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.
Fifth-Third Ballpark–Comstock Park, MI: I’m not talking about the doomsday prophecy, but last weekend was the second-to-last game for the Whitecaps, and most likely our very last game of the 2012 season. It’s always bitter-sweet to see a season come to an end, but we have a lot of great memories to look back on. This was another memorable game for the kids and I, as we were able to get onto the field again and see some of the players and coaches. Brian really wanted to see Crash the river rascal one last time, so that was our priority! We didn’t have much of a chance after that for playing catch or getting many other pics with the players, but I did get one with the kids in front of the dugout. Brian was able to play on the playground and jump around on the ‘bouncy house’, which burns up some of his energy (Lily and Trevor are too big for the playground…where does the time go???). The kids Papa and Nana were able to join us, too, so it was a great day spent with family at the ballpark. I’m really going to miss the sunshine and the green grass, as fall, and soon winter, will be blasting us with the reality that we live up north. I was really glad we were able to make this trip, though, with school starting and two birthdays within ten days of each other, this was definitely a ‘no frills’ trip. Don’t worry…I still fed them and even got them their ice cream!
The game itself was a fun one, as the ‘Caps built and early 5-run lead on the Dragons. That was no easy task, either, considering that Robert Stephenson was on the mound for Dayton, who was the Cincinnati Reds first round draft pick last year and the organizations top pitching prospect. For West Michigan, Zach Maggard hit a two-run double in the second inning, to put the ‘Caps up 3-0. In the third inning, Jason King and Patrick Leyland each had RBI singles to put them up 5-0. Eugenio Suarez gave West Michigan some insurance, with an RBI triple in the sixth inning. The Dragons came back to score a few runs off starter Jeff Ferrell, but he held on for the win. Ferrell is now 4-1 in his last six games. Michael Torrealba pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save. In all, the Whitecaps ended up with 15 hits in the game, with five doubles and one triple. It’s good to see them playing hard, even though they won’t be making the playoffs. I still can’t believe that it will be another six months at least until another baseball game. This was an end to and extremely busy week for us, that saw Trevor turning 10, his first football game, and a couple of trips to the county fair. The kids last hurrah before school starting up. Final: Whitecaps 6, Dragons 4.
There was some optimism for this 2012 West Michigan team. And, in reality, there still is. With a solid number of prospects on the roster, as well as some familiar names for Tigers fans, this years rendition of the Whitecaps looks to have a winning look to it. Even infielder Colin Kaline feels confident about his team this season.
“I don’t see many weaknesses on this team,” Kaline told Steve Kaminski of MLive.com. “These are great guys, great team guys and great ball players. I think the team has some pretty high expectations for moving on this summer. We have a lot of guys who have been around a bit, with a mixture of young talent. It’s going to be really special to be a part of this team this summer.”
The Whitecaps hit a speed bump on Opening Day, however, in the form of Dayton Dragons pitcher Justice French, who was named the Cincinnati Reds‘ Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season. French struck out eight hitters and only allowed two of the Whitecaps four hits to earn the 3-0 victory. In all, the ‘Caps struck out eleven times and were 0-5 with runners in scoring position. Aaron Westlake, Dan Green, Eugenio Suarez and Steven Moya collected hits for West Michigan, while Kaline went 0-3. Starting pitcher Josue Carreno took the loss for the ‘Caps, who are now 11-8 all time on opening day.
During the off-season, they are busy at work in West Michigan, getting the new scoreboard and video board ready for game play. Things seem to be coming along nicely, and I can’t wait to get to our first game of the season and check all the changes out. I think I’m really going to like the new manual scoreboard, as it brings baseball tradition to the modern ballpark. The new state of the art video board will satisfy the fans of the modern age, too. With the way things look, everything should be up and running by April.
The only change I wish would be made is the ballpark’s name. The stadium’s name was originally Old Kent Park in 1994, but was changed to Fifth Third Ballpark in 2001 after the merger of Old Kent and Fifth Third banks. The name generally wouldn’t bother me so much, if it wasn’t for the fact that Fifth Third bank has been digging it’s claws into so many Minor League stadiums here in the midwest. Just south in Toledo, the MudHens(International League) play at Fifth Third Field, and in their same state of Ohio, the Dayton Dragons(Midwest League) also play in a Fifth Third Field. Confused yet? To make things more confusing, this season the Kane County Cougars changed the name of their stadium to…you guessed it….Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. So, here’s the break down: West Michigan=Fifth Third Ballpark; Toledo=Fifth Third Field; Dayton=Fifth Third Field; Kane County=Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. Where is the originality that we love about the Minors? I’m not niave…I know money talks and make these teams possible, but I’d rather have a stadium named after a local ballplayer, coach, or even a local business or benefactor than another large bank. Then again, I’ll take Tiger Stadium over Comerica Park, too. I would love to see the Whitecaps play in, say a Mickey Stanley Stadium, named after the Tigers legend who’s from Grand Rapids. Anyway, this blog is just more of a rant than anything else. Enjoy the pics, and I’ll have some of my own in April.
Gearing up for the 2010 season ahead, it’s fun to remember all of the fun times the kids and I have had the last few years since baseball has been such a big part of our lives. I was looking for some older pics to post, but didn’t have any luck finding much. I do have plenty others to share, though, so here’s to hoping this season’s games will be as fun as the ballgames past.
Photos property of MIB
Monday night the Detroit Tigers will honor the 1984 World Championship team in a pre-game ceromony. All the greats will be on hand including HOF manager Sparky Anderson, MVP Allan Trammell, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Willie Hernandez and more. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the Tigers won it all. Detroit had the best record in baseball that season with 104 wins on their way to the World Series. This is one of my favorite memories about being a baseball fan as a kid.
Luckily, I’ve had a chance to meet some of my childhood heroes through my Minor League baseball trips. A lot of these guys like to give back to baseball and coach in the Minors. It’s great seeing them instruct a whole new generation of players. So far off the the 1984 team I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Tom Brookens (West Michigan Whitecaps), Lance Parrish (Great Lakes Loons), Doug Bair (Dayton Dragons), and Barbaro Garbey (Peoria Cheifs). We also had a chance to meet John Wockenfuss this season, who was traded in 1984 in a deal to the Phillies to bring Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman to Detroit. We got to meet pitcher Jack Morris, too, but he wasn’t coaching, just signing at a store opening in northern Michigan. Still, he has the most wins of any pitcher in the 80’s, so it was great meeting him. I can’t wait until next years trip to see who we can meet along the way.
Tom Brookens of the Whitecaps signs for the kids in 2007
Lance Parrish of the Loons signs some cards for the kids in 2007
Photos property of MIB