Tonight the West Michigan Whitecaps will add two more players to it’s prestigious Hall of Fame, as alumni Don Kelly and Cameron Maybin return to Grand Rapids for the 22nd annual Whitecaps Community Foundation Winter Baseball Banquet. Maybin is returning to the Tigers organization after being traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. He was a first-round pick of the Tigers in 2005, playing his first full pro season in West Michigan in 2006, hitting .304 with nine home runs, 69 RBI’s, and 27 stolen bases. Maybin also played in the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game, and help lead the ‘Caps to the 2006 Midwest League Championship while being named MWL Prospect of the Year.
Kelly played for the Whitecaps way back in 2002, and was an 8th round pick of Detroit in 2001. He went on to hit .286 with 59 RBI’s, and was also the starting shortstop in the Midwest League All-Star Game that season. Kelly is mostly known for being a super-utility player, and has seen action at every position on the field, including pitching an inning or two. Other ‘Caps alumni scheduled to be at tonight’s banquet are Wynton Bernard, Nick Castellanos, Jeff Ferrell, Montreal Robinson off of the Tigers’ Caravan. Other Tiger players, coaches, and personnel that will be there include Al Alvila, Alan Trammell, Matt Boyd, Tyler Collins, Michael Fulmer, Anthony Gose, Shane Greene, Blaine Hardy, Bryan Holaday, Jose Iglasias, Mark Lowe, Drew VerHagen, Alex Wilson, Wally Joyner, and Omar Vizquel. That’s a lot of baseball guys under one roof, and one day when I win the Powerball I’ll be able to get tickets for the kids and I too attend. The Whitecaps Community Foundation does a lot of good in the Grand Rapids area, though, so it’s nice to know the money is being well spent.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
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.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Tragedy hit West Michigan this morning, with the Whitecaps’ Fifth Third Ballpark caught on fire. First I want to say that we are very thankful that no injuries occurred due to the fire, and that the Whitecaps staff members and dozens of brave firefighters are all safe. According to reports by WOODTV8 by the Plainfield Township Fire Dept., the fire was started by a heater in one of the suites on the first base side. Once it spread to the attic area, it ended up destroying approximately 40% of the stadium, including the clubhouse and 11 suites. Early reports also indicate that in that area of the ballpark the sprinkler system may not have been active or charged. At this time, nothing is known as an absolute cause of anything, though. Fifth Third Field, built in 1994, is just 95 days away from the ‘Caps opening day. It is also the venue for the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.
The Detroit Tigers were notified of the event also, and seem to be supportive of their Single-A affiliate’s predicament. In a statement on Twitter, the Tigers’ organization said, “The [Whitecaps] are and extension of our baseball family. We certainly hope for the best for all parties involved. The Tigers look forward to attending the annual baseball banquet later this month as part of the annual Tigers Winter Caravan”. Some of the form ‘Caps were stunned by the news and pictures of their old ballpark, also.
In a statement to MLive.com, Detroit infielder Don Kelly stated, “The team means a lot to the Grand Rapids area. You hate to see stuff like that happen to a great organization.”
Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila started his pro career in West Michigan, and told MLive.com, “Just saw some of the pictures. Pretty crazy. I’m glad no one was hurt. That is one of the best Minor League Baseball stadiums. Always a packed house and a great atmosphere.”
This was a nightmare of a day for the Whitecaps co-founder, chief financial officer, and director of accounting Denny Baxter. While his wife is battling cancer, he was called away to help deal with the situation. Baxter seems positive, however, that the organization and community will band together, and the Whitecaps will be ready to play baseball in April.
“We’re going to survive this and come out of this. I’d like to believe, if we rebuild it, they will come,” Baxter stated. “April 8, plan to be here, we will be. We’ll be back, business as usual. We’ll just have some construction plans and design work, but we have a great staff and we’re up to that challenge. The community will show that support to us. We’re gonna play baseball–we’re very determined about that. We’re strong in our resolve. We’re going to play on Opening Day, we’re still going to have an All-Star Game. I’m absolutely confident about that.”
If any baseball organization can bounce back from this, I believe the Whitecaps can. We plan to make our first game of the season on April 12, and are really looking forward to seeing how much they’ve accomplished by then. All the best to the Whitecaps, and, again, we’re just grateful no one was hurt.
I kind of went off the beaten path the Logo of the Month on this one. It is such a cool logo, though, I just had to feature it. Tickets for the 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic that will take place just north of Grand Rapids, go on sale on March 4th, with the game itself scheduled for June 17th. This will be a great way to kick off our baseball trip for sure. Grand Rapids boasts the name ‘Beer City, USA’, after winning an online poll for two years in a row. Fifth Third Ballpark also host the annual Michigan Brewer’s Guilds Winter Beer Fest in February, with many local breweries at the event. This is the third time in history that the Whitecaps have hosted the All-Star Classic, the other years being 1995 and 2003. Last season, Whitecaps’ second baseman Devon Travis won the Most Valuable Player award. Deik Scram also won that award in 2007 for his all-star game performance. Four current Detroit Tigers’ players have represented the Whitecaps in the past, including Ramon Santiago (2000), Don Kelly (2002), Hernan Perez (2011). and Bruce Rondon (2011). Miguel Cabrera participated during the 2001 season, representing the Kane County Cougars. Other notable MWL alumni to play in the all-star game are Mike Trout in 2010 (Cedar Rapids), Clayton Kershaw in 2007 (Great Lakes), Prince Fielder in 2003 (Beloit), and Wil Myers in 2010 (Burlington).
Being a non-roster invitee to major league spring training, is like being in high school, and getting a birthday party invite from the prettiest girl in school. For six former members of the West Michigan Whitecaps, being invited to the Detroit Tigers camp must seem pretty sweet. The Tigers have 17 non-roster invites in all.
Of all the invitees, utility man Don Kelly has the most experience at the big league level. He recently re-signed with the Tigers, after being told after the World Series that there would not be room for him on this years roster. Kelly played for the Whitecaps back in 2002, batting .286. He had 21 doubles and 59 RBI’s, plus an impressive .728 OBS. Kelly only hit .186 at the major league level last season, but due to his versatility and experience he may have a chance to crack the roster. An obstacle in his way, though, is that the Tigers are looking for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Dirks in left field, and Kelly is a lefty.
Top prospect Nick Castellanos (pictured above with Lily) will be at the Tigers camp, also. He did his time in West Michigan in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. After a slow start, he really had a solid season, hitting .312, with seven home runs and 76 RBI’s. He patrolled third base at Fifth Third Ballpark, but was moved to the outfield last season, after Miguel Cabrera took over the hot corner in Detroit. Castellanos made 23 errors at third for the ‘Caps, and ended the year with a .917 fielding percentage. With his defense not being his strongest asset, the move could be good for him, but he just needs time to develop those skills, so I doubt that he’ll be making an appearance at Comerica this season. Be patient, though, his time will come. Castellanos was the Tigers Minor League Players of the Year in 2011, also.
Two of the three catcher invited to camp played for the Whitecaps, too. James McCann was the Tigers’ second round pick in 2011 after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas. He played nine games for the Whitecaps in 2011 also, hitting only .059, with two singles and one double. He only made one error, though, and threw out 4 runners out of 19 attempting to steal. Curt Casali was also drafted by the Tigers in 2011, after playing his college ball at Vanderbilt University. He played parts of two seasons in West Michigan, 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he played 25 games hitting .227, with two home runs and 14 RBI’s. He only made one error behind the plate, and threw out seven base runners. In 2012, his average increased to .288, with 12 doubles, eight home runs, and 25 RBI’s. He only allowed on passed ball, and threw out 20 potential base stealers. In my opinion, the Tigers are still a little weak at catcher, so if either of these guys has their bat catch fire, they have an outside chance of making the roster.
Kenny Faulk pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2010. His record was 5-4 with an impressive 2.16 ERA. He made 12 saves, giving up no home runs, and striking out 78. His ERA inflated last season at the Double-A level, so he’ll need to bring that down a bit before getting consideration. I’d have to gauge his fast ball, and see his secondary pitches before making an informed opinion on his chances to make the team, though. I look forward to seeing him in spring training, and hope he can earn a spot.
Another weakness in Detroit is at the short stop position. Last season, though, the Whitecaps’ Eugenio Suarez won the Golden Glove as the best short stop in the minor leagues. He played 119 games at short, and 15 at second base, so he does have versatility at middle infield. He had a .971 fielding percentage, with 257 put-outs and 349 assists at short. He had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at second. At the plate, Suarez hit a very respectable .288, with 34 doubles, had 64 RBI’s, and stole 21 bases. Keep in mind, these are all in 2012 at the Single-A level. He’ll still need a few more seasons to develop, but the Tigers I’m sure are very happy with the way he’s progressing, and I’m confident he’ll be scooping ’em up at Comerica in no time. Just not this year.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Last night the Detroit Tigers clinched the American League Central Division title by beating the Kansas City Royals 6-3. This is the Tigers second Central title in a row, and the 14th division title in their history. As the team picked by most experts and fans from the get-go, the Tigs didn’t make it easy on any of us, and floundered for most of the season around or under .500 before making a final push the last two months of the season. Miguel Cabrera had another big day, going 4-5 with a home run. He’s now batting .329 and is definitely one of the favorites for the MVP. Miggy’s 203 hits, 40 doubles, 44 homers, 137 RBI’s have been equaled only three times in history…twice by Lou Gehrig and once by Babe Ruth. That’s pretty good company, I’d say. It would also be unMIBy of me not to mention the former Whitecaps that are on this championship team, like Alex Avila, Omar Infante, Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch, Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, Avisail Garcia, Brayan Villarreal, Louis Marte, and Luke Putkonen. There. Now all is right with the world for the time being… Good luck to the Tigers in the playoffs!
I’ve been mulling over this topic for a while, now, so I thought I might as well vent my feelings on the subject. Brandon Inge continues to be a sensitive topic for Detroit Tiger fans, and has become a player that some simply love, hate, or love to hate. I like Brandon Inge, I really do, and would like nothing more than to see him succeed and have a very productive MLB career. The fact is however, he batted .197 last season and is a career .235 hitter. So… I can understand why fans have a problem with him making $5.5 million a year this season, when it’s not even a ‘gimme’ that he’ll make the Major League roster. I think he will, though, and we’ll find out here in a few short weeks if all of the work he’s done in the offseason will pay off. The signing of Prince Fielder didn’t help Inge’s case, either, with Miguel Cabrera now being moved back to his old position at third. A bit of deja’ vu, as Inge went through this before when Cabrera was originally signed, and even back when the Tigers got Pudge Rodriquez who took his catching position. Tigers manager Jim Leyland really didn’t help matter either, by stating at the Prince press conference that Inge “isn’t the happiest camper”. I guess he could have put a positive spin on it, or not really mentioned Inge at all. All this does is give the media a chance to open up a Pandora’s Box of Inge bashing, without him even making a statement himself. I really think that I can step back and see both sides. I can see how fans may have a problem with Inge’s average and salary, but how can you blame a guy for just wanting to play? I don’t see what’s wrong with a guy stating that he wants to work hard enough and play well enough to earn a starting position. I would like to think that Cabrera will be the DH much of the time, with him being gradually inserted into the hot corner throughout the season. Inge’s defense is enough to at least earn him a spot on the bench, but if he can out-hit Don Kelly in spring training, he could see plenty of starts at third until Miggy gets used to third base again. Leyland stated that he wants Inge on the team, but he’ll have to accept the position as a reserve player, which isn’t bad considering he doesn’t have many options. It’s doubtful that any other team will pick him up with his salary, unless Detroit eats most of it. Last season he was demoted to Triple-A Toledo, and stated he didn’t want to play anywhere else but Detroit. When he was called back up to the Tigers and hit a home-run in his first at bat, you would have thought they won the Series. Despite all of the haters, many fans still like Inge, and would like to see him stay. Even GM Dave Dombrowski seems positive about Inge’s contribution to the Tigers in 2012 stating, “Probably the best thing is to let him come to spring training, let him play well, and let’s see what happens from there. He’s still an important part of our club at this point. ”
Now we come to the impass on how well the 2012 season goes for him, though. This is the last year of his contract, but even if he plays well enough, it’s doubtful that he’ll get more than a one year deal, and with Victor Martinez returning to the DH spot next season, the hot corner will be completely owned by Cabrera. They also have Nick Castellanos being groomed in the Minors and should be big league really in a few seasons, though they may move him to the outfield. With 2013 not looking like there will be a place for him, I do have a suggestion….I’d like to see Inge get into coaching. Hear me out…please. This is what Inge needs to do in 2012: work hard, don’t get caught by the press bad mouthing the organization, no matter how much he plays, or doesn’t play. The fact is, that Mike Illitch is one of the best owners in pro sports, and does a good job of taking care of players who are loyal to him. Look at all he’s done for some of the Red Wings alumni like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, and Chris Osgood. They all have pretty nice cushy jobs within the organization. Inge has been in Detroit longer than any other Tiger on the roster, and if he plays his cards right, could still be employed by the organization when his playing days are done. Granted he’s only 34, but is he starts coaching at 35-36, he could still be able to relate to the younger players. The fact that he’s played so many positions in at catcher, infield, and outfield, will also help his case. Just because he’s a career .235 hitter doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective hitting coach, either. Many players who don’t even have much of a Major League career have had success in coaching, including Leyland himself. I think Inge’s attitude would go long way in his coaching career, and could even lead to a manager job. Where else would I like to see him coach, also, than West Michigan? Inge lives in metro Detroit year round, and moving to Grand Rapids wouldn’t be much of a change for him. He’s also one of the most popular players to ever play for the Whitecaps and the crowds at Fifth Third Ballpark are riddled with Inge jerseys/shirts (though Brennan Boesch is starting to give him a run for his money). He also was part of the inaugural class of the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. Inge has only good things to say about his time in West Michigan, too. During a rehab game in 2010 he stated to the Grand Rapids Press, “I love it here, I really do. It’s kind of the starting point for me. This was the first full season I had in the Minor Leagues. This place produces great ball players, and it’s the first place you go to where you have larger crowds. People are very loyal here-the most loyal I’ve ever seen.” It seems like the Whitecaps are a perfect fit for Inge’s post-playing career. His alpha and omega….