The dream season has come to an end for the West Michigan Whitecaps. With a year starting with a fire to Fifth Third Ballpark in January, it would have been a nice story book ending for them to take home the Midwest League crown. Despite falling in the first round to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, in controversial fashion, the ‘Caps still had a stellar season filled with more highs than lows.
Game one of the playoffs saw the Whitecaps and TinCaps tied at five all in the bottom of the eighth innings. With the TinCaps having the bases loaded and nobody out, a ground ball was hit to short stop Domingo Leyba, who was interfered with and couldn’t make the play. Despite the rule clearly stating that the base runner must avoid the defensive player fielding the ball, the umpires let the play stand, and Fort Wayne won by the score of 7-5. In game two in Comstock Park, the Whitecaps used their pitching staff to strike out 15 batters in route to a 2-1 victory. Bennett Pickar’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Dominic Ficociello for the go ahead run. Zac Reininger earned the win, working 2.1 shutout innings. In the deciding game three, the Whitecaps fell by the score of 6-2 to be eliminated. After the one hour and 44 minute rain delay, the ‘Caps just couldn’t get anything going.
Despite the early playoff exit, this season has to be regarded as a success. After all, with a 82-58 record this was the Whitecaps first division title in seven years, and it was a positive step just to be back in the playoffs. The ‘Caps also hosted the MWL 50th All-Star Classic that was a huge success, and the early construction to the ballpark didn’t keep fans away, as 391, 653 fans visited Fifth Third Ballpark, good for the largest total since 2002. Wynton Bernard was also the first ‘Cap to be named the MWL Player of the Year since Gorkys Hernandez in 2007. Bernard was also the first batting champion since Robert Fick in 1997, and broke the Whitecaps single-season hit record with 158. He was joined on he post season All-Star team by pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. New manager Andrew Graham did a great job in West Michigan this season, and I’m looking forward to see how he progresses as a manager as well as the progression of this seasons players through the system. I will certainly miss visiting Fifth Third Ballpark, and can’t wait until next April. The winters are so long and brutal up here, the only way to pass the time is dream about sunshine and baseball!
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With their playoff hopes dangling by a thread, the Detroit Tigers needed something positive to happen. Enter left-handed pitcher Kyle Ryan, making his major league debut against the arch rival Chicago White Sox. The rookie threw six shutout innings, helping the Tigers win the game 8-4 and move into a tie for first place in the Central Division. Ryan only gave up five hits, while walking two batters and earning one strikeout. He threw 97 pitches in all, and 60 of those were for strikes. He is the 30th pitcher the Tigers have used this season, the most since the 30 Detroit used in the 2002 season. Before the spot-start in Detroit, he has split the season between Double-A Erie SeaWolves and Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Ryan spent two seasons with the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he went 6-10 posting a 3.15 ERA, and striking out 99. In 2012, Ryan improved to 7-8, but his ERA rose a bit to 3.74, and he had 105 strikeouts. We were lucky enough to see him pitch both seasons in West Michigan. The top picture is from 2011 on military appreciation night, and the bottom photo is from 2012 with Ryan on the mound. I’d like to see him get another start with Detroit, and hopefully help them in their playoff run.
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The Detroit Tiger prospects seem to be doing very well this season, with the Erie SeaWolves’ outfielder Steven Moya being named the Eastern League Most Valuable Player. The native of Puerto Rico is the first SeaWolves player to earn this honor since Erie joined the Eastern League in 1999. Moya is batting .271, with 32 doubles, 34 homers, and 102 RBI’s so far this season. He’s already set a new single season record for Erie for total bases with 277, and his 34 home runs and 102 RBI’s ties the record. His totals for home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage (.549), and total bases (277), and extra base hits ( 69) leads all other Eastern League batters. Moya’s also tied for 10th in the league with eight outfield assists, and has only made three errors in the outfield. He caught fire in July, hitting .304 with 10 home runs, 33 RBI’s, and 20 runs scored. Good enough to be named the Eastern Leagues’ Player of the Month. He also earned the Top Star Award as MVP of the Eastern League All-Star game, after hitting a grand-slam to win the game 5-2 for the Western Division. Mayo also participated in the All-Star Futures game in Minnesota, suiting up for the World Team.
Adding to this seasons success, he named to the Eastern League’s post-season All-Star Team, also, and selected by Baseball America as the ‘Best Power Prospect’ in the league this season. Moya was signed by Detroit as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. He played two seasons for the West Michigan Whitecaps. In 2011, he struggled with a .204 batting average, hitting 13 home runs and knocking in 31 RBI’s in 86 games. He bounced back in 2012, however, hitting .288, with 14 doubles, nine home runs, and 47 RBI’s in only 59 games.
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Midwest League MVP: For the third time in history, a member of the West Michigan Whitecaps was named Midwest League Most Valuable Player, in Wynton Bernard. The 23 yr-old outfielder leads the league with a .328 average, first in run scored with 89, hits with 159. He’s second in the league in total bases with 217 and on-base percentage with .401. Bernards’ 159 sets a Whitecaps’ franchise record, which he set on Sunday at South Bend.
“It feels so amazing,” Bernard told MLive.com. “Just thinking about all that I’ve been through the past year…it’s pretty special.”
What’s amazing, is that he was released by the San Diego Padres in January, and joined the Tigers via an open tryout in March in Lakeland. Now, he joins Robert Fick (1997) and Gorkys Hernandez (2007) as Whitecaps named league MVP.
Post-season All-Stars: Joining Bernard in the MWL post-season All-Star Team, are pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. Farmer, who’s made two appearances with the Tigers this season, went 10-5 during his time in West Michigan. He posted a 2.60 ERA with 116 strikeouts, which lead the league at the time. Ziomek is currently 10-6 with a league-leading 145 strikeouts. He leads the league with a rate of 11.15 strikeouts per nine innings, that could also be a franchise record when the season is done.
Pitcher of the Week: Although he didn’t make the post-season All-Star squad, pitcher Jon Maciel was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for August 18-24. Maciel was brilliant during the ‘Caps’ 5-0 win over Dayton on Thursday, giving up one hit in seven shut-out innings. The 21 yr-old hurler struck out a career high 10 batters, including six straight. Maciel was an 18-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Cal State-Long Beach. So far this season he’s 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 85 strikeouts. He joins Austin Kubitza (x2) and Jonathon Crawford as recipients of the award this season.
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Great Lakes Loons vs. Bowling Green Hot Rods (Midwest League)
Dow Diamond-Midland, MI: I’ll start out by saying for some reason I just didn’t get very good photos from this game. It could have been due to the weather, but none of that stopped us from having a great night at Dow Diamond. We knew there was some rain, so we really didn’t have to get to the ballpark all that early to fight for tickets. Our seats were great, though, in the last row behind the third base dugout. First of all, there are no bad seats at this stadium, and second the last row kept dry! Something new to Dow Diamond this season, is the Midland Sports Hall of Fame, so we took time to check that out before the getting our food and checking out the Loons shop.
There was only a 45 minute delay, but we kept busy and had our dinner there. It was just Brian with me this time, so we walked around and explored the ballpark a bit. The playground wasn’t open yet, but we went to the gift shop and he got a plush Lou E. Loon, so he was happy.
The delay went by quick, and he finally had some baseball! Unfortunately for Loons fans, the Hot Rods knocked in six runs in the first inning, to take what was the home crowd out of it. They also opened the playground, so Brian and I headed out that way. At least at Dow Diamond you can still see the field and follow the game from there. I tried to get some pics from out that way, too.
The Hot Rods didn’t let starting pitcher Zachary Bird out of the first inning, as he surrendered all six runs. Kyle Hooper came into the game in relief, but gave up three more runs, while striking out five. We were able to see Jordan Hershiser (Orel’s son) pitch a few innings also, he gave up three runs, also, but struck out three. Third baseman Brandon Trinkwon led the offense for the Loons, going 3-4 with three RBI’s. Jesmuel Valentin, Joey Curletta, and Spencer Navin each had two hits on the night, also. We were able to see Willy Adames play again, also, who was traded from the Whitecaps to the Rays organization in the David Price deal, and assigned to Bowling Green. Despite the Loons loss and a little rain, we had a great time. I really need to get us down to Dow Diamond more during the season, as it’s such a great venue and fun for the kids. I’m not sure if this will be our last game of the season or not, but if it is I’m glad we made it a good one. Final score: Loons 6, Hot Rods 12.
Here’s some video:
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It seems like it was just yesterday that we saw Buck Farmer pitch for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Not exactly, but it was earlier this season that we saw him on the bump at Fifth Third Ballpark. Last night Farmer did become the first to play in West Michigan and Detroit in the same season, helping the Tigers break their four-game losing streak. Farmers’ spot-start wasn’t a spectacular performance, but it was good enough to keep his team in the game, and he pitched a solid five innings giving up four runs. He shut down the Pirates in the first inning, but struggled a bit in the third. Down 4-1, Farmer was bailed out by some other Whitecaps alumni, as Nick Castellanos hit an RBI triple in the first, then broke the tie with a home run in the sixth. Alex Avila also homered in the game to cut into the Pittsburgh lead. Detroit ended up winning the game 8-4, with Farmer not getting the decision.
George Runie Farmer, nicknamed Buck, was a 5th round draft pick by Detroit in 2013 out of the Georgia Institute of Technology. This season he started in West Michigan, going 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA and 116 strikeouts. We also saw him in the Mdwest League All-Star Classic in June. He was promoted to the Erie SeaWolves, but only has a 1-0 record there with a 3.00 ERA. After his spot-start in Detroit, they assigned him to the Toledo Mud Hens. Best of luck to him the rest of the season. I’m sure fans will be seeing more of Farmer in a Tigers uniform in the future.
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West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: I had the night off from work, rare for a Thursday, so I decided to take the boys downstate for a ballgame for my birthday. What can be better than a birthday at the ballpark with family, right? When we got to the ballpark, the team had a dunk tank out front, so this gave the boys a chance to show off their arms a bit and dunking a couple of the Whitecaps players.
The giveaway was an Oyo (like Lego?) figure of Whitecaps outfielder Ben Verlander (now with the Connecticut Tigers). Brian loved this, and had to get one put together right away with a little help from his Papa. The kid is starting to become a master builder, if there ever was one!
As a birthday bonus, the Fox Sports Detroit Girls were on hand to mingle with fans, also. They were nice enough to sign a baseball for my birthday and Trevor had his picture taken with them. The boys had their hats signed, but Brian was too shy for a picture. Stephanie and Angela each threw out a first pitch, too.
And finally on to some baseball! The game itself, though, only lasted just over six hours, with the pitching leading the way. For West Michigan, Jonathon Crawford threw five solid innings, giving up one earned run, one walk, one strikeout, and giving up only four hits. Will LaMarche came in to pitch three innings, striking out three, and only giving up one hit. Scott Sitz earned the save by pitching a scoreless ninth. Dominic Ficociello led the way offensively, going 3-4 with three runs scored and two doubles. Francisco Contreras was 1-3 with two RBIs, while shortstop Willy Adames knocked in a run, also. Catcher Grayson Greiner added two hits in the game as well. It’s always good to have the Whitecaps win, especially on my birthday. I hope my schedule works out so we can make it back down this way and see them in the playoffs. This was a great birthday at the ballpark, and I’m very blessed and lucky to have spent the day with my boys and dad. We need to drag Lily down to another game this summer, though. Final: Whitecaps 3, Chiefs 1.
Here’s a video:
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Akron RubberDucks vs. Erie SeaWolves (Eastern League)
Canal Park-Akron, OH: After spending the morning in Erie, we had a pretty easy drive over to Akron. Akron is a nice town, but not much parking in the downtown area. They have the university, hospital, and ballpark all close together. We were in town pretty early, and some lots won’t let you park there until after 5:00, so we settled for a parking garage, and took a little nap. We had a three hour drive back to Michigan after the game, so a little rest couldn’t hurt. After our rest, we got a little hungry and went hunting for food. Canal Park has a resteraunt attached to it called The Game Bar and Grill, so we decided on that. Not only was the food very good, but you can see inside the park (after the gates officially open, you can access it from inside the ballpark), and we could watch the Erie SeaWolves warm up and take some batting practice.
After our meal, it was time to head inside the park and get ready for the game. Canal Park is just a beautiful ballpark, and we would plenty of time to explore it. We decided to get our shopping over with, and I picked up a nice t-shirt for Trevor with his name and number customized on the back. Due to the new name and logo, however, they were sold out of many items, such as pennants. We found our seats, and they were awesome right behind the SeaWolves dugout. The dugouts are pretty open, also, so you can pretty much see everything that’s going on. We also got a visit from Akrons mascot, Webster the duck, who looks pretty Disney like.
I then went out to the right field area, where the ballpark entrance to The Game is located. There is lots of room out that way, and not only holds the kids play area, but they had a live concert also, with Wild Ave belting out some classic ’80’s rock tunes.
Back in our seats, I was ready to enjoy some great Double-A baseball, as the clock was turn to 7:05 pm. And then the rain came. And it didn’t stop. Not for two hours. The grounds crew was able to get the tarp on the infield pretty quickly, and the outfield looked like it was draining pretty well. I really give the RubberDucks credit, that they don’t jump the gun and cancel games too early, and they do their best to keep the fans entertained during the rain delay. Both mascots were available for pictures with the fans (the old Akron Aeros mascot Orbit joined Webster), the had games for the kids, and used the video board for entertainment. My favorite is the ‘Baseball Bugs’ cartoon, where Bugs Bunny plays every position. Classic… We are also able to watch some of the College World Series live. And did you notice all of the rubber ducks on the tarp? Awesome!
After a mere 2 1/2 hour delay, we finally had baseball! The teams still went through their pre-game routine which took some time, but eventually the RubberDucks took the field, and the SeaWolves went to bat. The home team finally did some ass-kicking, but unfortunately, we were kind of rooting for Erie in this game. Third baseman Corey Jones lead the way offensively for Erie, going 2-3 with his teams only RBI. Outfielder Jason Krizan went 2-4, also. On the hill, Tommy Collier took the loss for the SeaWolves. For the hometown Akron squad, DH Bryan LaHair had three RBI’s off of his only hit, which was a double. First baseman Jake Lowery went 3-4 in the game, also. The winning pitcher was Joseph Colon for the ‘Ducks. Due to the weather delay and our long drive ahead, we only stayed for about five innings before hitting the road. I’d love to make another trip back to Canal Park. It’s a wonderful place to watch a game, and they treat the fans well. Final: RubberDucks 7, SeaWolves 1.
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Lake County Captains vs. South Bend Silver Hawks (Midwest League)
Classic Park-Eastlake, OH: All I can say about Classic Park, is that it is truly a classic! We still arrived at the ballpark plenty early, despite a busy day in Cleveland, so we decided to play a little catch in the parking lot until more cars started to arrive. I really like how the parking is set up, with the large parking area across the street, and the have a bridge so fans can walk across the busy highway. I took a photo from the top of the bridge above. There was a line up to get in because it was free hat night, so we waited patiently in line and finally made it into the park. The layout and concourse are very nice, but I was disappointed the gift shop didn’t sell any team pennants, as I collect those and decorate Brian’s room with them. Our seats were right behind the Captains dugout, so we had a great view of the action. The Captains mascot, Skipper, waddled by a few times. I’m really not sure what he is, but he seemed to be pretty entertaining.
The Captains were taking on the Silver Hawks, who the Whitecaps just edged out for Eastern Divisions’ top spot in the first half. The Hawks were still a pretty good team, so the home town boys had their work cut out for them. It was also raining lightly to begin the game, but both teams just played through it like it wasn’t there, and we were right there with them enjoying the action. This ballpark has such a great look and baseball atmosphere, that we really didn’t notice anything but the game going on anyway. Unfortunately for the Lake County fans, the Hawks were off to a 4-0 lead early, and the Captains couldn’t get anything going offensively.
The rain ended up letting up, and it became an extremely beautiful night. Since it was a free hat giveaway, I thoroughly supported the Captains, and took a quick selfie between innings, showing off the new lid.
With the score still a little lopsided, I decided to explore this amazing ballpark a little bit more. The concourse doesn’t go all the way around the outfield, but it’s pretty close, which allowed me to get some decent photos from out there.
In right field, there is a wall dedicated to all of the players who have suited up for the Captains that are now in the majors. I’m sure this includes the franchises time in the South Atlantic League!
Out in center field, the Captain himself was trying to rally his troops! Lake County did finally get one across the plate, when short stop Ivan Castillo scored on an Eric Haase RBI. Center fielder Clint Frazier went 2-4 on the night for the Captains, also. Too bad for Cap that South Bend answered their lone run with three of their own in the ninth.
In all, this was a great baseball experience. A great ballpark with some great fans. The Captains put on a spectacular show, and win or lose, it’s a very satisfying night. Along with all of our other adventures of the day, this was a perfect way to end it. This one’s highly recommended, also, baseball fans. Final: Captains 1, Silver Hawks 8.
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