The West Michigan Whitecaps successfully held their home opener on Tuesday night. Was there ever any doubt? Apparently, there was, as the organization coined the phrase ‘never in doubt’, when stating that Fifth Third Ballpark would be ready, willing, and able to host baseball after the fire back in January. Co-owners of the team Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter addressed the crowd before the game, welcoming them back for a new season. The two business partners became fast friends, and together brought baseball to West Michigan in 1994. They both had the same feeling about Tuesday as they did 21 years ago.
“I’m so glad to see all you here tonight because this is why we do this,” Baxter stated to the rabid Whitecaps fans. “This is your team. This is your facility. Lew and I are so proud to be the stewards of this franchise for you folks.”
The season is underway, but there is still some work to be done. Most notably the home clubhouse and suites on the first base side.
As for the game, the Whitecaps hung on to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2. Jeff Thompson was the starter, pitching 4-plus innings, striking out six and did not get scored on. Julio Felix earned the win, despite getting into trouble a few times. Montreal Robertson earned his second save of the season in the win. Offensively, Dominic Ficociello knocked in the winning run, going 1-3. Ben Verlander also went 1-3 with two RBI’s, and Javier Betancourt singled and scored a run. The ‘Caps improved to 3-2 on the young season, but dropped game two to the T-Rats, and are now 3-3. The home stand continues over the weekend, and we’ll finally get to see them play on Saturday. Manager Andrew Graham seems to know there’s some work to be done, but is also confident in this team.
“We’ll be a scrappy team,” Graham stated to MLive. com. “We’re going to have to fight for those 27 outs every game.”
20th Winter Baseball Banquet: The Whitecaps have announced that their annual winter banquet will be held on January 23 at the DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Attending this years ceremony will be the Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, winner of this seasons Cy Young award. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski will also be in attendance, as well as 20 other ball players, including newly acquired Joba Chamberlain and Steve Lambardozzi. Whitecaps’ co-owners Lew Chamblerlin and Denny Baxter will also be on hand to discuss the recent fire at Fifth Third Ballpark, and the renovation plans. Dombrowski and the players will be speaking and taking questions at the event, also. The proceeds from the banquet go to the Whitecaps Community Foundation, that donates the funds to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program, and the Detroit Tigers Foundation (affiliate with Ilitch Charities). Very positive things to look forward to this month, and throughout the constructions process.
Connolly HOF Induction: Pitcher Jon Connolly will be inducted into the Whitecaps Hall of Fame at the winter banquet, also. He played in West Michigan in 2003, earning a 16-3 record in 25 starts. Connolly’s ERA of 1.41 is the lowest for a starter in the history of the Whitecaps. He was drafted in the 28th round of the 2001 Draft, out of Oneonta (NY) High School. Connolly was probably familiar with the organization, as Detroit’s short-season single-A team was the Oneonta Tigers at the time, and where he played in 2001-02. He bounced around all levels of the minor with both the Tigers and Cubs organizations until 2008, when he ended his career with the Newark Bears of the Independent Atlantic League.
Spring Training Invites: The Detroit Tigers have invited 16 minor league players to their major league camp, come February. The list includes some former Whitecaps, like Duane Below, Devon Travis, and James McCann. Below is back with the organization after spending the last season with Miami and the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. Below was 12-3 with West Michigan in 2007, and carried a 2.97 ERA. McCann spent last season with the Erie SeaWolves last season, hitting .277, with 54 RBI, and a .731 OPS. He suited up for the Whitecaps for only nine games back in 2011. Travis was awesome last season, hitting .351, with 16 home runs, and 76 RBI’s between the ‘Caps and Lakeland Flying Tigers. He was the MVP of the Midwest League All-Star game, post season All-Star, Tigers Minor League Player of the Year, and won a MiLBY for Offensive Player of the Year. Here’s wishing these guys luck this spring!
Travis photo property of Minoring In Baseball