Tragedy hit West Michigan this morning, with the Whitecaps’ Fifth Third Ballpark caught on fire. First I want to say that we are very thankful that no injuries occurred due to the fire, and that the Whitecaps staff members and dozens of brave firefighters are all safe. According to reports by WOODTV8 by the Plainfield Township Fire Dept., the fire was started by a heater in one of the suites on the first base side. Once it spread to the attic area, it ended up destroying approximately 40% of the stadium, including the clubhouse and 11 suites. Early reports also indicate that in that area of the ballpark the sprinkler system may not have been active or charged. At this time, nothing is known as an absolute cause of anything, though. Fifth Third Field, built in 1994, is just 95 days away from the ‘Caps opening day. It is also the venue for the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.
The Detroit Tigers were notified of the event also, and seem to be supportive of their Single-A affiliate’s predicament. In a statement on Twitter, the Tigers’ organization said, “The [Whitecaps] are and extension of our baseball family. We certainly hope for the best for all parties involved. The Tigers look forward to attending the annual baseball banquet later this month as part of the annual Tigers Winter Caravan”. Some of the form ‘Caps were stunned by the news and pictures of their old ballpark, also.
In a statement to MLive.com, Detroit infielder Don Kelly stated, “The team means a lot to the Grand Rapids area. You hate to see stuff like that happen to a great organization.”
Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila started his pro career in West Michigan, and told MLive.com, “Just saw some of the pictures. Pretty crazy. I’m glad no one was hurt. That is one of the best Minor League Baseball stadiums. Always a packed house and a great atmosphere.”
This was a nightmare of a day for the Whitecaps co-founder, chief financial officer, and director of accounting Denny Baxter. While his wife is battling cancer, he was called away to help deal with the situation. Baxter seems positive, however, that the organization and community will band together, and the Whitecaps will be ready to play baseball in April.
“We’re going to survive this and come out of this. I’d like to believe, if we rebuild it, they will come,” Baxter stated. “April 8, plan to be here, we will be. We’ll be back, business as usual. We’ll just have some construction plans and design work, but we have a great staff and we’re up to that challenge. The community will show that support to us. We’re gonna play baseball–we’re very determined about that. We’re strong in our resolve. We’re going to play on Opening Day, we’re still going to have an All-Star Game. I’m absolutely confident about that.”
If any baseball organization can bounce back from this, I believe the Whitecaps can. We plan to make our first game of the season on April 12, and are really looking forward to seeing how much they’ve accomplished by then. All the best to the Whitecaps, and, again, we’re just grateful no one was hurt.