Tennessee Smokies vs. Mississippi Braves (Southern League)
Smokies Stadium-Kodak, TN: This year Brian, Papa, and I decided to kick off the 2019 Minor League season in the Smoky Mountains for opening day. We were staying at the tourist trap this is Gatlinburg, so it wasn’t much of a drive up to the quaint little town of Kodak, Tennessee.
This was our first trip to Smokies Stadium, and it was definitely one I’m glad we were able to come to. The ballpark has some nice sightlines and scenery in the outfield. And, of course, Brian had to get a pic with the Smokies mascot, Homer!
As for the game, it was a back-and-forth thriller. Robel Garcia led the way for the Smokies on offence. He went 3-5 with 2 RBI’s. Jared Young also added an RBI, scored two runs, and went 2-5. On the mound, Wyatt Short earned the victory for Tennessee while Craig Brooks earned the save.
This was a great way to kick off our minor league season, It was a fun game to watch with great company and great weather. Would very much recommend a game here, and we’ll try to get in another game next time we’re in the area.
Just when I start complaining that the Tigers keep trading away some of my favorite prospects and Whitecaps alumni, they do something like this. And totally redeem themselves! Friday night Detroit acquired Cameron Maybin from the Atlanta Braves for relief pitcher Ion Krol and Gabe Speier. With the loss of Rajai Davis to free agency, Maybin fills that gap nicely as he can play for center and left field. He had the best season of his Major League career in 2015, batting .267, with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. Maybin was originally dealt to the Florida/Miami Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers in 2007, so there’s no way I can complain about how that deal turned out! Speier did pitch in 33 games for West Michigan this season, however, posting a 2.86 ERA while earning four wins, to two losses. We wish the best to both he and Krol with the Braves organization.
Maybin played with the Whitecaps during the 2006 season, helping the team win the Midwest League Championship. He hit .304, with 20 doubles, with 69 RBI’s and 27 stolen bases on the season. I wasn’t running the blog back then, and didn’t think to take any pictures of the kids with him (and no camera on my phone, either…), but Maybin was nice enough to sign some items for us. He signed a baseball card each for Lily and Trevor (Brian wasn’t even BORN yet…), and a Whitecaps ball and program. He was really nice to the kids then, and we’ve continued to be fans and track his career. It’s good to have him home, back in Detroit, and I hope he can contribute and help the Tigers return to their winning ways.
Former Detroit Tigers and West Michigan Whitecaps pitcher Jair Jurrjens is back. The Tigers signed him to a minor league deal, and he will report to the Toledo Mud Hens today. He last pitched in Detroit in 2007, before being traded to Atlanta. Despite his health issues, the Tigers are hoping to put him into the rotation, and not the bullpen as of yet.
“He kind of came on the scene pretty good,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland stated. “Pretty calm. Pretty collected. Make a good impression. Evidently, he’s had a lot of health issues since we had him, so I don’t have any recent update on him.”
Back in 2007, he went 3-1 with the Tigers, with a 4.70 ERA. Pitching for the Whitecaps in 2005, we was 12-6, with a 3.41 ERA and 108 strikeouts. He was a member of the ‘Caps 20th anniversary team.
Photo courtesy of wizardkitten
Larry Parrish may be entering his first season as skipper of the West Michigan Whitecaps, but he has plenty of experience under his belt. On Tuesday the Triple-A International League announced that Parrish will be rewarded for that experience, and success, by being inducted to their 2013 Hall of Fame class. Managing the Toledo Mud Hens, he won the IL Manager of the Year award in 2005, and is the teams’ all time leader in wins with 569. Parrish’s first stint in Toledo started in 1994, leading them to a 56-62 record. After being promoted to become the Detroit Tigers manager in 1998-99, he came back to the Mud Hens from 2003-06, and 2008-10. He guided the Mud Hens to back-to-back Governor’s Cup championships in 2005 and 2006. He has also served as the Atlanta Braves hitting coach in 2011. Parrish played in the majors for 15 seasons with the Rangers, Expos, and Red Sox. The International League Hall of Fame was originally created in 1947, and ran through 1964. It was then re-established in 2008, the leagues 125th anniversary, and went through a three-year transition period where 50 inductees were selected by a committee. Parrish, along with Mack Jones and Don Richmond, represents the third class to be chosen by the HoF’s current standard.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Although no players were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this season, the West Michigan Whitecaps will be. Holland, Michigan native, and former ‘Caps and Tigers pitcher Andy Van Hekken will be inducted during the Whitecaps Winter Banquet ceremonies on January, 23. Van Hekken pitched in West Michigan during the 2000 season, winning 16 games that is still tied for a team record. He still ranks in the top ten in team records for winning percentage at .727 (8th), ERA with 2.45 (8th), and the strikeouts to walk ratio at 3.41 (10th). Van Hekken made his major league debut for the Tigers in 2002, pitching a complete game shutout victory against the Cleveland Indians. He went 1-3 that season in five appearances, with a 3.00 ERA. He then spent the next two seasons in the Tigers farm system, as well as the systems for the Reds, Braves, Astros, and Royals in the following seasons. His latest stop is in Korea last season, playing for the Nexan Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization. Van Hekken will report back to the Heroes after the Banquet.
The Whitecaps Winter Banquet not only features the HOF induction, but dinner, a live auction, and guest speakers. This year, the guests will include Tigers President/CEO/General Manager Dave Dombrowski, outfielders Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks, and pitcher Drew Smyly. The proceeds from the banquet and auctions go to the Whitecaps Community Foundation, which in turn donates the funds to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program and the Detroit Tigers Foundation. The YMCA program, that is funded by the Whitecaps and Fifth Third Bank, provides about 1,900 children the chance to participate in a structured activity that provides guidance in their lives, per year. I would love to make it to this event at some point, but at $80 a ticket, it’s just to rich for my blood when you have three kids to bring along. This is a great event, though, for a great cause.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
The 2013 baseball season is starting to look a little brighter for us Whitecaps fans, as Larry Parrish was officially assigned to manage the team yesterday. It seems his managing career is coming full circle, though, after managing in the bigs and at the Triple-A level, he’s back in Class A baseball where he started. Parrish’s last job was the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves, but took off the 2012 season after he was let go in 2011. Lucky he was still available when the Tigers organization called with the West Michigan job offer.
“The Tigers called to give me an opportunity and, for me, I really enjoy the minor leagues and the teaching aspect of it,” Parrish stated in a press release. “I talked to a couple of other clubs, but I’m comfortable with the Tigers. I was with the organization for a long time and was treated well, so it was a feeling coming back to work with your family.”
Parrish started his career with the Tigers organization back in 1992, taking the helm of the Class-A SS Niagara Falls Rapids, leading the team to a NY-Penn League championship. He worked as a roving minor league hitting instructor for three seasons before being assigned to the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in 1996. He also took the Suns to a Southern League championship. A year later, he was in the bigs, as the bench coach in Detroit. He took over the reigns as manager half-way though the 1998 season after Buddy Bell was relieved of duty. He had the privilege of managing the Tigers in their last year in historic Tigers Stadium in 1999, also. He also worked as a scout for the Tigers until he took over as manager of their Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens in 2003. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 by the Sporting News after leading the Hens to the International League championship, a feat he repeated in 2006. Parrish named that Governor’s Cup championship is his favorite coaching achievement, also.
“I would think winning the championship in Toledo after they hadn’t won it in like 40 years. That was neat for the people there and to be a part of it. It’s always nice to win, ” he stated, but also recognizes the differences between the Triple-A and Class-A levels. “There you have guys who’ve either played in the big leagues a little bit or have gone though the system. At the A-ball level, you have to have more patience. They’re going to have some great games and they’re going to have games where you go ‘Oh, Lord’. But that’s part of it. But, to me, being able to coach and hopefully teach will have an impact. Experience-wise, having played and coached in the big leagues, I know what it takes to have to play at that level. That’s the whole idea.”
Parrish has visited the Grand Rapids area in the past after surgery in 2007 and was doing some roving instruction. He was very impressed with the stadium and fan support of the Whitecaps. The Tigers director of minor league operations is very pleased with their selection, also. As far as the rest of the Whitecaps staff goes, hitting coach Scott Dwyer will return next season, while pitching coach Mark Johnson will be assigned to Class-A SS Connecticut. As a player, Parrish was a two-time Major League All-Star in 1979 and ’87. He had a career batting average of .263 with 256 homers and 992 RBI’s. He played in Montreal, Texas, and Boston, before ending his pro career with two seasons in Japan.
I know the Tigers are in the playoffs, which is very exciting, but having a guy with this kind of resume’ taking over has me excited for next season. Hopefully this will not only mean possibly more championships in West Michigan, but better prepared players working their way up to Detroit.
Top photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Bottom photos courtesy of the Associated Press
Coca-Cola Field–Buffalo, NY: After 19 short years, I finally returned to the site of my first Minor League baseball game-Buffalo, New York. Then known as Pilot Field, the improved Coca-Cola Field is not only the nicest park we were at on our trip, but one of the best I’ve ever been to. Buffalo is a big time city, and the Bisons give you a bit of the ‘Major League’ feel to it. Parking is rough, but the site-lines in the stadium were great. The gates opened at 5:00 for a pre-game party, and a chance to watch some batting practice. We were treated with a free concert on one of the dugouts, which was very entertaining. We watched the Gwinnett Braves take some batting practice and enjoyed the music. Out in right field, I was able to catch up with fellow bloggers Danny and Quinn from nybisons. They were doing an impressive job of shagging any baseball within a half-mile of the stadium. Getting these two to slow down for a bit to chat was a challenge, and I wish I had their energy. Both young men were very polite and even visited us in our seats later in the game to talk baseball. The game itself was a good one, and the Buffalo won a close one thanks to two monster home runs by Valentino Pascucci. We sat in the upper deck for this one, and had an awesome view of the action. I’m sure there is no bad seat at this ballpark. The staff and the fans all seemed very friendly, and helped make this game another great experience. We ate some great food, but no beer this time because we had a long drive back to Michigan after the game. Two more games to go in our home state… Final: Bisons 5, Braves 3.
2010 Coaching Staff: The Detroit Tigers organization announced the coaching staff for this season’s Whitecaps team. Returning to the helm as manager for his thrid season is Joe DePastino. He led the ‘Caps to two playoff appearances in 2008(72-65) and 2009(81-59). Also returning for a third season is former Tiger and pitching coach Mark Johnson. Joining the staff this season as hitting coach is Luis Quinonnes. Quinnones was the hitting coach for the Class A-Short Season Oneonta Tigers for the last three seasons. Moving on is former hitting coach Benny Distefano who has been in West Michigan since 2006. He resigned to accept a position in the Mets organization. Benny was very good to the fans and always good about signing autographs. Below is a good pic of him and my daughter from last season.
2009 Promotional Video: Click HERE for the Whitecaps 2009 Promo Video. It’s entertaining and gives a good view at what to expect at future Minor League games.
Tiger Fridays are back: This will be the second season the Whitecaps are offering Tiger Fridays, where a former Detroit player or players will be at 5/3 Ballpark to sign autographs. They usually have a bobblehead giveaway, or something like that, too. Here’s the lineup for this season; Jack Morris (June 4), Juan Berenguer and Ozzie Virgil (June 25), Larry Herndon (July 23), Mike Henneman (Aug. 6), Dick McAuliffe (Aug. 20), and Frank Howard (Aug. 27).
Path of the Pros: MiLB.com is continuing it’s Path to the Pros series this time featuring former Whitecap Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens was part of one the worse trades in Tigers history (maybe that’s pushing it, but my opinion) being sent to Atlanta in a deal for Edgar Renteria. You can read the full story at MiLB.com HERE.
Prospect Chat: Baseball America has a nice interview with Casey Crosby who played for the Whitecaps last season and was named the top Minor League Pitcher in the Tigers organization. You can check this out HERE.
Winter Beer Festival: 5/3 Ballpark is hosting the 5th annual Winter Beer Festival this year on Saturday Feb. 27. You have a unique chance to sample some great beers that are brewed in Michigan. They are expecting over 35 microbreweries and beerpubs to participate, and over 200 beers to sample. Sounds like a good way to handle the winter weather to me.
Photo property of MIB