This is just a quick post, as we’re getting ready to head south to the Grand Rapids area for Star Wars Night at the Whitecaps game tomorrow night. The fans in West Michigan have been pretty busy, as the ‘Caps have had plenty of promotions on the current home stand. On Wednesday, the 1998 Midwest Championship team was honored and the ‘Caps wore throwback jerseys of the ’90’s. Last night was special, not only because it was ’70’s night, but of the visitors to Fifth Third Ballpark. First, Benjamin Hill of MiLB.com was on hand doing his baseball thing. He gets involved in all aspects of the team, including the concessions, promotions, and between inning games. Ben is simply my hero, and you can check out all of his hi-jinks at Ben’s Biz Blog. Also attending last night game, were member of the AHL Champion Grand Rapids Griffins and the Calder Cup trophy. Area fans had the opportunity to get photos with coach Jeff Blashill, players, and the Cup. I really would’ve loved to have been at last night game to meet Ben and the Griffins. Tonight is also a special night, as Detroit Tiger legend Lou Whitaker will be there to sign autographs for fans. Being a second baseman, I idolized ‘Sweet’ Lou growing up here in Michigan. My Little League obligations have kept me in town, though, but we’ll be at Star Wars night tomorrow!
Photo courtesy of West Michigan Whitecaps
The West Michigan Whitecaps‘ second baseman Devon Travis (pictured above) earned a spot on the Midwest League All-Star team with his play this season, especially with his bat. He currently leads the league in hits and average at .350. Believe it or not, Travis wasn’t even a starter for the MWL East at the game in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night. That actually worked out well, however, as he was put into the game as a defensive replacement in the second inning. During his at bat in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, Travis lined a shot down the right field line for a triple that scored three runs. He was 2-2 in the game, getting a base hit in his first at-bat.
“I don’t know if I can put into words (how I feel).” Travis stated to MLive.com. “There are so many great players on this field tonight. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to play against the best in the league. I’m just so thankful.”
The MVP almost got away from him, though, as the East took a 5-2 lead into the ninth, but the relievers couldn’t hold on to it. The West came back to tie the game at five all, but Travis was saved by Dalton Pompey of the Lansing LugNuts, who hit a walk-off single to score the winning run. Whitecaps’ reliever Jose Valdez pitched 0.2 innings with a strike-out. Starting first baseman Jeff Holm went 0-1 with a base on balls in the game, but still had fun giving his teammate a face full of shaving cream.
“The highlight of my trip was giving Devon a shaving-creaming right on camera”, Holm stated jovially. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” About his All-Star experience: “It’s fantastic. You play against these guys all year and then you get a chance to play with them. It’s pretty cool. I just tried to do what got me here.”
Holm is batting .281 on the season with six home runs, and is leading West Michigan with 42 RBI’s. Valdez is second in the MWL with 15 saves, and has a 2.84 ERA. Our next game planned is just over a week away, and is Star Wars night in West Michigan. It will be fun to see these All-Stars in action once again.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
I’m taking a small break from minor league baseball to focus on some minor league hockey. Why would I do this, you ask? Easy, when my own Grand Rapids Griffins captured the Calder Cup last night with a 5-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch. The Calder Cup is awarded to the playoff champion of the American Hockey League, which is comparable to Triple-A in baseball. The Griffins won the series four game to two over the favored Syracuse team. Grand Rapids won the first three games of the series, but the Crunch battled back to win two and bring the series back home. It would have been nice to have won it on home ice at Van Andel Arena, but a championship is special no matter where it’s won. Griffin captain Jeff Hoggan accepted the Cup at center ice, and Tomas Tatar was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the series most valuable player, scoring 16 goals and 21 points in 24 games. In net, Petr Mrazek made 24 saves for the win. First year head coach Jeff Blashill made a fine showing also, and is a native of our little town of Sault Ste. Marie here in the U.P. This is the first championship in the 17 year history of the Griffins, and 27 years of pro hockey in Grand Rapids.
To celebrate, more than 4,000 fans were in attendance at Van Andel Arena this evening to see the Griffins and the Calder Cup. The team was also able to thank their fans. We knew this would be a special season when we saw them play in February, and they looked very solid. I would love to see the Whitecaps pick up on this, and have the Griffins honored at one of their games. They could even have a championship puck give away or something, or have the Calder Cup on display. Anyway, this is very good for my hometown of Grand Rapids. Congrats to the Griffins, and also to Syracuse on a great season.
Little League Baseball is in full swing up here in Michigan. The boys are having a great time on the field, and are getting better every time out. Lily decided to take a year off, but is still keeping busy and helps out with Brian’s tee ball team when she can. The weather has been pretty good to us so far this month, too. Brian has been hitting the snot out of the ball off of the tee, and has one of the best arms in the league. Trevor is really working hard, playing smart, and his monster 2-RBI double is probably his highlight so far. Sooo…here are a few gratuitous pics of the boys doing their thing.
The West Michigan Whitecaps are celebrating their 20th season, and along with that allowed the fans to vote for their all-time favorite players. There have been more than 600 optomistic young men that have taken the field for the Whitecaps, with 102 of them breaking into the big leagues. The players were voted for by position in an on-line ballot, and here are the 14 that made the cut.
Manager-Tom Brookens (2007)
Catcher-Brandon Inge (1999)
First Base-Robert Fick (1997)
Second Base-Scott Sizemore (2007)
Shortstop-Brent Dlugach (2005)
Third Base-Nick Castellanos (2011)
Outfield-Matt Joyce (2006), Cameron Maybin (2006), Avisail Garcia (2009-10)
Designated Hitter-Eric Munson (1999)
Relief Pitcher-Francisco Cordero (1997), Ed Clelland (2005, 2007)
You can read the full story HERE on the Whitecaps website. Of all the winners, only Castellanos and Clelland have not played in the Major Leagues. The results are not that surprising, though, knowing the popularity of some of these guys in West Michigan. One of the few positions I voted different was Eugenio Suarez (2012) at shortstop.
Promo photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Fifth-Third Ballpark–Comstock Park, MI: As much as I loved my time in North Carolina, it was good to be back in Michigan, and have the home field advantage. It felt comfortable to be back in my own ballpark, and to see the Whitecaps play for the first time this season. After riding in airplanes most of the day, it was nice to be in the fresh air and wandering around Fifth-Third Ballpark. We were also one of the lucky ones to get an Avisail Garcia bobble head at the gate. It was good to see the best mascot in the minors, Crash the River Rascal, hamming it up on the concourse with the kids. I wandered down and watched the Whitecaps warm up, and got some good pics of the team. I was excited to see guys like Devin Travis and Danry Vasquez in action. It was also cool to see new pitching coach Mike Henneman, who was one of my favorite Tigers when I was younger. Henneman seemed to be joking around with his staff a little, and keeping his pitchers loose. It was good to see some familiar faces and be back home, and this will go down as one of the best baseball trips ever.
The game did not go our way, and the Whitecaps home field advantage did them little good as the Hot Rods shut them right down. Starting pitcher Charlie Gillies took the loss, but had no run support. He gave up three runs and struck out three, in just over five innings of work. Both second baseman Jared Reaves and third baseman Mario Martinez went 2-4, but could not help get a run across the plate. Win or lose, however, there’s still no place that I’d rather be. Final score: Whitecaps 0, Hot Rods 4.
CMC-Northeast Stadium-Kannapolis, NC: Wow…what to do on a day when we only have one game scheduled to attend? Well, if you’re into the nascar thing, then you would have enjoyed our experiences. Our first stop was in Concord, NC, home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite the advertising of daily tours around the track, we found they were cancelled because some trucks were practicing all weekend. Great luck, so we poked around a bit and headed out. Just down the street there was a nice little car museum, so we decided to check that out. The highlight for me was seeing a couple of cars used in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (if you’re not first, you’re last…). We still had plenty of time before our game in Kannapolis, so, sticking with the nascar theme, we decided to head back into downtown Charlotte to the nascar Hall of Fame. Our experience there was ok, but decided just to head back north to Kannapolis. We arrived a little early, but noticed that the gates were open. The ballpark wasn’t really open to the public then, but I started chatting with head of ticket sales, and he was nice enough to open the gift shop for me so we could get our souvenirs and put them back in the car before the game. The whole Intimidators staff was very friendly, and treated us well. We actually had time to take and little snooze in the car before the gates officially opened. Before heading inside, though, I took a few pics of the race car parked in front of the stadium…sticking with the nascar theme, of course. Kannapolis is the birthplace of deceased nascar driver Dale Earnhardt, and the Intimidators are named after him. Inside, we had plenty of time to explore the small ballpark before the game began. This included hanging out with mascot Tim E. Gator. The concourse was nice, and wide open. There were some good eats, too, but we just stuck with beer and hot dogs. I bought seats in the V.I.P. section, right next to the Intimidators dugout. On a two dimensional seating chart, the seats looked great, but in reality, I had a huge pole directly in front of me, and couldn’t see anything. With a small crowd, we quickly found new seats. CMC-Northeast Stadium is a nice, unique, ballpark, and was a good low-key end to our adventures in North Carolina, as I really love the South Atlantic League.
The in-game action started out well for the home town nine. They scored three runs in the first inning, and one run in the fourth to take a 4-1 run lead. Things would fall apart in the late innings, though, as they gave up four and five runs in consecutive innings to go down 10-4. They battled back in the eighth, scoring three runs to cut the Suns’ lead to three, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer. The Intimidators got great production our of right fielder Jason Coats, who went 3-5 with four RBI’s and two runs scored. Brandon Brennan took the loss on the hill for Kannapolis, going 6.1 innings and giving up four earned runs. Relief pitcher Todd Kibby really got roughed up, though, not even lasting one innings and giving up four runs on three walks and one hit. Final score: Intimidators 7, Suns 10.
BB&T Ballpark–Winston-Salem, NC: Ok, so we were in Winston-Salem a few days ago, and now we came back to see the Dash play in more Carolina League action. I really wish we could have stayed and explored Asheville a little more, but this is the life we’re leading on these trips. Our evening starting with an amazing dinner at Tripps Restaurant, where my dad was reunited with an old army buddy that he hasn’t seen in many years. It was an amazing experience to listen to their stories and see them catch up. It was hard to break away, but we finally did and headed to the ballpark. The home of the Dash, BB&T Ballpark, is very impressive for single-A baseball. It had a nice large parking lot, which made things easy for us to get in and out. We entered through the outfield, which is something we’ve been seeing more and more of in recent years. The modern park is very beautiful, and looked like it didn’t have a bad seat in the house. I liked the fact that the concourse goes entirely around the field, too. Thier mascot Bolt was entertaining, and played some tricks on the umpire before the game. I never saw him in the stands interacting with the fans, though, which is too bad. The ballpark is really nice, but to me it seemed a little sterile. Maybe just because it’s so new, and that we were at a game during the week without a huge crowd. Still lots of fun, and a ballpark worth visiting.
The game saw the home team get roughed up a bit, especially early. Dash pitcher Chris Bassitt only lasted 2.1 innings, and gave up nine runs. The bullpen seemed to keep the visiting Pelicans in check the rest of the way, though. Shortstop Chris Curley led the offensively, going 2-4 on the night. Left fielder Grant Buckner, however, had the two RBI’s going 1-4. Final score: Dash 2, Pelicans 9.
McCormick Field–Asheville, NC: I just want to start off by stating that I loved this game. I love McCormick Field, and this should be on every baseball fans bucket list. Another downtown stadium, so parking is a little rough. That, however is the about the only thing you’d have to worry about. The stadium is located on a large hill, or mountain, I guess, which make for some nice scenery. The whole setup of the stadium is nice, with the concourse and gift shop in a nice setting. Part of the concourse is limited by part of the mountain, also. Our seats were great, as we got the dugout suites right next to the home team dugout. This luxury comes with snacks, drinks, and a chicken dinner from Bojangles’. We really felt we were treated like royalty! It was a day game which saw some buses of school kids enjoying the game also. This helped make for a great atmosphere, as well as the loyal regulars of McCormick Field. Another unique aspect, is that one lucky fan gets to deliver the game ball via a zip line. It was fun to watch, and must have been a great experience for that fan! The fact that it was a day game make it a little warm for us, but I can only imagine how awesome a night game would be here. The home team put on a great show, and I also got my first South Atlantic League game ball. This honestly rivals Durham for the best game on the trip. You can also see McCormick Field at the end of the movie Bull Durham, where Crash hits his record breaking home run.
The game itself was a good one for the Tourists. When we saw the Drive a few days before they looked like a pretty solid hitting team, but Asheville hurler T.J. Oaks seemed to keep them of the kilter all day, as he went seven innings and only gave up the one run. The Tourists took the game over with a huge seven run fourth inning. It seemed like they were pounding doubles off the wall left and right. Second baseman Juan Ciriaco seemed to be the player of the game. Not only did he toss me the game ball, but he went 3-5 with an RBI. Rosell Herrera also pitched in, going 2-5 with a pair of RBI’s. Final score: Tourists 8, Drive 1.