Ok, another BoSox affiliate. Paws is all over the place, and is marketed very well.
4) Gnate the Gnat-Savannah Sand Gnats: Gnate is really cool, and is always interacting with the fans and kids. Made my trip a little more fun.
3) Loe E. Loon-Great Lakes Loons: Ok, the Loons are one of our regular teams now, so we really know first hand how hard Lou E. works. Along with Rall E. Camel, he does a super job at Dow diamond.
2) Slugger-Portland Sea Dogs: I really loved being at the Sea Dogs game, and Slugger made it even more fun. He’s just a cool mascot, in my opinion. And I guess that’s what counts on this blog…
1) Crash the River Rascal-West Michigan Whitecaps: Ok, was there ever much doubt? Yes, it’s a homer call, but Crash is really awesome. He makes the kids laugh and gets around the stadium well to interact with the fans. He and his buddy Franky the Swimming Pig are the best.
Ok, so there’s my take on the Mascot Mania. Be sure to go and vote for your favorites HERE. Good luck to all the masconts in my Prime 9. What’s yours?
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
It may be hard to believe, but it’s barely half-way through July and our Little League baseball season has already come to an end. Just when it seems the kids are starting to ‘get it’, and learn the game, the rug gets pulled out from under us. I guess when you live in a northern part of a northern state, the summer sports take a back seat to just about everything else. This is the hand we’ve been dealt, however, and it’s up to us to make the best of it. And make the best of it, we did. I am very lucky to have coached such great kids this season. We had a lot of fun, and I’m hoping that they all continue to play in the future. I really enjoy coaching at this level (tee ball), and like to believe I’m making a positive influence to their first experiences with baseball. Before Trevor sprained his shoulder, I was having fun helping coach his team, too. Sometimes it’s easier just to be an assistant and only worry about teaching the kids baseball. If the x-rays this week prove positive, he should still be able to participate in the Beach Bums Baseball Academy next week. As for Brian, it amazes me just how good this kid can play at times. He had a great season, also, and really enjoys baseball. Sometimes he gets frustrated when the ball isn’t hit to him, but is learning how to share and be a good team-mate. He has good speed, and a good throwing arm, and is starting to get his glove on the ball. When we play by ourselves, we lose the tee and hits live pitching like a boss. So much so, that I signed him up with the Battle Creek Bombers kids club to take batting practice with the team next weekend. In closing, I’ll miss my team and playing with them every week. Even just adding more games or practices on the weekends would help all the kids out, and give me a chance to do what I love to do.