Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Back, again, just north of Grand Rapids for our last Whitecaps game of the season. A very bitter-sweet moment, but so much going on at this game, I’m not sure where to start. First, Brian was happy they had a ‘bounce castle’ set up in the parking lot. We didn’t have much time for him to play, but he still was able to bounce around for a little while before we made our way into the stadium. Upon entry, each of us received a free mini-bat, to commemorate the ‘Caps 20th season of play. Brian has been collecting the bats lately, so more for him. It was super hero night at the ballpark, just like in Battle Creek last month, but the only ones dressed up were the Whitecaps’ on-field staff. Still, some of them has some cool outfits. We were at the ballpark early, so we saw the Captains take some batting practice, and waited for the home team to hit the field for their warm-ups. We went down to field level, where we met former Tigers’ relief pitcher, and current ‘Caps pitching coach, Mike Henneman. He was nice enough to sign a baseball card for Brian (a future hurler, himself!). Before the game got underway, we were also entertained by team Ghostrider: basically monkeys riding around on dogs. They would appear a few time throughout the game, herding goats and riding away. When monkeys act like cowboys, everybody wins! It didn’t take the kids long to get hungry, and Lily, Brian, and their Papa stuck with traditional hot dogs. Trevor and I, however, wanted to try the Baco! We made our way through the concourse, and with a sold-out crowd we were moving slowly. We took a break, though, to check out the Whitecaps 2007 Midwest League Championship trophy that was on display. The team was also celebrating the championship during this game, too. We finally made it to the other side of the ballpark to get our Bacos. Trevor didn’t care for it too much, but I thought it was pretty good. Not worth $6 each, but had to do it. Unfortunately the Whitecaps has some of the slowest concessions ever, so we missed a good chunk of the game waiting in line. We decided to head back to our seats through the lower bowl, which was a good idea because Trevor got a foul ball that bounced our way. We were finally able to sit down and enjoy the rest of the game, which was a good one. The ‘Caps also provided post-game fireworks that the kids really love, too. It was a hectic night all around, and sold-out crowds will do that, but still hard to wrap my head around the fact it will be a minimum of nine months before I’m enjoying baseball at Fifth-Third Ballpark again!
Like I stated, the game between the ‘Caps and the Captains was a good one. West Michigan was down 2-0 in the third, but busted out for three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Connor Harrell and David Gonzales started it off with a pair of singles, then Lake County started walking some batters. The Whitecaps scored two runs on walks, then Jason King hit a sac fly for the third run. In the fourth inning, Jeff Holm hit a solo shot to put the ‘Caps up 4-2. West Michigan concluded the scoring in the eighth inning, when Lance Durham hit his team leading 14th home run, after King singled. On the hill for West Michigan, Edgar De La Rosa pitched a solid game, only giving up the two runs in six innings of work. He struck out four and didn’t walk any of the Lake County hitters. The bullpen finished the job, throwing four shutout innings, with Corey Knebel closing the door in the ninth. Holm lead the offense going 2-4, and Gonzalez went 2-3. Final Score: Whitecaps 6, Captains 2.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Carolina MudCats vs. Lynchburg HillCats (Carolina League)
Five County Stadium–Zebulon, NC: It was a bit of a day of polar opposites, as we arrived in Zebulon to watch the MudCats. The GPS couldn’t find the stadium address, either, so getting there was a bit of a chore, but once we got our of Raleigh and headed east, it was all good. It was a Monday night, and it’s been my experience that games on this night are generally not well attended. I really didn’t expect, like, fifteen to twenty fans to be there, though. Really…I’m not exaggerating. Lucky for the MudCats, too, that I was meeting up with an old friend that I played baseball with in high school, to add to the attendance. At least it was a quiet game, so my buddy Chris and I could catch up a bit, and talk about old times. I also had a chance to explore the ballpark some and get some pictures. Five County Stadium is very unique, and I really like the way it’s set up. There are not too many rows of seats in the lower level, but mostly in the upper level. The upper level seats hang over the dugouts, and really give you a nice view of the game. As with most of the stadium in North Carolina, there was plenty of netting, too, to protect the fans. A little too much for my tastes, but I was able to move around it to get some more pictures. Despite the low attendance, the on field DJ still had some fun with the fans who were there, and the mascot Muddy the MudCat (a giant catfish) wandered the concourse, as did a gorilla chasing a giant banana. See how fun the minors are? I’m sure the atmosphere is better when the stands start filling up this summer, and I did very much enjoy my first Carolina League game in Zebulon. At least I was able to catch a foul ball, but waited until there was two outs in the ninth inning to do it!
As for the game, the home team didn’t rally much with such an empty stadium. The HillCats, however, really had their bats heated up, as they put eleven runs across the plate. Shawn Morimando took the loss for the MudCats, giving up seven runs, but only five of them earned. Carolina did have a couple of players got 2-4, though, in catcher Ryan Battaglia and third baseman Yhoxian Medina. Tough loss for the hometown MudCats, but I’m sure things will get better once some fans are in the stands. Final score: MudCats 4, HillCats 11.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
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
Bruce Fields is back with the Detroit Tigers organization as their new Minor League hitting coordinator. He got his start with the Tigers almost ten years ago, and is back after a stint with the Cleveland Indians as their hitting coach. After the change in management, Fields’ contract wasn’t renewed in Cleveland. The change brings him into a familiar situation, though, as he spent a good chunk of his playing career in the Tigers’ farm system. He made his Major League debut with Detroit in 1986. As a coach, he started with Class A Jamestown before being promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens. As manager of the Whitecaps, he coach current Tigers Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago. He sported an impressive 331-220 record in West Michigan, including three season with the league’s best record. Fields was twice voted the Midwest League’s Manager of the Year, and led the ‘Caps to MWL championship in 1998. He was inducted into the Whitecaps Hall of Fame in 2010.
Another perk to his job with the Tigers organization, is the opportunity to work with his son, Daniel, who is a 2009 draft pick of Detroit, and spent last season with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. He’s currently the 7th ranked prospect in the system, behind plays such as Bruce Rondon, Nick Castellanos, and Avisail Garcia. Coaching your own son isn’t always easy, but it can always be very rewarding.
“It’ll obviously be a challenging situation–the father-son, coach-player dynamic,” he told MLB.com. “But our dynamic is strong. Whereas some people I know say they have a hard time coaching their children, my son listens. We might not see eye to eye on everything, but they’ll listen. Both my sons are good that way. There won’t be any issues that way.”
Photo courtesy of Jim Hill
Eastlake, OH: The West Michigan Whitecaps had a successful trip to Ohio, taking two of three games from the Lake County Captains. Their only loss of the series was an interesting one, though, as they faced former Major League pitcher Fausto Carmona, er, I mean, Roberto Hernandez. Wait…what? Hernandez is serving a three-week suspention from MLB, and made a rehab start for the Captains in game two of the series with West Michigan. The picher formerly known a Carmona was arrested in January for identity theft in the Dominican Rebublic for assuming the name of a family friend. The Cleveland Indians thought they were signing a 17 yr-old back in 2000, but in reality, Hernandez was 20. Three years later he was pitching for the Captains, going 17-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 2003. Six years later, he had to wait for a new visa to come into the United States. How he was granted a new visa with a fraud conviction, I’ll never know, but money talks I guess, and Major League Baseball slapped him with a whopping three-week suspension. Back on track- he did earn his first professional victory since Sept. 20, 2011 against the ‘Caps, as they were downed 5-4 by Lake County. Hernandez gave up three runs on six hits. West Michigan didn’t show the 31 yr-old much respect out of the gate, though, as they scored two runs in the first inning on an Aaron Westlake home run. Eugelio Suarez singled before him. In the fourth inning, Jason King doubled, and scored on an RBI by Patrick Leyland. In the end, two errors costs the ‘Caps the winning run and the game.
Carmona Hernandez is eligible to join the Indians on August 11.
The Whitecaps dominated the first game of the series 8-1. On the hill for the ‘Caps, Chad Smith was successful in his first start in the Midwest League. In three innings he allowed one hit and struck out three. Along with the bullpen, he held the Captains to only four hits on the night. This was only Smith’s fifth pro start after Tommy John surgery last year. West Michigan was led offensively by Jason King, who ended the game going 3-5 with a home run and three RBI’s. The ‘Caps scored six runs in the seventh inning to break the game wide open. King and Brandon Loy each drove in two runs in the inning. Loy was 2-4 in the game with a pair of doubles. Jason Krizan also doubled in a pair of runs in the inning. The Whitecaps received more solid pitching in a 4-0 victory in the last game of the series. Marcelo Carreno threw six shutout innings and only allowed one hit. Loy helped out with his bat, scoring two with a single in the second. Jeff McVaney would drive him home for a 3-0 lead. In the eighth, McVaney tripled and was hit home on a single by King. Leyland and Krizan each singled to load the bases with no outs when the game was called due to lightning.
Photos courtesy of Maribeth Joeright/The News-Herald
Small College World Series Championship-Southern Virginia University vs. Briarcliffe College (NY): The Ball Park-Old Orchard Beach, ME
It may be hard to believe by today’s standards, but Maine had itself a Triple A Minor League franchise right here in Old Orchard Beach. From 1984-1988 the Maine Guides occupied The Ball Park here. As a farm club for the Cleveland Indians, the Guides were a success at first, finishing second in the International League standings and fourth in attendance. The next season, however, the Guides were last in attendance, possibly due to the fact that Old Orchard Beach is more of a vacation spot with a small year-round population. By 1986, the team was not only last in attendance, but also last in the IL standings. 1987 the team became affiliated with the Philadelpia Phillies, and remained in Maine for one last season under the name the Maine Phillies. The team was then relocated to become the Scranton/Wilkes Berry Red Barons in 1988. It’s thought that three things brought about the failure of the franchise: 1)the amount of Miane Black Flies in the area 2)only one road ran in and out of the ball park causing traffic back-ups, and 3)the newer, larger ball parks were being built at this time for minor league ball. Although the stadium hosted some concerts in the 80′ and 90’s, by the 2000’s it was falling apart by the years of neglect. The stadium was shuttered, the grass overgrown with weeds and brush, and it was victimized by vandals and arson. It looked as if baseball would never be played here again until the community rallied around the Ball Park supporters to renovate the park and bring baseball back. By 2008, the stadium was ready to go, and hosted exhibition games and college games. The Ball Park will now host the Old Orchard Beach Rolling Tide, a summer college team in the New England College Baseball League, and hosed the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Baseball tournament in 2010 and this season, which brings us up to today’s championship game…
This is a baseball trip, after all, so we wanted to get an as many games as possible, no matter what the level. We were lucky enough to catch the small college World Series while passing through on our way to Portland. Number one seed Southern Virginia was playing defending champion Briarcliffe College, so we anticipated some good baseball, and the college kids didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t a real big crowd due to the continuous bad weather, but still a good atmosphere and crowd of students and players parents. Briarcliffe came out of the losers bracket to defeat the Knights from Southern Virginia in two straight games to win back to back national championships. The Ball Park itself was a nice place to watch baseball, and we didn’t have any trouble with flies in this weather, but doesn’t compare to most Minor League stadiums. I hope they have success with the Rolling Tide this summer.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate Armando Galarraga on pitching a perfect game. Second of all, I’d like to state with regret that I didn’t watch the game. Nope, not a single inning. I was actually on my way home from coaching my kids Little League game when I turned the Tigers game on the radio. That one word buzzed my ears and caght my attention: perfect. The volume automatically went up, and the kids got sushed a bit. Thank goodness they were stuffing their faces with Dairy Queen at the time to keep them a little quieter than usual. I was just in time for the 9th inning. One out. Two outs. Yeah! Three outs! Didn’t happen. The announcers were going a bit nuts, and couldn’t believe Galarraga’s luck. When they saw the reply themselves, they couldn’t believe the horrible call. Indian Jason Donald was safe, and Jim Joyce had just cost Galarraga his official perfect game. Not being able to see the play myself, I grapped the cell and made the call to my dad downstate, who I know would be watching. “How bad was it?”, I asked. “It wasn’t even close!”, he stated. Wasn’t even close. When I made it home and finally saw the replay myself, it occured to me that the announceers were right, my dad was right, the Tigers were right, and the 18,000 fans at Comerica were right. Donald was out by ‘a mile’. Joyce was the only human on Earth who thought the guy was safe. Even Donald new he was out, looking at the umpire in disbelief himself. A very classy move, I might add, not celebrating what he wrecked. Galarraga retired the next batter for his one-hit victory, that somehow seemed like a loss. Joyce got an ear-full from the Tiger players and manager Jim Leyland. Leyland, however, took the high road after the game and everyone had settled down a bit. Leyland talked about the human elemet of baseball, but let it be known that it WAS a perfect game. Galarraga knew in his heart, that what he accomplished, too, stating: “I got a perfect game. Maybe it’s not in the book, but I’m going to show my son the CD.” After watching the replay, Joyce even conceded that he blew the call stated that, well: “I blew the damn call.” He even apologized to Armando.
I admit, after the game I as fuming a bit myself. I almost couldn’t wait to get on the blogosphere and rip Joyce. After all, he deserves it, right? How can he think the guy was actually safe, when it was so obvious. If it was a close call, then it would be a different story. You could maybe understand. I also don’t believe in ‘giving’ the pitcher a call on a close play. If he really would have been safe, then so be it. What it comes down to, though, is that everyone can make a mistake. It’s too bad that Joyces blunder cost what would have been the first perfect game in Detroit Tigers’ history. This will be Joyce’s legacy now. I don’t think it’s right that someone changed his Wikipedia page to dub him ‘the worst ump in Major League Baseball’, or that they put him dead on June 2. That’s going a bit too far. I think that part has been removed, though, but the conroversial call section was added. One of the worst things that could come of this, is that fans will be screaming for instant replay for just about everything now. It will surely make things interesting in the baseball world for the next few days, anyway. There-I’ve vented.
Photo courtesy of the AP
Bob Feller Hometown Museum: The second day of our pilgrimage took us west via the exciting I-80 highway, past the World’s Largest Truckstop, and into the small town of Van Meter, Iowa. Van Meter is just west of Des Moines, and home to Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller. A nice little museum was constructed in his honor there, and since we were going to Des Moines anyway, it seemed like a good stop on our trip. The museum wasn’t very big, but it was packed full of memorabelia from his early baseball days, to his MLB career and no-hitters, to his days in the Navy during World War II. Yes, Feller was one of the brave men who gave up his baseball career for a couple of years to server his country. Thank you for that, too, Bob. It was hard to get some really good pic because the building wasn’t big enough for me to back up and get some wide angled shots. We were also just shy of meeting Dwight Gooden, who was there the day before signing autographs. Some of the cooler stuff they had was the bat that Babe Ruth used to lean on during his retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium, which belonged to Feller, and a couple seats from the old Cleveland stadium. It was a fun time and definately worth the trip.
Photos property of MIB