The Detroit Tigers have signed left-handed pitcher Duane Below to a minor league contract, with a non-roster invite to major league training camp. The former Tiger is expected to compete for a spot in the bullpen for next season. Below played eight seasons in the Detroit organization, before being claimed off waivers early last season by the Miami Marlins. He then took his talents to Korea in July, playing for the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization. In 43 games for Detroit, he posted a 4.27 ERA. He flopped between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season before making the moves to Miami and Korea. He went 5-5 with a 3.04 ERA in 17 starts between the two farm clubs. A member of the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2007, he went 13-5, with a 2.97 ERA, and 160 strike outs. Below is a hometown boy from Britton, Michigan, and played college ball for Lake Michigan Community College. I wish him all the best in his return to Detroit, and hope he can crack the opening day roster next season.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Next seasons’ Baseball Trip will be a little later this time, in June instead of May. One of the reasons for the change, is that we wanted to hit the Midwest League All-Star game on June 17th in West Michigan. This should be a great experience as I’ve never been to an all-star game before. This will be the hardest game to get tickets for, so I really need to be on the ball when they go on sale. The next day takes us south to Columbus, OH to check out our first Clippers game. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the stadium and franchise, so it should be a game to remember. The day after is a double-header for us. We start out with the Toledo Mud Hens for a day game. We saw the Hens back in 2007, and look forward to another great time at Fifth-Third Field. After we see the Hens, we head east to see the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and our first New York-Penn League game. Travelling in the early spring usually prevents us from making these games, since they start their season in mid-June. We stay busy the next morning, hitting the big city of Cleveland to check out the Baseball Heritage Museum. I don’t know much about this, so if anyone has been there any info would be appreciated. Next we enjoy more Midwest League action visiting the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, just east of Cleveland. Lake County and Bowling Green are the only two MWL teams I haven’t visited yet, as they transferred from the South Atlantic League a few years ago.
The next stop on our journey should be interesting, visiting Canton, OH, and just south of that the Temperance Tavern and Cy Young Museum. Again, I don’t have much info on this, so if anyone has visited there I’d appreciate your input. That’s just one stop on our way to Washington, PA to see the Wild Things in Frontier League action. Washington is an independent team, but it look like they have a nice stadium. The town was just awarded a pro softball franchise called the Revolution, too, so that’s something else to look into. The next morning, we travel north to see the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, the Erie Seawolves. This is another team I’ve wanted to see for some time, and look forward to checking out some of the Tigers’ prospects. Another double-header for us, we go a little farther east to check out our second New York-Penn League team in the Jamestown Jammers. And..our trip concludes with the newly dubbed Akron RubberDucks. This should be a fun adventure if the weather holds, and it should be better in June. If anyone has been to this region and can recommend any other points of interest or eating establishments, I’d love to hear about them.
Aeros to RubberDucks
League: Eastern League (Double-A)
Affiliate: Cleveland Indians
Home Field: Canal Park
Early this week, another bomb shell was dropped on Minor League Baseball, as the Akron Aeros officially changed their name to the RubberDucks. The name was changed to honor the birth of the rubber industry in Akron, mainly the tire and rubber companies like Goodyear, Firestone, Goodrich, and General Tire that originated there. It is a neat, original logo, and I do like the fact that it relates to the history of the town. The team was named the Akron Aeros from 1997-2013. The franchise originated in Lynn, Massachusetts before moving to Burlington, Vermont. The team finally ended up in Canton, OH, as the Canton-Akron Indians in 1989, an affiliate of Cleveland. The team moved up to Akron in 1997, and was re-named the Aeros after astronaut Judith Resnick, a native of the city who died in the Space Shutter Challenger tragedy. The team has won the Eastern League championship seven time in its history, dating from the beginning of the franchise (1984, ’85, ’86, 2003, ’05, ’09, ’12). The Aeros’ mascot is named Orbit, and he stated he’ll be sticking around, but I assume they’ll have another duck themed mascot with the new moniker. As of now, Akron is the last game we’re scheduled to see on next years baseball trip. They seem to have many interesting concession items (like the Nice2Meat you, a hamburger/hot-dog combo) that I’m sure we’ll enjoy. With all of the history in Akron and Canton, it should make for an enjoyable trip.
Notable Alumni: Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Sean Casey, Charles Nagy, C.C. Sabathia, Jim Thome, Grady Sizemore
Logos courtesy of the Akron Aeros/RubberDucks
Yesterday Minor League Baseball and Rawling Sporting Goods released the names of the nine players chosen to receive Gold Gloves for defensive excellence at their position. Three out of the nine happen to be Detroit Tigers prospects and former West Michigan Whitecaps. The 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were chosen from all the qualifying players from the ten domestic-based, full season Minor Leagues. Each player will receive his own Rawlings Gold Glove Award, modeled after the iconic award given to MLB’s top defensive players. Taking home the award at first base is Jordan Lennerton, who played with the Toledo Mud Hens in 2013. He posted an impressive .996 fielding percentage, with 1, 167 put outs, and five errors. Lennerton played two seasons in West Michigan, hitting .282 with 71 RBI’s, and a .996 fielding percentage in 2009. In 2010, he hit .290 with a .993 fielding percentage. Covering the hot-corner is Wade Gaynor. He had a .967 fielding percentage, with 95 put-outs, 227 assists, and 11 errors playing third base for the Erie Sea Wolves. We were lucky enough to meet Wade (pictured above) back in 2010 when he was with the Whitecaps. He hit .286 with 39 doubles, 80 RBI’s, and a .927 fielding percentage that year. Earning the honor in left field is Jason Krizan, who just played for the Whitecaps the last two seasons, where he hit .242 with 59 RBI’s, and a .980 fielding percentage combined. This season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he had a .995 fielding percentage, 175 put-outs, and only one error in the outfield. Congratulations to all three players. It was fun watching them in West Michigan, and I’ve been enjoying tracking their progress through the Tigers’ system.
“I know what an honor it is for a player to receive a Rawlings Gold Glove Award, having been involved in presenting them to the winners the last two years,” stated President and CEO of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Conner. “The players really appreciate and understand how prestigious the accolade is and I want to thank Rawlings Sporting Goods for their continued support of Minor League Baseball.”
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The Standings: The West Michigan Whitecaps are still treading water in the Midwest League Eastern Division, but are sinking a bit. They are currently 21-22 in the second half, and are six games out of first place. They hit a little speed bump with a five-game losing streak, but have bounced back and won two games in a row from the talented Lansing LugNuts, 7-1 and 6-3, who ran away with the first half title. Manager Ernie Young, though, will have to have some Aces up his sleeve, if the ‘Caps are going to capture a playoff spot this season…
Ferrell Honored: Whitecaps pitcher Jeff Ferrell has been named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for July 30-August 5. Ferrell had an extremely impressive showing against the Lake County Captains last week in the ‘Caps 6-0 shut-out win. He retired all of the 21 batters he faced before being taken out of the game after seven perfect innings of work. His outing included 11 ground-outs and six strikeouts in 79 pitches, and gave up only three hits. Ferrell, just 21 years old, underwent Tommy John surgery just 14 months ago. He started the 2011 campaign with the Whitecaps, before injury his elbow that led to the surgery. He missed the rest of last season and the start of this season, before joining West Michigan in May. So far, he has a 4-4 record with a 4.42 ERA, with 60 strikeouts, and holding the opposition to a .209 batting average. Ferrell is a native of Wilmington, North Carolina and a 26th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers.
Fifth-Third one of fifth best: The Whitecaps home, Fifth-Third Ballpark, was mentioned as one of five Minor League ballparks on the Fox News website recently. The story titled ‘Five Minor League Baseball Parks You Have To Visit’, stated that the stadium in Comstock Park, Michigan has the best food for baseball fans. The Fifth-Third Burger certainly still packs a mighty punch. The story can be found here: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/08/01/five-minor-league-baseball-parks-have-to-visit/?intcmp=features
MudHen Marathon: The Tigers Triple-A affiliate in the International League, the Toledo MudHens suffered a tough 10-9 loss Monday night to the Rochester Red Wings. One-run losses are always hard to swallow, especially when they are in extra innings….19 innings to be exact. The contest took over 6 1/2 hours to compete, and featured plenty of former Whitecaps. For the Red Wings, Clete Thomas went 2-8 with a walk and two runs scored. Wilkin Ramirez was 4-9 with a double, run scored, and an RBI. Pitcher Luke French threw for 3.1 innings, giving up two hits and five strikeouts. For the MudHens, Andy Oliver pitched 2.0 innings giving up one hit and striking out 3. Luis Marte gave up one hit, but was burned for two runs in just 0.1 innings. Luke Putkonen pitched five innings, giving up four hits, no runs, and striking out three. Jose Ortega threw for 2.0 innings giving up six hits and three runs.
Rond-on the move: Former Whitecaps pitcher Bruce Rondon has been promoted from the Double-A Erie Seawolves to Toledo. He fills a spot after on of the MudHens’ pitchers was injured in the 19-inning loss. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski stated that he believes that he’s ready for the Triple-A level, though. Rondon started the season at Lakeland, going 1-0, with a 1.93 ERA, with 15 saves, and 34 strikeouts. With Erie, he was 0-1 with a 0.83 ERA, with 12 saves on 23 strikeouts. He struggled with his control last season with West Michigan, issuing 7.6 walks per nine innings, but his walk-to-strikeout ratio this season is 3.8.
Fifth-Third Ballpark photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Ferrell photo courtesy of MLive.com
Thomas photo property of Minoring In Baseball
NYSEG Stadium-Binghamton, NY: Our second game here in Binghamton, but we still couldn’t make it to the game early. We were busy with museums and other things that up-state New York had to offer, but we were still in our seats by the first pitch. We had great seats for this one, front row on the third base side that gave us a different perspective of the game. The game itself was a real ‘barn-burner’, with the score 0-0 going into the ninth inning, but got exciting when the B-Mets won with a walk-off single. The high-light of the game for me was getting a game ball from Trenton center fielder Melky Mesa. He was running in from the outfield and launched one to me just past second base, and I simply made an amazing catch. It was a fun game for us, but still not much of a crowd, which surprised my again when the Mets and Yankees affiliates are playing. They had really good burgers off the grill here, though, which gave me something to go with my beer for the night. We stayed in town, but had a long trip back up to Rochester for a game the next day. Final: B-Mets 1, Thunder 0.
NYSEG Stadium-Binghamton, NY: Since it took us about half the time at the Hall of Fame than we expected, we decided to pick up an extra game in Binghamton. It rained all day in Cooperstown, and a little on our drive down, but turned into a beautiful night for baseball. Because heading down there was a last-minute decision, we didn’t get there real early and have as much time to poke around the park before game time. Someone was handing out vouchers outside of the stadium, too, for discounts, so we picked up our tickets for only $6.00 a piece, which is a great deal for baseball. NYSEG Stadium is a decent venue for Double-A (Eastern League), but we’ve been in better for Single-A. The crowd wasn’t as ‘baseball savvy’ as some of the other ones we’ve talked to on our trip, and they didn’t seem real into the game. Lots of people their drinking tons, which I have no problem with, but obvious they could care less about the game. You’d think they’re would be a better showing for the a matchup of the Mets and Yankees affiliates. Not real surprising to hear that this is the franchise rumored to be heading to Ottawa, Ontario in the future. I did like the fact here that there were plenty of vendors walking the stands, so you really could sit and not miss much of the game, and the concessions were reasonably priced. The mascots did a good job, too, of walking the stands and entertaining the kids. It was a chance for us to see more baseball, though, which is always a good thing. The Thunder really brought their bats this night and beat up the home team a bit. We’ll see if the Mets can bounce back the next night, as we’ll be back in Binghamton for the rematch. Final: Thunder 10, B-Mets 1.
Working for the government, we have to pick our vacation almost a year in advance, which can cause problems in making plans, and planning trips. It used to be we had to pick our vacation days by January or December, which wasn’t bad because most Minor League ball clubs had their schedules posted by that time. Now we have to have them submitted by October, and all I can really do is pick a couple of weeks in May, and hope for the best.
This year the Baseball Gods smiled on me a bit, as I was able to put together a nice little trip in my allotted time, featuring Minor League Baseball, NCAA Baseball, and even a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There is a lot of fun and excitement for me when the 2012 schedules come out, and I can start writing games down on the calendar and see how everything will fit into place. It’s not always easy, as I like to pack as much baseball into one week as possible, but it is so much fun, and really gives me something to look forward to over the long winter months. Starting the first of the year, I can start making reservations, ordering tickets, and doing some research on the best sports bars in the areas we’ll be at. Here’s a little rundown of our plans for next May, and if the world is ending in 2012…then at least I die seeing the HOF…
The first leg of our trip takes us to Syracuse, New York, to see the Chiefs host the Rochester Red Wings in International League action (Triple-A). Our first game is a Sunday matinée at 2:00 p.m., then after a long drive it’s early to bed, as the Chiefs host the Red Wings again on Monday afternoon, with a 12:00 start time. I absolutely love doubling back to be at the ballpark in the morning when the grass is still wet with dew, and it brings so much more ambiance to the experience. No time to rest on Monday, though, as we travel to Rochester after the Chiefs game to watch the Scranton/WB Yankees host the Durham Bulls (Int. League/Triple-A). Wait..what? Yes, due to the S/WB Yanks renovating their stadium, they will be playing some home games in Rochester while the Red Wings are on the road, so we pick up an extra game due to that…thanks Yanks! I’ve always wanted to see the Durham Bulls play, too, and will probably be part of their cheering section. Ok, take a second to catch your breath…
The next stop on our trip is in fabled Cooperstown, New York, home to the one and only National Baseball Hall of Fame. This will be my first time here, and probably not be able to grasp how amazing it will be until I’ve actually seen it myself. I’ve been to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, which is breathtaking in itself, but no sport has the history that baseball does. No sport has had an impact on our country’s history the way baseball has, and right now I can’t even comprehend all the things that I will be seeing while there. I’m setting aside a full day and a half to take it all in, and maybe check out Doubleday Field and see if anything is going on there. All I can say is that I’m sure I’ll have lots of pictures to share! After the second day in Cooperstown, we travel south to see the Binghamton Mets host the Trenton Thunder in Eastern League action (Double-A). I’ve heard nothing but good things about the ballpark in Binghamton, and really enjoyed all of our Eastern League games last year, so I’m looking forward to this one. Hold on, though, ’cause we’re not done yet…
The next leg on our trip takes us back west, as we stop in Rochester once again, this time seeing the real home team Red Wings host the Louisville Bats. We saw the Bats a few years ago while in Louisville, so it will be nice to see them in action again, also. After a good night rest in Rochester, we’ll keep heading west to Buffalo, New York, for a pair of games. Our first stop will be the University at Buffalo where the Bulls host the Bowling Green State Falcons of the Mid-American Conference (NCAA). This game starts at 1:00 p.m., and gives us a chance to enjoy the campus before heading downtown for the night game. Keeping with the International League, we’ll be watching the Buffalo Bisons host the Gwinnett Braves in our final game in the state of New York. I actually saw the Bisons play a couple of time back in the 90’s when I was out that way working security for the World University Games and that was my first taste of the Minor Leagues. After the Bisons game we head back to Michigan…but why stop there?
After getting back on our Great Lake State, you’d think we’d just want to get home and get some rest, right? Wrong! Plenty of time to rest later, and while we’re heading back, we go right by Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and lucky for us the Central Michigan Chippewas will be hosting their biggest rival, the Western Michigan Broncos at 2:00 p.m. in more MAC action (NCAA). After that game, we’ll hit a cross-roads. The Whitecaps will be playing that night, and we could jot down to Grand Rapids to see them play or call it a day, or trip, or whatever, and head home. In all honesty, we’ll be making that a game-time decision. If my dad’s feeling up to it, I’ll be more than happy to take in one last game. The only problem is, I usually need a vacation to rest up after all of this…but that’s what I call a good problem.
By the time this trip comes around, I’m hoping to join this century and be able to make Twitter updates from my phone or something, and if anyone is in the area for any of these games, let me know and I’ll be happy to have a ticket waiting for you at the gate. I’ll also be bringing back the ‘Logo of the Month’, featuing each of the home teams until the trip, so keep an eye out for those.