The dream season has come to an end for the West Michigan Whitecaps. With a year starting with a fire to Fifth Third Ballpark in January, it would have been a nice story book ending for them to take home the Midwest League crown. Despite falling in the first round to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, in controversial fashion, the ‘Caps still had a stellar season filled with more highs than lows.
Game one of the playoffs saw the Whitecaps and TinCaps tied at five all in the bottom of the eighth innings. With the TinCaps having the bases loaded and nobody out, a ground ball was hit to short stop Domingo Leyba, who was interfered with and couldn’t make the play. Despite the rule clearly stating that the base runner must avoid the defensive player fielding the ball, the umpires let the play stand, and Fort Wayne won by the score of 7-5. In game two in Comstock Park, the Whitecaps used their pitching staff to strike out 15 batters in route to a 2-1 victory. Bennett Pickar’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Dominic Ficociello for the go ahead run. Zac Reininger earned the win, working 2.1 shutout innings. In the deciding game three, the Whitecaps fell by the score of 6-2 to be eliminated. After the one hour and 44 minute rain delay, the ‘Caps just couldn’t get anything going.
Despite the early playoff exit, this season has to be regarded as a success. After all, with a 82-58 record this was the Whitecaps first division title in seven years, and it was a positive step just to be back in the playoffs. The ‘Caps also hosted the MWL 50th All-Star Classic that was a huge success, and the early construction to the ballpark didn’t keep fans away, as 391, 653 fans visited Fifth Third Ballpark, good for the largest total since 2002. Wynton Bernard was also the first ‘Cap to be named the MWL Player of the Year since Gorkys Hernandez in 2007. Bernard was also the first batting champion since Robert Fick in 1997, and broke the Whitecaps single-season hit record with 158. He was joined on he post season All-Star team by pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. New manager Andrew Graham did a great job in West Michigan this season, and I’m looking forward to see how he progresses as a manager as well as the progression of this seasons players through the system. I will certainly miss visiting Fifth Third Ballpark, and can’t wait until next April. The winters are so long and brutal up here, the only way to pass the time is dream about sunshine and baseball!
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With their playoff hopes dangling by a thread, the Detroit Tigers needed something positive to happen. Enter left-handed pitcher Kyle Ryan, making his major league debut against the arch rival Chicago White Sox. The rookie threw six shutout innings, helping the Tigers win the game 8-4 and move into a tie for first place in the Central Division. Ryan only gave up five hits, while walking two batters and earning one strikeout. He threw 97 pitches in all, and 60 of those were for strikes. He is the 30th pitcher the Tigers have used this season, the most since the 30 Detroit used in the 2002 season. Before the spot-start in Detroit, he has split the season between Double-A Erie SeaWolves and Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Ryan spent two seasons with the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he went 6-10 posting a 3.15 ERA, and striking out 99. In 2012, Ryan improved to 7-8, but his ERA rose a bit to 3.74, and he had 105 strikeouts. We were lucky enough to see him pitch both seasons in West Michigan. The top picture is from 2011 on military appreciation night, and the bottom photo is from 2012 with Ryan on the mound. I’d like to see him get another start with Detroit, and hopefully help them in their playoff run.
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The Detroit Tiger prospects seem to be doing very well this season, with the Erie SeaWolves’ outfielder Steven Moya being named the Eastern League Most Valuable Player. The native of Puerto Rico is the first SeaWolves player to earn this honor since Erie joined the Eastern League in 1999. Moya is batting .271, with 32 doubles, 34 homers, and 102 RBI’s so far this season. He’s already set a new single season record for Erie for total bases with 277, and his 34 home runs and 102 RBI’s ties the record. His totals for home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage (.549), and total bases (277), and extra base hits ( 69) leads all other Eastern League batters. Moya’s also tied for 10th in the league with eight outfield assists, and has only made three errors in the outfield. He caught fire in July, hitting .304 with 10 home runs, 33 RBI’s, and 20 runs scored. Good enough to be named the Eastern Leagues’ Player of the Month. He also earned the Top Star Award as MVP of the Eastern League All-Star game, after hitting a grand-slam to win the game 5-2 for the Western Division. Mayo also participated in the All-Star Futures game in Minnesota, suiting up for the World Team.
Adding to this seasons success, he named to the Eastern League’s post-season All-Star Team, also, and selected by Baseball America as the ‘Best Power Prospect’ in the league this season. Moya was signed by Detroit as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. He played two seasons for the West Michigan Whitecaps. In 2011, he struggled with a .204 batting average, hitting 13 home runs and knocking in 31 RBI’s in 86 games. He bounced back in 2012, however, hitting .288, with 14 doubles, nine home runs, and 47 RBI’s in only 59 games.
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Midwest League MVP: For the third time in history, a member of the West Michigan Whitecaps was named Midwest League Most Valuable Player, in Wynton Bernard. The 23 yr-old outfielder leads the league with a .328 average, first in run scored with 89, hits with 159. He’s second in the league in total bases with 217 and on-base percentage with .401. Bernards’ 159 sets a Whitecaps’ franchise record, which he set on Sunday at South Bend.
“It feels so amazing,” Bernard told MLive.com. “Just thinking about all that I’ve been through the past year…it’s pretty special.”
What’s amazing, is that he was released by the San Diego Padres in January, and joined the Tigers via an open tryout in March in Lakeland. Now, he joins Robert Fick (1997) and Gorkys Hernandez (2007) as Whitecaps named league MVP.
Post-season All-Stars: Joining Bernard in the MWL post-season All-Star Team, are pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. Farmer, who’s made two appearances with the Tigers this season, went 10-5 during his time in West Michigan. He posted a 2.60 ERA with 116 strikeouts, which lead the league at the time. Ziomek is currently 10-6 with a league-leading 145 strikeouts. He leads the league with a rate of 11.15 strikeouts per nine innings, that could also be a franchise record when the season is done.
Pitcher of the Week: Although he didn’t make the post-season All-Star squad, pitcher Jon Maciel was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for August 18-24. Maciel was brilliant during the ‘Caps’ 5-0 win over Dayton on Thursday, giving up one hit in seven shut-out innings. The 21 yr-old hurler struck out a career high 10 batters, including six straight. Maciel was an 18-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Cal State-Long Beach. So far this season he’s 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 85 strikeouts. He joins Austin Kubitza (x2) and Jonathon Crawford as recipients of the award this season.
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It seems like it was just yesterday that we saw Buck Farmer pitch for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Not exactly, but it was earlier this season that we saw him on the bump at Fifth Third Ballpark. Last night Farmer did become the first to play in West Michigan and Detroit in the same season, helping the Tigers break their four-game losing streak. Farmers’ spot-start wasn’t a spectacular performance, but it was good enough to keep his team in the game, and he pitched a solid five innings giving up four runs. He shut down the Pirates in the first inning, but struggled a bit in the third. Down 4-1, Farmer was bailed out by some other Whitecaps alumni, as Nick Castellanos hit an RBI triple in the first, then broke the tie with a home run in the sixth. Alex Avila also homered in the game to cut into the Pittsburgh lead. Detroit ended up winning the game 8-4, with Farmer not getting the decision.
George Runie Farmer, nicknamed Buck, was a 5th round draft pick by Detroit in 2013 out of the Georgia Institute of Technology. This season he started in West Michigan, going 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA and 116 strikeouts. We also saw him in the Mdwest League All-Star Classic in June. He was promoted to the Erie SeaWolves, but only has a 1-0 record there with a 3.00 ERA. After his spot-start in Detroit, they assigned him to the Toledo Mud Hens. Best of luck to him the rest of the season. I’m sure fans will be seeing more of Farmer in a Tigers uniform in the future.
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West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: I had the night off from work, rare for a Thursday, so I decided to take the boys downstate for a ballgame for my birthday. What can be better than a birthday at the ballpark with family, right? When we got to the ballpark, the team had a dunk tank out front, so this gave the boys a chance to show off their arms a bit and dunking a couple of the Whitecaps players.
The giveaway was an Oyo (like Lego?) figure of Whitecaps outfielder Ben Verlander (now with the Connecticut Tigers). Brian loved this, and had to get one put together right away with a little help from his Papa. The kid is starting to become a master builder, if there ever was one!
As a birthday bonus, the Fox Sports Detroit Girls were on hand to mingle with fans, also. They were nice enough to sign a baseball for my birthday and Trevor had his picture taken with them. The boys had their hats signed, but Brian was too shy for a picture. Stephanie and Angela each threw out a first pitch, too.
And finally on to some baseball! The game itself, though, only lasted just over six hours, with the pitching leading the way. For West Michigan, Jonathon Crawford threw five solid innings, giving up one earned run, one walk, one strikeout, and giving up only four hits. Will LaMarche came in to pitch three innings, striking out three, and only giving up one hit. Scott Sitz earned the save by pitching a scoreless ninth. Dominic Ficociello led the way offensively, going 3-4 with three runs scored and two doubles. Francisco Contreras was 1-3 with two RBIs, while shortstop Willy Adames knocked in a run, also. Catcher Grayson Greiner added two hits in the game as well. It’s always good to have the Whitecaps win, especially on my birthday. I hope my schedule works out so we can make it back down this way and see them in the playoffs. This was a great birthday at the ballpark, and I’m very blessed and lucky to have spent the day with my boys and dad. We need to drag Lily down to another game this summer, though. Final: Whitecaps 3, Chiefs 1.
Here’s a video:
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Akron RubberDucks vs. Erie SeaWolves (Eastern League)
Canal Park-Akron, OH: After spending the morning in Erie, we had a pretty easy drive over to Akron. Akron is a nice town, but not much parking in the downtown area. They have the university, hospital, and ballpark all close together. We were in town pretty early, and some lots won’t let you park there until after 5:00, so we settled for a parking garage, and took a little nap. We had a three hour drive back to Michigan after the game, so a little rest couldn’t hurt. After our rest, we got a little hungry and went hunting for food. Canal Park has a resteraunt attached to it called The Game Bar and Grill, so we decided on that. Not only was the food very good, but you can see inside the park (after the gates officially open, you can access it from inside the ballpark), and we could watch the Erie SeaWolves warm up and take some batting practice.
After our meal, it was time to head inside the park and get ready for the game. Canal Park is just a beautiful ballpark, and we would plenty of time to explore it. We decided to get our shopping over with, and I picked up a nice t-shirt for Trevor with his name and number customized on the back. Due to the new name and logo, however, they were sold out of many items, such as pennants. We found our seats, and they were awesome right behind the SeaWolves dugout. The dugouts are pretty open, also, so you can pretty much see everything that’s going on. We also got a visit from Akrons mascot, Webster the duck, who looks pretty Disney like.
I then went out to the right field area, where the ballpark entrance to The Game is located. There is lots of room out that way, and not only holds the kids play area, but they had a live concert also, with Wild Ave belting out some classic ’80’s rock tunes.
Back in our seats, I was ready to enjoy some great Double-A baseball, as the clock was turn to 7:05 pm. And then the rain came. And it didn’t stop. Not for two hours. The grounds crew was able to get the tarp on the infield pretty quickly, and the outfield looked like it was draining pretty well. I really give the RubberDucks credit, that they don’t jump the gun and cancel games too early, and they do their best to keep the fans entertained during the rain delay. Both mascots were available for pictures with the fans (the old Akron Aeros mascot Orbit joined Webster), the had games for the kids, and used the video board for entertainment. My favorite is the ‘Baseball Bugs’ cartoon, where Bugs Bunny plays every position. Classic… We are also able to watch some of the College World Series live. And did you notice all of the rubber ducks on the tarp? Awesome!
After a mere 2 1/2 hour delay, we finally had baseball! The teams still went through their pre-game routine which took some time, but eventually the RubberDucks took the field, and the SeaWolves went to bat. The home team finally did some ass-kicking, but unfortunately, we were kind of rooting for Erie in this game. Third baseman Corey Jones lead the way offensively for Erie, going 2-3 with his teams only RBI. Outfielder Jason Krizan went 2-4, also. On the hill, Tommy Collier took the loss for the SeaWolves. For the hometown Akron squad, DH Bryan LaHair had three RBI’s off of his only hit, which was a double. First baseman Jake Lowery went 3-4 in the game, also. The winning pitcher was Joseph Colon for the ‘Ducks. Due to the weather delay and our long drive ahead, we only stayed for about five innings before hitting the road. I’d love to make another trip back to Canal Park. It’s a wonderful place to watch a game, and they treat the fans well. Final: RubberDucks 7, SeaWolves 1.
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Progressive Field-Cleveland, Ohio: Ever step into crap and come out smelling like roses? Well, this is kind of what happened to us here in Cleveland (I am not implying at all that Cleveland is crap. In fact, everyone we interacted with was extremely nice, especially at Progressive Field). After enjoying the Baseball Heritage Museum, and getting a bite to eat in downtown Cleveland, we found that we had plenty of time on our hands before heading east for the Lake County Captains game. Noticing that we were only a few blocks away from Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, we decided to head over that way and poke around a bit. Outside the ballpark, we were greeted my none other than Bob Feller, himself.
Upon further exploration, we found that the main gift shop was open, and I saw a sign inside that advertised the ballpark tours. Wow, this was too good to be true, here we are with extra time, and a big league ballpark to poke around! When I asked about the tour, I was informed that the last one of the day had just left. But hey, we’re in Cleveland, and these staff members were pretty cool. One ran out the door to hold the tour for us, while we purchased our tickets. I had forgotten my camera, so I used my phone for all the photos at the museum, and was now looking at just under 20% heading into the tour. We caught up with the group in the indoor batting cages. This was a pretty cool area, and it’s amazing to find out how many hours the players spend in here hitting the machine and off of the tee. We were at the tail end of the group while leaving, and I happen to see a little patch of white by the door. It was none other than an official Major League baseball. I, of course, did the noble thing, and shoved it into my cargo pocket.
We then made out way to the Indians dugout, which is a pretty fun place to hang out. We were able to sit on the bench and check out the phones used for calling the bullpen, and for a challenge. I have to admit the major league dugouts are very impressive.
I was also able to get some good photos of the ballpark from ground level. Despite using my phone, some turned out pretty well.
We then made our way around home plate toward the visitors dugout. Lucky for me, the visitors were the Detroit Tigers, and sitting in the dugout preparing for the game was Don Kelly. He was nice enough to sign some autographs for some of us fans, and I was lucky to have found that baseball! It would have nice to chat with him for a bit, but the staff giving the tour prompted us to keep moving.
Our next stop was the bullpen, and we were able to see the other end of the phone that was in the dugout. Back inside the park, the tour took us to the lower levels where the merchandise was unloaded and taken to the booths in the stadium. We were also in the area where the players make their way up from the parking lot, but we weren’t lucky enough to run into any more players, though.
The suites above home plate were pretty amazing, though. Here I took probably the best pic of the tour. We’ll definitely have to look into more ballpark tours on our future trips. The staff at Progressive Field treated us very well, and I highly recommend the tour to any baseball fans visiting Cleveland. Next time I’m in town, we might just have to take in a game there. By the way, still had 2% left on my phone when the tour ended.
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Toledo Mud Hens vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (International League)
Fifth Third Field-Toledo, OH: Well, it’s been about seven years since our last trip to Toledo to see the Mud Hens, so it was about time we made it back to Mudville. We stayed in Findlay, so it was a fairly brief drive into Toledo. With any downtown stadium, parking can be tough, but we got there early enough to make it into the lot across the street. The weather was perfect, even though it had rained the night before. I was hoping for maybe a double-header, but the Hens finished five innings the night before to make it a complete game. We had plenty of time to get a beer and a dog for lunch, and get some shopping in. I was hoping to get Brian a Muddy mascot, but they didn’t have any for some reason. He was happy I picked him up a Ghostbusters night t-shirt, though, as he loves that movie. There was a pretty decent crowd, and, as many mid-week day games go, catered to kids and seniors. I really do love seeing kids at ball games, but when they’re brought in for groups, the counselors really need to set some rules for them. The kids next to us were in and out of their seats every inning, which can be distracting, and inconvenient for my elderly father. Before the game we also got to see Tigers’ prospect Robbie Ray getting some extra work in. He didn’t pitch on this day, but always cool to see a top prospect. The mascot Muddy also paraded some kids from a youth group around the field.
As the Mud Hens are a Tigers affiliate, I was pretty familiar with most of the players, and had seen many of them in West Michigan. The RailRiders even had former Whitecap Scott Sizemore on their roster, who was one of my favorite players from the ‘Caps 2007 Midwest League championship team. Others we’ve seen before included first baseman Jordon Lennerton, second baseman Brandon Douglas, third baseman Wade Gaynor, catcher James McCann, and Duane Below who was on the mound for Toledo. The game got off to a good start, with the Hens scoring twice in the first inning on Tyler Collins sacrifice fly, and a home run by Trevor Crowe. Gaynor hit an RBI double in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead.
With the Mud Hens doing well, I took the opportunity to explore the ballpark a little bit more. I love the full wrap-around concourses, and used it to get some nice shots, including a panoramic of the stadium.
The ‘Roost’ is a set of seats connected to a neighboring building, with a great view of the game. We couldn’t buy these unfortunately, because they are always saved for a group outing. The usher, or ‘guard’, at the stairs to the Roost let me sneak up there and take a few pics, even though he made it clear he wasn’t supposed to.
We were also able to see the RailRiders ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte for a few innings. He took the loss for Scranton/WB, though. I remember watching him throw back in 2009 when he was playing for the Charleston River Dogs.
The Hens gave up three runs in the sixth inning, but got those three right back. Both teams ended up trading runs in the eighth inning, also. Ezequiel Carrera went 1-4 on the day with two runs scored and a stolen base, while Gaynor ended up 2-3. Below earned the win, pitching 6.2 innings, giving up the three runs, with one strike out and Kevin Whelan earned the save. Carrera also made a wicked catch in the outfield. In all, this was just a great day watching a great game, and I got a game ball to top it all off. I really love Fifth Third Field, and need to make it there much more often. Final: Mud Hens 7, RailRiders 4.
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