As I mentioned in my last post, winter here in Michigan is hanging on, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, soon. Down in Comstock Park, the grounds crew at Fifth Third Ballpark has begun the snow removal process. Without the warm sunshine, or even warm rain, to melt the snow, head grounds keeper Michael Huie and his crew have to do it the old-fashioned way. Shovels and snow blowers. This doesn’t look like much fun, but us Michiganders have been doing this for five months now. It looks like the weather may warm up a little, into the 40’s, this weekend, but still not baseball weather in my opinion. The West Michigan Whitecaps host the Dayton Dragons in the season opener on April 4th, so good luck to them getting the ballpark ready.
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
Here’s a question and answer segment off of MiLB.com by Andrew Pentis. There’s been much talk about Bruce Rondon this season, and he’s been under the microscope all spring. After a few shakey innings, he’s settled down in his last few outings and thrown the ball pretty well. Hopefully he keeps his off-speed pitches under contol, and really helps the Tigers out this season. Rondon pitched for the ‘Caps in 2011, with a record of 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA, 19 saves, and 61 strike-outs. Here’s the interview by Pentis:
The last time the Tigers started grooming a closer with 100 mph heat and a tattoo running down his forearm, things didn’t go according to plan. Joel Zumaya, who sported flames on his skin and whipped his elbow high into the air and seemingly above his cap, struck out 97 batters in 62 games as a rookie in 2006. His violent motion limited him to an average of 27 relief appearances over the next four seasons, and he hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2010.
Bruce Rondon is not Joel Zumaya.
And his style gets results. After saving 29 games with three Detroit affiliates last season — nine more than his Opening Day goal — Rondon is MLB.com’s No. 92 prospect and in his first Major League camp. If he succeeds there, few among the long-tenured Tigers will remember at all the hurler he only slightly resembles.
Thanks to Tigers official Aileen Villarreal for transcribing and then translating Rondon’s Spanish into English.
MiLB.com: How would you describe your mind-set and approach while on the mound?
MiLB.com: Has that always been your attitude?
Rondon: Always. Every time I’m on the mound, I always think I’m the best. Off the mound, I don’t think that, but when I’m on there I have to have that mentality, that I’m the best and that I’m invincible.
MiLB.com: Your repertoire should inspire self-assuredness. Tell us about it.
Rondon: Fastball, slider and changeup. The fastball, I try to throw over 100 [mph]. The changeup is around 92-93. The slider is around 86-88. From last year ’til now, I would say I have [improved my] control. I’ve worked very hard to control them.
MiLB.com: You’re obviously known for your fastball. Were you always able to throw hard growing up or did a specific mechanical change in your career increase your velocity?
Rondon: Yes, I could always throw the ball pretty hard. Actually, they didn’t let me pitch when I was young because I threw the ball too hard. Everyone knew [I could pitch], but they wanted me to hit. [Then I was converted] into a catcher.
MiLB.com: Could you have ended up playing that position?
Rondon: Honestly, I never loved being a catcher; my love was always pitching. It was something that always inspired me, that caught my attention, that motivated me. I felt happy pitching, and it was just always what I loved. so when they asked me if I wanted to pitch I was very excited and of course said yes. [That was when] I signed with the Tigers [on Sept. 12, 2007].
MiLB.com: Before you made your way to the States, what was baseball like at home in Valencia, Venezuela?
Rondon: The crowds over there are very aggressive. It’s a little crazy, but it can be motivating because when you do well, the whole stadium gets up and cheers. On the other hand, when you don’t have a good outing, you have to know how to handle it with the crowds. The greatest thing in the world for me is when my family is able to watch me play. Sometimes I’m sad when I’m playing here and look in the stands and they’re not there. When I was growing up, I would always tell my dad that I was going to pitch professionally so that they could watch me play.
MiLB.com: How good of a hitter were you? Do you think you could have made it as a position player?
Rondon: During batting practice, I was good, but not really during the game. Maybe after practicing, I could learn, but I don’t think so.
MiLB.com: How old were you when you turned to pitching full-time?
Rondon: I was 15. [I had] never practiced. I knew I could throw, but I had to start from point zero. When they told me I was going to pitch, I was so excited that I was going to be pitching that it didn’t matter about taking the hits I was going to take. I wanted to learn, so I started with just my fastball. I didn’t have any other pitches aside from my fastball. Once I got to the Tigers, they helped me with my pitching and I have really learned a lot.
MiLB.com: What is the fastest reading you’ve registered on a radar gun?
Rondon: 104 mph — against the [Class A Advanced] Yankees at their stadium in Tampa. My teammates told me after the game. They said, “Rondon, we have some news for you.” I asked them what had happened. They told me I had thrown the ball 104. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. Then they showed me the radar gun and I said, “Wow.”
MiLB.com: Have you ever been on a team with a pitcher who threw harder than you?
Rondon: It has always been me so far.
MiLB.com: That would seem to inspire a nickname. What’s yours?
Rondon: Up to this point, I have not gotten one.
MiLB.com: Bruce doesn’t seem like it would be a popular first name in Venezuela. Where does it come from?
Rondon: My dad loves Bruce Lee. My dad wanted to name me “Bruce Lee.” My mom didn’t want the “Lee,” but she was fine with the “Bruce.”
MiLB.com: Where does your dad’s admiration for the martial arts master come from?
Rondon: He loves all the Bruce Lee movies. He always asks me to get him Bruce Lee movies from here and shirts and those kinds of things. [Lee] was big for him because he made it to the United States by himself. My dad would always tell me that I would make it to the United States by myself and I was going to accomplish big things … and here I am now. Things have happened where I think, “Wow, my dad was right.”
MiLB.com: So your name works on a couple different levels …
Rondon: Maybe he chose that name became [Lee] never lost faith. I would always tell him that I loved baseball and he’d tell me, “Son, you have to work a lot and work hard because it will be very difficult for you to be in the United States by yourself.” I didn’t believe him because I was young, but everything that he told me was true. Sometimes [now] my family will call me and tell me, “Son, you came out in the newspaper next to Miguel [Cabrera],” and I tell them sometimes, “I’m next to him and can’t even believe it.”
MiLB.com: What would it mean for your family back in Venezuela if you make a Major League Opening Day roster?
Rondon: I’ll tell you this, they probably wouldn’t sleep the night before. They really wouldn’t sleep because that’s what they’ve been waiting for. If [the Tigers] tell me I’m making it, I probably won’t sleep that night, either, from thinking about it so much. Thinking to myself, “Wow, it’s me — I’m the closer.” It would really be something special if they gave me that news, like a dream come true.
MiLB.com: Do you notice a different feel to the ninth inning, compared with pitching in the seventh or eighth inning?
Rondon: Honestly, I don’t like throwing in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings. It just isn’t the same attention, it’s not the same adrenaline. When you come out in the ninth inning, people are waiting for the ninth inning. People are thinking, “Wow, there comes the closer.” And that is what motivates me, what gets me going.
Photos courtesy of MLive.com/MiLB.com
The only female staff member of M.I.B., Lily, is trying out for the local travel softball team, the Soo Legacies. She’s doing pretty well, and I’ve been working with her and her friend Julia when I’ve had some extra time. She is really excited about being able to visit different areas of the state to play softball. I’ll be there rooting her on when I can, so I’m hoping that my work schedule doesn’t interfere too much. Nothing is more important to me than watching my kids have fun. Join me in wishing her the best of luck making the team, and having the work ethic to excel!
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
I can’t even imagine what former West Michigan Whitecaps and current Detroit Tigers pitcher Brayan Villarreal was going through the other day. Being away from your family is difficult enough, but when they are in real danger, well, Villarreal stated he felt totally helpless. His family was back home in Venezuela, when they were robbed at gunpoint. His parents and brother arrived to their house, finding armed robbers already there. His father and brother were tied up, and the family was threatened they would be kidnapped. Lucky for them, one neighbor called the police when they suspected something was wrong at the house. Unfortunately both robbers escaped custody, even though one had received a gunshot wound.
“It was hard”, Villarreal told MLive.com. “I was mad. And then I couldn’t do anything because I was here. I was angry. That happened and now I’m good. They are good. They’re going to come here. They’re going to be safe. Thank God, everything is fine.” He continued about Venezuela, “It’s a very dangerous place. That’s my country. It’s sad to say that, but it’s very dangerous to live in Venezuela. I’ve thought about it. We’ve actually talked about coming here one day, but they didn’t want to before. I don’t know if they’re going to want to come now.”
Villarreal went on to state that the robbery seemed to be a random act, and not connected to him, or the fact that he’s a professional baseball player. Apparently they only broke in to steal a tv and maybe his car. If not, things could have gone much worse, and there may have been a kidnapping and ransom involved. So glad to know that his family is now safe. Again, I can’t even imagine going through something like this, and being in no position to help. Villarreal pitched one game with the Whitecaps in 2008, going 0-1. In 2009, he had a 5-5 record, 2.87 ERA, and 118 strike-outs.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Home Field: NewBridge Bank Park
League: South Atlantic League
Affiliation: Miami Marlins
Summary: The third day of this year’s baseball trip will be a busy one (they all will be…). Our first stop will be in Winston-Salem to watch Wake Forest play the Miami Hurricanes in some college action. Then, we’ll be hitting the pavement forty minutes east to Greensboro, to see the Grasshoppers face the Lakewood Blue Claws. I’m really psyched about my first ‘Hoppers game, and the pictures of the ballpark look amazing. I really love the logo and the uniforms are pretty sweet. What makes a game special for us, though, is the great fans we get to meet. Thanks to the guys over at Hoppers Fan, I’m getting a pretty solid preview of the loyal fans that turn out game after game to support this team! I’m really anticipating having a lot of fun at this game. Now for the history lesson… Baseball has been around Greensboro in the early 1900’s with the Patriots. The team name was referenced to the Battle of the Guilford Courthouse. Even their current mascot is named Guilford! The Patriots competed in the North Carolina League, Virginia-North Carolina League, and the Piedmont League. The also played in the Cone Athletic Park and War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro. After the franchise left for Asheville, another team was brought to town in the Piedmont League, the Greensboro Red Sox. After the Red Sox era, Greensboro competed in the Carolina league as the Patriots, Pirates, and Yankees. After joining the Western Carolinas League, which became the South Atlantic League, they renamed the team the Hornets. The team abandoned the Hornets moniker due to the NBA franchise, and became the Bats. The franchise finally settled on a new name, and become the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Again, I really like this logo, and I’m such big fan of the SALly league as a whole. There is a pretty solid list of alumni, too, that laced up the spikes in Greensboro, such as Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Robinson Cano, Reggie Sanders, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Pasada, and Curt Schilling. I’m excited to see what future big leaguers will be playing there this spring!