Planning our baseball trip for this coming summer, we decided to once again make a stop at Louisville Slugger Field in Kentucky. Our last trip there was way back in 2009, a tour that took to South Bend, Indianapolis, Louisville, Fort Wayne, then back to Michigan with Lansing in a nice clean loop. Unfortunately, shortly after that trip the chip that all the photos were saved on became ‘corrupted’ and I lost all but a very few I had already posted way back when I first started M.I.B. I did, however, find a few photos that my dad took using ‘film’. This ‘film’, as it’s called, somehow stores pictures in this little plastic thing, and then he has to take it to a store, and actually WAIT to see what they look like. Can you imagine having to wait over an hour to see the pictures you took? Anyway, here are a few that I was able to find, and Louisville Slugger Field is a great place to watch a ballgame. I wish I could have found one of the stadium’s façade, as it’s built into an old rain station and is absolutely amazing. Instead we’ll have to settle for a couple of a very young Trevor before he became taller that his dad. The ballpark is pretty big, with an area out in left field where concerts and parties can take place, rides for the kids, and a playground down the left field line. I really like that parents can see the game from the playground area, so we don’t miss anything while the kids are letting off a little steam. I even caught a foul ball there while Trevor was busy playing. I really liked that the concourse wraps all the way around the stadium, also. There’s not a bad seat in the house, although the seats are structured at such an angle that the ones higher up do feel like your off the field a little too much, but with a larger Triple-A stadium it’s not unexpected. The overhanging seats from the sky boxes don’t give off much shade, either, so if you see a day game in the summer time, you’re going to be getting plenty of sun.
I really recommend seeing a game here for anyone in the area, and can’t wait to return this summer. The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is located just down the street, also, so plenty to do in this area. This summer, our plan is to see games in Louisville, Nashville, Lexington, Bowling Green, and Florence. This should be a great trip if the weather is nice, and will include the South Atlantic League All-Star game in Lexington. I actually would have hoped to be transferred to Kentucky by, but things move slowly (if it happens at all…) and if a miracle happens, I’ll already be settled there and ready to go!
Tonight the West Michigan Whitecaps will add two more players to it’s prestigious Hall of Fame, as alumni Don Kelly and Cameron Maybin return to Grand Rapids for the 22nd annual Whitecaps Community Foundation Winter Baseball Banquet. Maybin is returning to the Tigers organization after being traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. He was a first-round pick of the Tigers in 2005, playing his first full pro season in West Michigan in 2006, hitting .304 with nine home runs, 69 RBI’s, and 27 stolen bases. Maybin also played in the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game, and help lead the ‘Caps to the 2006 Midwest League Championship while being named MWL Prospect of the Year.
Kelly played for the Whitecaps way back in 2002, and was an 8th round pick of Detroit in 2001. He went on to hit .286 with 59 RBI’s, and was also the starting shortstop in the Midwest League All-Star Game that season. Kelly is mostly known for being a super-utility player, and has seen action at every position on the field, including pitching an inning or two. Other ‘Caps alumni scheduled to be at tonight’s banquet are Wynton Bernard, Nick Castellanos, Jeff Ferrell, Montreal Robinson off of the Tigers’ Caravan. Other Tiger players, coaches, and personnel that will be there include Al Alvila, Alan Trammell, Matt Boyd, Tyler Collins, Michael Fulmer, Anthony Gose, Shane Greene, Blaine Hardy, Bryan Holaday, Jose Iglasias, Mark Lowe, Drew VerHagen, Alex Wilson, Wally Joyner, and Omar Vizquel. That’s a lot of baseball guys under one roof, and one day when I win the Powerball I’ll be able to get tickets for the kids and I too attend. The Whitecaps Community Foundation does a lot of good in the Grand Rapids area, though, so it’s nice to know the money is being well spent.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Just when I start complaining that the Tigers keep trading away some of my favorite prospects and Whitecaps alumni, they do something like this. And totally redeem themselves! Friday night Detroit acquired Cameron Maybin from the Atlanta Braves for relief pitcher Ion Krol and Gabe Speier. With the loss of Rajai Davis to free agency, Maybin fills that gap nicely as he can play for center and left field. He had the best season of his Major League career in 2015, batting .267, with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. Maybin was originally dealt to the Florida/Miami Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers in 2007, so there’s no way I can complain about how that deal turned out! Speier did pitch in 33 games for West Michigan this season, however, posting a 2.86 ERA while earning four wins, to two losses. We wish the best to both he and Krol with the Braves organization.
Maybin played with the Whitecaps during the 2006 season, helping the team win the Midwest League Championship. He hit .304, with 20 doubles, with 69 RBI’s and 27 stolen bases on the season. I wasn’t running the blog back then, and didn’t think to take any pictures of the kids with him (and no camera on my phone, either…), but Maybin was nice enough to sign some items for us. He signed a baseball card each for Lily and Trevor (Brian wasn’t even BORN yet…), and a Whitecaps ball and program. He was really nice to the kids then, and we’ve continued to be fans and track his career. It’s good to have him home, back in Detroit, and I hope he can contribute and help the Tigers return to their winning ways.
Well, this is like Deja Vu all over again, as the Detroit Tigers organization has traded away one of my favorite prospects and former West Michigan Whitecap Javier Betancourt. I went through this a year ago when the Tigers shipped Devon Travis off to Toronto for Anthony Gose. I know this is a business, and the organization is making deals to better itself and be competitive for the 2016 season, but I’ve seen many of my favorite Whitecaps get traded away over the years. As a fan, it’s simply easier to invest in players that you’ve met and seen play live many times. Also, as a former second-baseman myself, they tend to be my favorites to track up through the system. Players like Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Betancourt, and most recently Joey Pankake, have patrolled second base at Fifth Third Ballpark, and I’d hope to see do the same at Comerica Park in TV. Sizemore had his chance, but was dealt after the fact, and many don’t even make it that far. Henry has come back to the organization as a scout, so I guess that could be considered a victory, right?
As for Betancourt, he’s now with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and in return the Tigers received a much needed closer in RHP Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod). The Brewers will also receive a player-to-be-named-later, as will the Tigers, possibly, well, that’s not guaranteed, I guess. Detroit signed Betancourt as non-drafted free-agent in 2011. With the Whitecaps in 2014, he hit .269, with 18 doubles and 54 RBIs, and was a Midwest League All-Star as the youngest player in the league. This past season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he hit .263, with 17 doubles and 48 RBIs. Known for his above-average defense, he was also considered a hard worker by coaches, and a good teammate by his peers. We wish him all the best in Milwaukee, and say ‘hi’ to former Whitecaps Hernan Perez and Corey Knebel for us…
Photos property of Minoring in Baseball
Awards just keep coming the way of the West Michigan Whitecaps, this time with their home field getting the nod. Fifth Third Ballpark has received Ballpark Digest’s Best Ballpark Improvements Award for 2015. This is an impressive feat, especially since the ballpark wasn’t selected from just Minor League teams, but stadiums hosting Major League, Independent Pro, and summer college teams, also. Here’s the official page, off of the Ballpark Digest website:
After the fire that devastated a good portion of Fifth Third Ballpark in January of 2014, the Whitecaps used the opportunity to renovate along with the rebuild the last couple of seasons. This is definitely one of my favorite ballparks, and one of my favorite places to be in this world with my family. If you want to see for yourself, check this out:
I can see myself taking the tour quite often this winter, wishing that I was in the stands soaking up the sunshine. However, if we had baseball all year ’round, and our winters weren’t so brutal, we wouldn’t appreciate summer and baseball season as much. Congrats to the Whitecaps for this honor.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps are winners again, this time in the annual MiLBy Awards. The ‘Caps organization won the award for Best Blooper based in this video:
Always good press for West Michigan, and makes me miss baseball season even more. Time to start the countdown until April!
Video courtesy of the Whitecaps/MiLB.com
The Detroit Tigers have named Joe Jimenez as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and outfielder Mike Gerber Player of the Year. Both players laced up their cleats in West Michigan this season, and both were instrumental in the Whitecaps winning the Midwest League Championship. The 20-year-old Jimenez posted a 1.47 ERA in 40 games with the ‘Caps this season, earning five wins and 17 saves. He struck out 71 batters in 43 innings of work, with a 0.79 WHIP. His 97-98 mph fastball and nasty slider made him the ‘Caps ‘go-to’ guy in late innings, especially in the playoffs. Jimenez was the Tigers’ lone representative at the All-Star Futures game this past July in Cincinnati, and will head back to his home of Puerto Rico to play winter ball.
Gerber hit .292 this season in West Michigan, smacking 13 home runs and 76 RBI’s. He also added 31 doubles, 74 runs scored, and swiped 13 bases with a .822 OPS playing in 135 games this season. He also played eight games with the Whitecaps in 2014, hitting an impressive .387 with five RBI’s. Gerber, 22, was drafted by the Tigers in last seasons’ MLB Amateur Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 15th round. Ranked number 18 on Detroit’s prospect list, he’ll join fellow Whitecaps’ alums Austin Kubitza (last season’s Pitcher of the Year), Montreal Robertson, Dominic Ficociello (recently awarded a MiLB Gold Glove with a .996 fielding %), and Adam Ravenelle in the Arizona Fall League. JaCoby Jones will also be representing the Tigers as a member of the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. It was fun to watch Jimenez and Gerber play for West Michigan this season, and I’ll enjoy watching them climb the latter up the organization.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
With the conclusion of the 2015 Minor League Baseball season, so comes the end of the franchise of the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League. The Sand Gnats played in one of my favorite ballparks, Historic Grayson Stadium. Having been built in 1927, you can really feel the history and ghosts of baseball past as you enter the gate. Unfortunately, the owners believed that the age of the ballpark and it’s 4,000 capacity was no longer conductive to a Single-A baseball team. When the city of Savannah made the decision not to build a new stadium, the owners made the decision to move the team to Columbia, South Carolina to become the Fireflies. Here are some nice ballpark photos HERE at one of my favorite websites.
I’m disappointed that the Sand Gnats are leaving, because they are one of the reasons that I love Minor League Baseball. It was ten years ago, the summer of 2005 that revived my love of baseball. I was down training in southern Georgia, and we were able to make it to a few Gnats games, as well as the Jacksonville Suns in northern Florida. I really did fall in love with the stadium for the reasons I stated above. Not only did great players take the field at Grayson in their Minor League days, but the fans there love to tell stories of the Major League teams stopping in for some games on their way north after spring training. I was lucky enough to take in another couple of games back in June of 2009 (about a month before I started this blog) when I was down that way for some more work-related training in Charleston, SC and Savannah. The photos posted are from those games against the River Dogs with a disposable camera, which can explain the very low quality of them. I was also down south there this April, but unfortunately the Gnats were out of town the entire time I was there. I really hope they can get another pro team in Savannah, because it’s definitely one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and I plan on going there again when I get a chance. Well, so long Sand Gnats, I will miss you when I go back there, for your historic ballpark, awesome logo, and cool mascot (Gnate the Gnat)
West Michigan Whitecaps-2015 Midwest League Champions
Monday night the Whitecaps held on to beat the Cedar Rapids Kernels 3-2 in a decisive game five to win the Midwest League crown. This is the teams first championship since 2007, but manager Andrew Graham won the title as a catcher for West Michigan back in 2004. The ‘Caps split the first two games at home, getting shut out 5-0 in game one, and coming back with a 4-1 win in game two (the one that we were at). They dropped a heart-breaker in game three, when the Kernels earned a 3-2 walk-off win in the ninth inning. Never giving up, the Whitecaps held on to win game four 2-1 and game five 3-2, on the back of relief pitcher Joe Jimenez.
In the final game, Ross Seaton earned the win on the mound, holding the Kernels to only two runs. The Whitecaps scored their runs on RBI’s by Francisco Contreras and David Gonzalez, while the third run was scored by Contreras on a wild pitch. Jimenez struck out the side on the ninth inning to secure the victory, and championship! As memorable as this season has been, we were lucky to get down to a handful of games to see the Whitecaps play. With Larry Parrish retiring in Toledo, I fully expect Andrew Graham to be promoted, unless the Tigers’ organization brings in someone to take over just at the Triple-A level. I think he’s done a great job with this team the last two seasons, and wouldn’t mind him sticking around. Congrats again, to the Whitecaps! You can read more on their championship win on the Midwest League website HERE.
Traverse City Beach Bums-2015 Frontier League Champions
The Beach Bums defeated the River City Rascals by the score of 4-1 last Friday night to win the Frontier Cup. The Bums swept the Rascals 3-0 in the best of five series, and were 6-0 in the postseason. In the ten year history of the ball club in Traverse City, this was the second time making to the finals, being defeated by River City back in 2012. The Bums literally went from worst to first this season, winning a club record 56 games as they advanced to the palyoffs for the fourth time since 2010. Injuries plaqued last seasons team, including Frontier Cup MVP Jose Vargas. Vargas was also the hero of game two, with a walk-off base hit to give his team a 6-5 win, and complete the comeback when they were down 5-1. Manager Dan Rohn, a Central Michigan alumni, did a great job with the team this season, and I think the Beach Bums are lucky to have a veteran coach at this level. Congrats to the Beach Bums, and were at least able to make it to a couple of games this season, including the last weekend of the regular season that started their nine-game winning streak. You can read more on the Bums title win on the Frontier League website HERE and at the Record Eagle website HERE.
Photos courtesy of the Whitecaps and Record Eagle
West Michigan Whitecaps vs Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League Finals)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Last week I was able to scratch one more thing off my baseball bucket list, while cheering on my Whitecaps in the Midwest League finals. The game was during the week, so the kids had to sit this one out due to school, but I was able to take a day off from work and make the trip down to enjoy the day with my dad.
The game was going pretty quick, as both the Kernels Sam Gibbons and the ‘Caps A.J. Ladwig were locked in a pitchers duel. Gibbons kept West Michigan off of the board until the seventh inning. Down 1-0, left fielder Christin Stewart smacked a double that put runners at second and third, with no outs, to really get things going. Designated-hitter Joey Pankake then singled to score two runs and the Whitecaps had a 2-1 lead. Stewart was awarded the run, as the Kernels’ catcher was blocking the plate without the ball. Cedar Rapids manager Jake Mauer was tossed by the home plate ump for arguing the call. Not well-played, Mauer. Things fell apart a bit for the Kernels, as they made two errors and hit a batter, as the ‘Caps chased Gibbons and took a 4-1 lead.
On the mound for West Michigan, Ladwig pitched a great game, giving up his only run in the second inning. He gave up only six scattered hits while striking out two, and issuing no walks in seven innings of work. Johan Belisario came in and carved up the Kernels batters in the eight with his nasty curveball, striking out one, and was credited with the hold. Top Tigers prospect Joe Jimenez pitched a perfect ninth, also, striking out two to earn the save. Great pitching performances all around for West Michigan. Leading the way offensively, Mike Gerber and Stewart each went 2-4 on the night, and Pankake went 1-4 with two RBI’s.
This was a great experience to be able to be at this game. Also fun when your team wins and you can high-five perfect strangers all around you and celebrate as fans. Good time for my dad and I to spend together, too, as baseball always goes best with family. This game tied the series at 1-1, but now as I’m posting this it’s tied at 2-2 with the fifth and final game tonight in Cedar Rapids. Win or lose, this was a fantastic season for the Whitecaps. They were an underdog team all season, and manager Andrew Graham has done a great job. Already looking forward to Minor League Baseball in 2016! Final: Whitecaps 4, Kernels 1.
Here’s a nice little video of the ‘Caps taking a 2-1 lead on a Joey Pankake base hit, where West Michigan scored the second run due to the fact that the Kernels catcher was blocking the plate without the ball:
Photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball