Kicking off our annual baseball trip this season will be the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game in Comstock Park, MI in less than two weeks. This will be the first All-Star game of any kind that we have attended, and it will possibly be the highlight game of the trip. The gates to Fifth Third Ballpark will be opening at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll be able to see both teams take batting practice and be able to take part in an on-field autograph session. Also in attendance, joining the Whitecap’s own Crash the River Rascal, will be Big Lug (Lansing), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), Fang (Wisconsin), and Johnny (Fort Wayne). There will also being jugglers, stilt walkers, and face painters on the concourse before the game. Sounds like a great place to be a kid, and it’s almost guaranteed we’ll be seeing some great baseball. The Midwest League has announced the rosters for the event, also.
The West Michigan Whitecaps lead the way with five (or six?) players selected. Infielder Javier Betancourt (.272, 68 hits) and outfielder Wynton Bernard (.298, 14 doubles) were picked as the position players representing the ‘Caps. On the mound, pitchers Buck Farmer (5-4, 2.81 ERA), Austin Kubitza (5-0, 2.02 ERA), and Joe Mantiply (4-1, 2.00) will represent West Michigan. Jonathan Crawford (2-1, 2.27 ERA) is listed on the ‘Cap website, but has yet to be added to the official roster. That’s a very good group for the home-town fans to root for.
The Lansing Lugnuts will be sending four players north on I-96. Starting for the Eastern Division will be first baseman Matt Dean (.297, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and third baseman Mitch Nay (.267, 31 RBI’s). Outfielder Derrick Loveless (.287) will come off the bench, as will pitcher Griffin Murphy (2-2, 1.73). Not a bad group to represent the Lugnuts this year.
Three members of the Great Lakes Loons will also be all-star bound. Starting for the Eastern Division will catcher Kyle Farmer (.308, 15 2B, 33 RBI’s) and outfielder Joey Curletta (.314, 72 hits, 95 total bases). On the hill will Mark Pope, with a 1-0 record and miniscule 0.41 ERA. What the Loons lack in quantity, that definitely make up for in quality. All three players are having great seasons in the Midwest League this year!
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
It doesn’t happen too often, when we watch a player in Single-A West Michigan one season gets the call up to the Detroit Tigers the next. In fact I believe Alex Avila is the last one who got that quick call up. This season it’s relief pitcher Corey Knebel, who just made the move to the bigs on Thursday. The Tigers drafted Knebel just last June 39th overall out of the University of Texas, where the right-hander was a highly successful closer for the Longhorns for three seasons. After the draft, he was sent to West Michigan, where he earned a 2-1 record, a 0.87 ERA, 15 saves, 41 strikeouts, and just three earned runs in 31 games. Knebel was assigned to the Erie Seawolves to begin the season, and he has been just as successful there, going 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA, one save, and 23 strikeouts. He was promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens just a week ago, giving up no runs and striking out four in just four innings of work. When asked if he thought he’d be moving up to the Tigers this soon:
“No idea,” Knebel stated to the Detroit News. “I just tried to do what I’ve been doing. My college coach taught me to fear no man, fear no hitter. That’s just what I kind of live by. I go out there and I think I’m better.”
The 6’3″ hurler certainly has the stuff to back that up. His fast ball hits up to 95 mph, and he has a nasty curve/slider combo that has made minor league batters look just silly. The Tigers look to be using Knebel to help out the depleted bullpen that has been overworked this past week. He was available to pitch in last nights’ game against the Rangers, but got no further that some warm-up pitches in the ninth inning. Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus looks to be giving him a chance to get adjusted, and looking for the right time to get him into a game.
“We’ve seen him pitch,” Ausmus said. “He has a really good curve, his makeup is supposed to be really good. He pitched in a big-time program in Texas. It’s not the major leagues, but generally those guys that come out of big programs are a little bit more stable, they get to the major leagues a little faster. But we’ll be learning about him on the go a little bit here, this staff, Jeff Jones, and myself.”
Knebel is not the first 2013 Tigers’ draft pick to get the call up (second in MLB), but he’s the first one from the last two drafts. Although he was a closer at Texas, the Tigers considered him for a starting job when assigned to the minors. It’s good for him that management realized how effective he is in the late innings. As a starter, who knows when he would have been able to earn a shot in Detroit’s rotation.
“I do love the ‘pen,” Knebel stated. “I love coming out of the bullpen. I love hearing my name called. My heart gets going. As a starter, you’re more relaxed. I don’t think I’m a relaxed person.”
To make room for Knebel, the Tigers optioned pitcher Robbie Ray back down to Toledo. We’ll definitely be watching the Tigers’ games closely for #49 to take the mound for his debut. We wont be as excited as his family that scattered to fly to Detroit from Austin, but we’re still looking forward to it.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Lansing Lugnuts vs. West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League)
Cooley Law School Stadium-Lansing, MI: It’s that time of the year again, when my scruffy-looking nerf-herders and I headed down state for Star Wars Day! This season we decided to check out the Lansing Lugnuts at Cooley Law School Stadium. Lucky for us, though, they were hosting the West Michigan Whitecaps. This was Lily and Brian’s first time in this ballpark, too, as Trevor was with me in 2009, and we were rained out here last year. Battling the rain for over a week straight up north, we were happy to head south for a few days. We were very lucky that it was such a beautiful day in Lansing and it was good to finally see the sun again. We got to the ballpark a little early, so we were able to hang out outside the park for a little bit and get some pics of its façade.
When we entered the ballpark, the Imperial Forces were waiting for us…it’s a trap! We got some pics with some stormtroopers and the like, but Brian was very impressed with the purple astrodroid. I’m sure he wanted to take the droid home with us, and how cool would that be? We then found our seats, and noticed more Star Wars characters down on the field, as well as some other fans playing catch. We didn’t waste any time grabbing our gloves and joining them.
We made our way down onto the field, right field to be exact, and made a beeline for Boba Fett! Easily the favorite of the boys and myself, they had to get a pic with him. Brian was a little weary of the Lugnuts’ mascot Big Lug, but reluctantly took a picture with him anyway. Trevor played catch with his Papa, and I with Brian, while Lily was nice enough to take some pictures. We were able to toss the ball around for a good 15-20 minutes before being rounded up like droids by the Jawas, and left the field so the teams could warm up.
On our way back to our seats, the boys were able to get an autograph by a couple of the Lugnuts’ players. One of them was #16 Phil Kish, but the other player was wearing a jacket and we couldn’t see who he was.
The game itself was a good one, well, during the ninth inning anyway. Pitching for Lansing, both Chase De Jong and Alonzo Gonzalez shut out the Whitecaps for five and three innings each, respectively. The ‘Caps refused to go out without a fight, however. In the final inning, Harold Castro singled and was moved to third by another hit by Tyler Gibson. Ben Verlander would then step into the box as a pinch hitter, and drove the ball over the wall, but just left of the left field foul pole. Down to two outs and two strikes, Verlander hit the next pitch just over the infield to score Castro as the tying run, and advancing Gibson to third. Jose Zambrano followed that up with a base hit to give West Michigan the 2-1 lead. On the mound, Julio Felix earned the win by shutting down the Lugnuts in the eight and ninth innings. Chad Green pitched well also, just giving up the one run and striking out six in seven innings of work. Castro and Willy Adames were both 2-4 for the ‘Caps. D.J. Davis and L.B. Dantzler led the way offensively for Lansing, going 2-4 each, also. This game went by too quickly, but a fun one to watch to the end. Final Score: Lugnuts 1, Whitecaps 2.
The only thing that was disappointing about this game was a lack of a crowd. It was a beautiful day, and Cooley Law School Stadium is a great venue to watch a game. I can’t imagine living in a town with such a nice baseball experience and not attending! Trevor took advantage of the small crowd, and moved up by the dugout to get a game ball. It took him the whole game, but he finally got the ball from the final out.
Although the game was over, the fun was not. Being the best big sister in the world, Lily took Brian over to run the bases. Brian has become a master at this, and can now add another stadium to his list. It was hard to catch up to him with the camera he is so fast. This is just another day that I feel lucky and blessed to have spent the day at the ballpark with my dad and kids. I can’t wait for our big baseball trip next month.
This second video from my YouTube channel is of the game:
All photos and videos property of Minoring In Baseball
Promotion courtesy of the Lansing Lugnuts
As a former second-baseman myself, I tend to pay more attention to that position while watching the games, and tracking players. Especially when it comes to the West Michigan Whitecaps, and tracking them through the Detroit Tigers’ system. I’ve had the luxury of seeing some pretty good players over the years, with the number four printed next to their name on the lineup card, with the likes of Wil Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Hernan Perez, and last season’s sensation Devon Travis. This season patrolling the infield of Fifth Third Ballpark is 18-year old Javier Betancourt, who is ranked as the Tigers 14th best prospect by Baseball America. Last season he played split time between the Venezuelan Summer League and the Gulf Coast League Tigers, hitting for an impressive .333 average. The Tigers were impressed also, and assigned him to West Michigan this spring.
“I was surprised when they told me I was going to spend the year here and that I would be in long-season,” Betancourt stated to MiLB.com. “But I’m looking forward to playing here and getting 500 at-bats. It’ll be hard, but baseball is what I love to do. I thank God for the opportunity.”
Betancourt doesn’t seem to have missed a beat so far this season, as his 34 hits are second in the Midwest League. He also is second on the Whitecaps in batting average with .304, and leads his team with 17 runs scored. The 5’10”, 155 pounder, also has hit five doubles and knocked in 14 RBI’s in the first month of the season. He has also seen time at short-stop and third base in West Michigan, and it would be nice if he was able to compete in the MWL All-Star in June, hosted by the Whitecaps.
“You always want to do your best, whether it’s batting .300 or hitting 20 homers,” he stated. “I just want to play for the team, get better and help win a championship. I’ll do what I know how to do.”
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Up here in this God-forsaken part of the country, we’ve finally started our Little League Baseball season. However, as the weather up here is not necessarily ripe for baseball, we’re holding our practices in the gymnasiums. When we’ll finally be outside, no one really knows at this point-it’s actually snowing right now as I type this. Snow in late April…lovely, eh? Despite the circumstances we have no control over, Brian is still having a good time at the indoor clinics, and is doing very well. Trevor is all signed up and will start his practices soon, but still doesn’t enjoy the indoor clinics as much as Brian does. There is only so much the older kids can do at this point. Anyway, I’m still glad the season is upon us, and hoping May will be kinder to us up here. I’ll be the head coach of Brian’s tee-ball team, and an assistant on Trevor’s team due to my work schedule. In the back of my mind, though, I’ll be counting the days until I can get a transfer and live in a warmer, and more baseball friendly, climate.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, this was our first ballgame of the season, and the Michigan weather treated us about as well as can be expected. I want to make a statement, too, that I loathe the Weather Channel. They are complete liars, and I will never trust them again. Never. Despite what mother nature through at us, though, we had a fun time together at the Whitecaps game, and I still was happy just to be watching live baseball. The kids had a fun time, and the game was part of their Papa’s birthday present. I was still impressed at how good Fifth Third Ballpark looked after the fire in January, too. They did a good job of rebuilding it and getting it ready for the season. We settled in and grabbed some hot dogs and pop for the kids, and a beer for my dad and I. The boys and I went down to the field level to watch pitching coach Mike Henneman work with some of the staff, and see some of the warm-ups. The game was off to a good pace with lots of action early on. I really like how Andrew Graham is working this team; lots of movement on the base paths, bunting, and smart baseball. Lily took Brian to the park for a short time, and he was able to meet the new mascot, Roxy, a female River Rascal. The rain hit us about the third inning, but we toughed it out until the tarp came out after the top of the fifth.
The game was a good one for the Whitecaps, as they produced four runs before the delay, and four after for the win. The ‘Caps racked up a season high 15 hits to go along with the season high of eight runs. Raph Rhymes led the way offensively, going 3-5 with two RBI. He was helped out by both Brett Harrison and Wynton Bernard who were each 3-4. Javier Betencourt was 2-4 with and RBI, and Ben Verlander was 2-5 to pitch in, also. On the mound, Buck Farmer earned the win, only giving up one run, striking out six, and issuing one walk. He pitched himself out of trouble at times, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, and eight Snappers runners on base. Montreal Robertson and Will LaMarche kept Beloit in check the rest of the game. A good outing, and good work by this team all around. It will be interesting to see which players make the All-Star squad here in June, as there are a handful of candidates so far in the early going. We had planned on maybe hitting a Great Lakes Loons game, also, while down state, but the Weather Channel stated it would be raining all day (they ended up playing a double-header on a beautiful day…). We’ll see the Whitecaps again early next month down in Lansing as they take on the Lugnuts. Final Score: Whitecaps 8, Snappers 1.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps successfully held their home opener on Tuesday night. Was there ever any doubt? Apparently, there was, as the organization coined the phrase ‘never in doubt’, when stating that Fifth Third Ballpark would be ready, willing, and able to host baseball after the fire back in January. Co-owners of the team Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter addressed the crowd before the game, welcoming them back for a new season. The two business partners became fast friends, and together brought baseball to West Michigan in 1994. They both had the same feeling about Tuesday as they did 21 years ago.
“I’m so glad to see all you here tonight because this is why we do this,” Baxter stated to the rabid Whitecaps fans. “This is your team. This is your facility. Lew and I are so proud to be the stewards of this franchise for you folks.”
The season is underway, but there is still some work to be done. Most notably the home clubhouse and suites on the first base side.
As for the game, the Whitecaps hung on to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2. Jeff Thompson was the starter, pitching 4-plus innings, striking out six and did not get scored on. Julio Felix earned the win, despite getting into trouble a few times. Montreal Robertson earned his second save of the season in the win. Offensively, Dominic Ficociello knocked in the winning run, going 1-3. Ben Verlander also went 1-3 with two RBI’s, and Javier Betancourt singled and scored a run. The ‘Caps improved to 3-2 on the young season, but dropped game two to the T-Rats, and are now 3-3. The home stand continues over the weekend, and we’ll finally get to see them play on Saturday. Manager Andrew Graham seems to know there’s some work to be done, but is also confident in this team.
“We’ll be a scrappy team,” Graham stated to MLive. com. “We’re going to have to fight for those 27 outs every game.”
New West Michigan Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham had his team on the field yesterday, getting ready for the long season ahead. Graham spent the last three seasons managing the Connecticut Tigers, where they only play 76 games, and now will helm a squad for a 140 game season. He is familiar with the Whitecaps, however, helping them win the Midwest League championship back in 2004 as a player. He feels confident he can end the three-year playoff drought in West Michigan.
“It was great to win a championship here as a player and it is a goal of mine to come here and bring one back as a manager,” Graham told MLive.com. “I had 16 of the 25 guys with me last year, so I know what they can do. All hard-working guys; no bad apples.”
In the 2014 version of the Whitecaps, Graham sees a team with speed that can hit for average, and not much power. He feels they have a very strong pitching staff that can lead them to victory on most nights.
“Pitching definitely should be one of our strengths,” he continued to MLive.com. “We have a number of starters, and most of them were held back last year because of the amount of innings they had already thrown (in college). So it will be interesting to see how they do with fewer restrictions on them.”
The team definitely looks to have a solid staff, with four pitchers for the 2013 draft. One pitcher in particular they will be looking at to lead the staff this season is Jonathon Crawford. He is the Detroit Tigers’ number one pick in the 2013 draft, and played collegiate ball for the Florida Gators. Former Tiger and current ‘Caps pitching coach Mike Henneman seems to have a high opinion of him, and look forward to working with him this summer.
“I kept an eye on him just to see what was coming our way,” Henneman also stated to MLive. com. “I like his mound presence. He throws in the mid-90’s. He’s got a very good slider and a good change-up. He’s a competitor; a hard-nosed kid.”
Crawford also seems to have high hopes for this season: “I want to go out there and get a solid six innings every start. If they let me go that long.”
The Whitecaps definitely look like a team that can compete, from their pitching staff to their returning players such as Raph Rhymes and Austin Schotts, and top prospects like infielder Javier Betancourt. The team started their season tonight in Dayton, with a 5-4 win against the Dragons. Schotts went 2-5 with a run scored, and shortstop Curt Powell went 2-4 with an RBI to lead West Michigan offensively. On the mound, Scott Sitz earned the win with a scoreless 7th and 8th inning, and Montreal Robinson got the save. Unfortunately, both Schotts and Rhymes left the game due to injury, the extent of which is unknown at this time. I’m glad the Whitecaps started off the season with a win, but hope the injures aren’t too severe. I still can’t wait to see this team play on the 12th!
Photos courtesy of Cory Morse/MLive.com
The Los Angeles Dodgers have announced the players they will be placing at the Single-A Great Lakes Loons this season. The 2014 Loons roster has plenty of prospects listed by Baseball America and MLB.com, and plenty of top draft picks by L.A. in the last few years. Pitchers Zachary Bird and Victor Arano, catcher Kyle Farmer, outfielder Jacob Scavuzzo, and infielders Justin Chigbogu and Jesmuel Valentin are sure to impress fans at Dow Diamond this summer. Some other notable additions, such as outfielders Alex Santana and Joey Curletta, and pitchers Jacob Rhame and Brandon Martinez are young prospects who could contribute to the Loons this season also.
Great Lakes also has 12 players returning that have played in Midland in the past. Pitchers Bird (’13), Brandon Martinez (’12-’13), James Campbell (’12), and Jonathan Martinez (’13), catcher Webster Rivas (’13), infielders Paul Hoenecke (’13), Brandon Twinkwon (’13), and Delvis Morales (’12), and outfielder Malcolm Holland (’13). This seasons’ Loons roster also features some baseball legacy, as three players are sons of former Major Leaguers. Dillion Moyer is the son of former pitcher Jamie Moyer, Jesmuel Valentin’s father is former Dodger infielder Jose Valentin, and Greg Harris(Jr.) is the son of big league hurler Greg Harris.
This season’s squad will be led by 13-year major league catcher Bill Haselman, who managed the Inland Lakes Empire to the California League championship last season. This seems like a very experienced team for Single-A, and Hasleman has a good chance of success this season in the Midwest League. We don’t have any concrete plans to see the Loons this season yet, but I’m sure we will. There’s a chance we’ll see them play on April 13th, but a lot has to do with the weather and how the Whitecaps’ game goes. I guarantee we’ll be at Dow Diamond at some point this summer, though!
Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons