West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Dayton Dragons (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Our holiday weekend started on Saturday night, with the Whitecaps hosting Pink in the Park to raise money for breast cancer awareness. We didn’t originally plan on attending this game, but with rain looming the next few days, we definitely wanted to get one in that was guaranteed. This was Brian’s first game of the season, so he was excited to get to…the playground. On our way there, though, we came across this beauty, which I signed up to win:
While Brian was playing, I snapped a couple of pics from the outfield area.
The game itself was a very rough one for the Whitecaps. West Michigan actually drew first blood, when Will Kengor doubled, scoring top Tiger prospect Derek Hill. The Dragons stormed back, though, blowing the game open with a 10 run fifth inning. Ross Seaton, who was 5-1 coming into the game, was lit up before getting the hook.
Brian was happy, though, as he was able to see his favorite mascots, Crash and Roxy.
Dayton would add on four more runs, to make it a disastrous night for the Whitecaps. It just seemed the Dragons were able to drop about everything in, while the ‘Caps hit the ball hard, but just to the defense. Win or lose, it was fun to get our game in West Michigan this season. We’d be back the next morning, to get another game in for the holiday weekend. Final Score: Whitecaps 1, Dragons 14.
This summer, the Great Lake State will be opening it’s very own Baseball Hall of Fame. The location will be at the Lansing Lugnuts’ Cooley Law School stadium, in left center field on the outfield wall. The idea came last year, when the Lugnuts started a $26.5 million renovation to their ballpark. Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson helped to conceive the idea, realizing there is no such place yet.
“We said, why don’t we do it,” Dickson told MLive.com. “Sometimes it’s amazing what you stumble upon with a little but of luck.”
The Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame will start with 10 members in its inaugural class. It will include plaques with images of the inductees, as well as the when and why they were inducted. The Hall will include players and coaches native to Michigan, as well as those who came to our state and ‘contributed significantly and positively within the national pastime.’ The Hall won’t be limited to just major league players, either, and could include a little league team, high school or college players, and coaches.
“We’re looking for people who have made an outstanding contribution to baseball in the state of Michigan across all levels”, stated Dickson.
There is a very impressive selection committee in place, looking to seek out the worthy candidates from our state. Along with some of the great players from the Detroit Tigers, I would love to see pitcher Jim Abbott selected, as he was one of my favorite players growing up. Michigan also has a great history of amateur baseball, as the very first College World Series was played in Kalamazoo, and the Stan Musial World Series being played in Battle Creek. C.O. Brown and Arch Flannery would be good bets, also, as they were responsible for bringing the series to BC back in 1937. I definitely can’t wait until June 27th, when the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors.
The Detroit Tigers were a busy bunch at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski traded away a few more West Michigan Whitecaps alumni, trying to build a team to win the World Series in 2015. The price was steep, and we fans had to say goodbye to some solid young ballplayers. Before the meetings even began, the Tigers traded away middle-infielder Domingo Leyba, along with pitcher Robbie Ray, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in three-way deal that brought starting pitcher Shane Greene from the New York Yankees. The 19-year-old prospect hit .397 in 30 games for the Whitecaps this season, after being promoted from Class-A SS Connecticut Tigers when short-stop Willy Adames was traded late last season to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The second trade involving some West Michigan alumni, had another middle-infielder in Eugenio Suarez and starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Alfredo Simon. As a rookie, Suarez hit .242 with four home runs, and 23 RBI’s last season in 85 games with Detroit. In 2012 with the Whitecaps, Suarez batted .288 with 34 doubles and 67 RBI’s. His .947 fielding percentage helped him win a Minor League Baseball Gold Glove at short-stop (.971 at short, and his fielding percentage was 1.000 at second base). Crawford was a first round draft pick by Detroit in 2013. He pitched for the ‘Caps this season, going 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA, and was the starting pitcher for the East at the Midwest League All-Star Classic played at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The Tigers also lost former Whitecaps pitcher Alex Burgos in the Triple-A/Double-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The 24-year-old hurler saw action in Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo, but mostly with the Flying Tigers earning a 4.26 ERA. He suited up for the ‘Caps in 2011, pitching to a 6-5 record and a 2.19 ERA. We were able to see him pitch on Star Wars night that season. Two other former ‘Cap pitchers, Edgar De La Rosa and Montreal Robertson were spared in the Major League portion of the draft. We wish the best of luck to all of the players we were lucky enough to watch in West Michigan.
The West Michigan Whitecaps seem to be faring well at the current Baseball Winter Meetings. They were first presented with the 2014 Bob Freitas Award, that is given to the organization with the best overall operations. The award honors teams that demonstrate a sustained excellence in the business of Minor League Baseball based on the last five years. The Whitecaps also earned this honor back in 1998, making them the second Class A team in history to win this award twice. The San Jose Giants also won it in 1990 and 2009. The Whitecaps CEO and Managing Partner Lew Chamberlin seemed very humbled that his team had been selected.
“The Freitas Award is one of the most prestigious awards that a Minor League franchise can receive and we couldn’t be more honored to be this year’s designee,” Chamberlin stated to MiLB.com. “The success that the award recognizes is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of our staff, the support of and incredibly engaged fan base and community, a terrific Major League partner, and a little but of luck. It’s been an incredible year for us in so many different ways and we’re very appreciative of this award.”
The ‘Caps also earned a Minor League Baseball Presidential Citation, which is a special award presented by MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Connor, and recognizes exemplary service on behalf of Minor League Baseball. Due to the fire last January at Fifth Third Ballpark, the team was given the award due to their effort through the community to rebuild and be ready by opening day. West Michigan also hosted the Midwest League All-Star Classic last season, and it drew the highest attendance in the last 12 years.
“We’re appreciative of this recognition,” Chamberlin also stated to MiLB.com. “Our Minor League peers have all been very supportive during the days immediately following the fire and throughout the rebuilding process and we’re pleased that that support has culminated in this citation from MiLB.”
This was a great season for Whitecaps baseball, that started with their open house back in February. The team made the playoffs, and I wish they would have made it a little farther, but we all had a great time at Fifth Third Ballpark this season. I’m hoping 2015 is just as fun, but if I get my transfer I will definitely miss being at the ballpark in West Michigan.
Last week when Baseball America released it’s prospect list, second baseman Devon Travis was ranked number one for the Detroit Tigers. Later that day, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for center fielder Anthony Gose. The Tigers were actually trying to convert Travis to the outfield, as he played there late this season before suffering a core muscle injury in the final week of the season for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. The injury kept him out of the Arizona Fall League, where he was scheduled to play second, but still see work in the outfield. Travis hit .298 with 10 home runs, 52 RBI’s, 156 stolen bases for Erie this season. He played 77 games for the Whitecaps in 2013, hitting .352 with 102 hits before being promoted to the Lakeland Flying Tigers. He was a 13th-round draft pick by Detroit in 2012. Despite the surprising trade, Travis had nothing but positive things to say about the Tigers organization.
“The Tigers do it right,” he stated to MLive.com. “Through and through. I wouldn’t have rather been drafted by any other team. I’m thankful for everything they’ve done for me.”
In exchange, the Tigers get left-handed hitter Anthony Gose, who is expected to possibly platoon in center with Rajai Davis, who bats right. I’m not sure why Detroit would trade their number one prospect for a platoon player, but the team has been without a true center fielder since trading away Austin Jackson. Gose is sure to help defensively, though. It’s frustrating sometimes seeing some pretty good prospects play in the minor just to be traded away, but that’s the business of baseball. We do wish Travis the best in Toronto’s organization. Detroit’s top 10 list by Baseball America includes seven former Whitecaps including Steven Moya, Buck Farmer, Domingo Leyba, Kevin Ziomek, Hernan Perez, and James McCann. As for Gose, we actually saw him play a couple of games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats back in 2011, one in Manchester and one on the road in New Britain.
Players of the Year: The Detroit Tigers have named outfielder Steven Moya their Minor League Player of the Year, and Austin Kubitza the Pitcher of the Year. Moya, playing for the Erie SeaWolves this season, hit .276, with 33 doubles, three triples, while stealing 16 bases. He set records with Erie with 35 home runs and 105 RBI’s this season, also. Moya lead the Eastern League with 70 extra-base hits and was named the league’s MVP. He’s ranked as the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect by MLB.com. Kubitza pitched for the West Michigan Whitecaps this season, but we never had a chance to see him on the mound. He was named the Midwest League’s Pitcher of the Week on two separate occasions, and had an impressive 2.34 ERA this season. He had a 10-2 record for the ‘Caps and had 140 strike outs.
Executive of the Year: The Whitecaps’ vice president of ticket sales Steve McCarthy has been named the Midwest League Executive of the Year. This season the ‘Caps averaged 5,595 fans per game, good for fourth in the league, and their total attendance of 391,000 was the most through the gates of Fifth Third Ballpark since 2002. In all, this was one of West Michigan’s best seasons for advertising revenue, attendance, and ticket revenue. McCarthy was in intern for the Whitecaps in 1995, then with Van Andel Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills. He worked for the Detroit Pistons as a ticket sales account representative and Director of Group Sales, before returning to West Michigan in 2001. He was promoted to vice president of ticket sales in 2005.
Tigers call up…Reatini? The Whitecaps’ clubhouse attendant Sam Reatini has been temporarily called up to the Detroit Tigers. He has been the clubhouse attendant in West Michigan for the last two seasons, and is now sitting in the opposing teams clubhouse at Comerica Park. If he needs any supplies for the ‘Caps, he contacts John Nelson, who is the assistant equipment manager for Detroit and handles minor league equipment needs for the affiliates. Nelson asked Reatini to join him when his college interns left toward the end of the season to go back to school. With the Whitecaps season over, this is a great opportunity for Reatini, and I’m sure at least heard the Tigers’ celebrate winning the Central crown for the other side of the field.
Henneman leaving: The Whitecaps pitching coach Mike Henneman has informed the Tigers he won’t be coming back next season. To be closer to his family, he is returning to the D-Bat baseball academy, where his duties include pitching coach and camps coordinator. Starting with West Michigan in 2013, he greatly improved the teams’ ERA from 3.62 to 3.05 this season, one of the best in the Midwest League, and in the teams history. Henneman pitched for the Tigers for nine of his 10 years in the majors. We’ll miss Mike at Fifth Third Ballpark, as he was one of my favorite players as a kid. We did have a chance to meet him, though, and he signed some cards for the kids. We wish him the best down in Texas. UPDATE: Henneman has come back to the Tigers organization, and will become the pitching coach for the Erie SeaWolves.
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!