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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East Division vs. West Division
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: We started off this seasons’ baseball trip with a bang this year, right here in Michigan with the 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic. The doors opened at 4:00, so when we arrived we were able to watch some of the West players during batting practice. We were really lucky it turned out to be such a beautiful day, too, as the forecast called for some rain, and thankfully we never got a drop.
There were plenty of things going on to keep fans entertained during the three hours until the first pitch, also. Joining the hometown mascots Crash, Franky, and Roxy, were Big Lug (Lansing), Johnny (Fort Wayne), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), and Fang (Wisconsin). The mascots did a great job all night and throughout the game. Crash and Lou E. Loon really stood out from the others, though, in entertaining the crowd.
Fans were also lucky enough to get down on the field and get some autographs from the all-stars. They didn’t give us a whole lot of time, but I was able to get most of the East team to sign a baseball for the kids. It was fun talking to the players, also, even the ones from opposing teams we don’t get to see that often. All the players were great with the fans, and seemed very happy to be participating in the game.
Another pre-game activity was the ‘Lost Art of Bunting’ contest. Players from each team had a chance to try bunting the ball onto select targets down the first and third base side. This year’s winner was Mallex Smith, and outfielder for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Also on hand to sign some autographs was Detroit Tigers’ legend Willie Horton. Being a World Champion for the Tigers in 1968, he was someone my parents watched back in the 60’s and 70’s. We made sure he signed a ball for both of them, and I tried to get Horton in a photo with my dad, but there was some bad lighting. Still better than nothing, though. There was a long line for autographs, but it moved pretty quickly. Almost comical, though, as you couldn’t have him personalize an autograph or get an actual picture with him.
Now, on to the game itself…which was a blowout. You’d think an all-star game would be pretty competitive, but the West shut down the hitters from the East almost the entire game. In fact, the East was no-hit for 7 2/3 innings, before South Bend’s Marty Herum wrecked it. The Whitecaps’ starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford took the loss for the East, giving up one run in two innings of work. The ‘Caps Buck Farmer came in and pitched a scoreless fifth inning. He struck out one, walked one, and hit one batter. He leads the Midwest League with 87 strikeouts. Wynton Bernard played left field the entire game, going 0-3 with a walk, and leaving two runners on. Second baseman Javier Betancourt came into the game in the fifth inning. Although he was tied for the league lead in hits, he went 0-2 with a line-drive out and a ground-out. West Michigan pitchers Austin Kubitza, Chad Green, and reliever Joe Mantiply did not make an appearance.
The MVP award went to Hershel ‘Boog’ Powell of the Beloit Snappers. Boog went 1-3 with two walks, two stolen bases, and a two-run double. Even though the games wasn’t a close one, it was still an exciting experience for any baseball fan. And, hey, at least I caught a game ball! Final score: East 0, West 7.
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Kicking off our annual baseball trip this season will be the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game in Comstock Park, MI in less than two weeks. This will be the first All-Star game of any kind that we have attended, and it will possibly be the highlight game of the trip. The gates to Fifth Third Ballpark will be opening at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll be able to see both teams take batting practice and be able to take part in an on-field autograph session. Also in attendance, joining the Whitecap’s own Crash the River Rascal, will be Big Lug (Lansing), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), Fang (Wisconsin), and Johnny (Fort Wayne). There will also being jugglers, stilt walkers, and face painters on the concourse before the game. Sounds like a great place to be a kid, and it’s almost guaranteed we’ll be seeing some great baseball. The Midwest League has announced the rosters for the event, also.
The West Michigan Whitecaps lead the way with five (or six?) players selected. Infielder Javier Betancourt (.272, 68 hits) and outfielder Wynton Bernard (.298, 14 doubles) were picked as the position players representing the ‘Caps. On the mound, pitchers Buck Farmer (5-4, 2.81 ERA), Austin Kubitza (5-0, 2.02 ERA), and Joe Mantiply (4-1, 2.00) will represent West Michigan. Jonathan Crawford (2-1, 2.27 ERA) is listed on the ‘Cap website, but has yet to be added to the official roster. That’s a very good group for the home-town fans to root for.
The Lansing Lugnuts will be sending four players north on I-96. Starting for the Eastern Division will be first baseman Matt Dean (.297, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and third baseman Mitch Nay (.267, 31 RBI’s). Outfielder Derrick Loveless (.287) will come off the bench, as will pitcher Griffin Murphy (2-2, 1.73). Not a bad group to represent the Lugnuts this year.
Three members of the Great Lakes Loons will also be all-star bound. Starting for the Eastern Division will catcher Kyle Farmer (.308, 15 2B, 33 RBI’s) and outfielder Joey Curletta (.314, 72 hits, 95 total bases). On the hill will Mark Pope, with a 1-0 record and miniscule 0.41 ERA. What the Loons lack in quantity, that definitely make up for in quality. All three players are having great seasons in the Midwest League this year!
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West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, this was our first ballgame of the season, and the Michigan weather treated us about as well as can be expected. I want to make a statement, too, that I loathe the Weather Channel. They are complete liars, and I will never trust them again. Never. Despite what mother nature through at us, though, we had a fun time together at the Whitecaps game, and I still was happy just to be watching live baseball. The kids had a fun time, and the game was part of their Papa’s birthday present. I was still impressed at how good Fifth Third Ballpark looked after the fire in January, too. They did a good job of rebuilding it and getting it ready for the season. We settled in and grabbed some hot dogs and pop for the kids, and a beer for my dad and I. The boys and I went down to the field level to watch pitching coach Mike Henneman work with some of the staff, and see some of the warm-ups. The game was off to a good pace with lots of action early on. I really like how Andrew Graham is working this team; lots of movement on the base paths, bunting, and smart baseball. Lily took Brian to the park for a short time, and he was able to meet the new mascot, Roxy, a female River Rascal. The rain hit us about the third inning, but we toughed it out until the tarp came out after the top of the fifth.
The game was a good one for the Whitecaps, as they produced four runs before the delay, and four after for the win. The ‘Caps racked up a season high 15 hits to go along with the season high of eight runs. Raph Rhymes led the way offensively, going 3-5 with two RBI. He was helped out by both Brett Harrison and Wynton Bernard who were each 3-4. Javier Betencourt was 2-4 with and RBI, and Ben Verlander was 2-5 to pitch in, also. On the mound, Buck Farmer earned the win, only giving up one run, striking out six, and issuing one walk. He pitched himself out of trouble at times, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, and eight Snappers runners on base. Montreal Robertson and Will LaMarche kept Beloit in check the rest of the game. A good outing, and good work by this team all around. It will be interesting to see which players make the All-Star squad here in June, as there are a handful of candidates so far in the early going. We had planned on maybe hitting a Great Lakes Loons game, also, while down state, but the Weather Channel stated it would be raining all day (they ended up playing a double-header on a beautiful day…). We’ll see the Whitecaps again early next month down in Lansing as they take on the Lugnuts. Final Score: Whitecaps 8, Snappers 1.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
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.”
Not only are the West Michigan Whitecaps re-building their ballpark after January’s fire, they are also adding some renovations to it while they’re at it. Fifth Third Ballpark will be moving it’s gift shop and naming it ‘CapSized’, with a play on words there to an overturned ship, and a popular item in the sized caps. It will now be located between the entrances behind home plate, will be three times the size of the old one, and will have improved accessibility with two entrances and exits. CapSized will also have a ticket window inside where future game tickets can be purchased. It will also contain an eight-foot boat to display the novelty items for sale.
On the first base side where the fire took place, the main concession stands have been rebuilt with an additional 1,700 square feet for patrons. The new roof is now fully enclosed, and the restrooms are ready to go. The new Whitecaps’ clubhouse won’t be ready by opening day, but should be by May 1. Improvements there include an improved laundry facility, a larger upgraded weight room, better coaches’ offices, and more storage space. The suites and the secondary concession stands also won’t be ready by opening day, but when completed will feature a ‘super’ suite on the first base side.
“The unfortunate occasion of the fire has placed us in a position where we can make these improvements now while the stadium is already under construction at a substantially lower cost then if we were to undertake them from scratch at some future date”, Whitecaps owner Lew Chamberlain told MiLB.com. “There are a number of economies of scale, not the least of which is avoidance of demolition costs, that we can take advantage of now that wouldn’t be available later. The last few months have been a real challenge, but thanks to the hard work of our staff as well as the admirable efforts of the folks at Progressive AE, Wolverine Building, and all of their subcontractors, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and we look forward to showing off the new and improved facility to West Michigan on April 8.”
Now that the new gift shop is located where the old administrative offices once where, and future plan is in effect to build the new offices on the right field side, between the playground and the first base grill. Construction of that facility will start next fall, and will feature a rooftop deck with a great view of the ballpark and the Grand River. A new craft brew bar area is set to take over the space where the old gift shop was. Also, due to the construction and the weather, the Whitecaps’ staff has cancelled the annual public workout session that was originally scheduled for April 2. The organization wants the repairs and upgrades to continue, and ensure the ballpark is ready for opening day.
“Unfortunately, with the ongoing construction, and for the safety of everyone, we’re not going to be able to have it this year,” Whitecaps VP Jim Jarecki stated to MLive.com.
The Whitecaps open the season on the road in Dayton, an opening day for them is April 8. We hope the weather is warm enough with no rain, so we can enjoy the game on April 12. The new roster should be available soon, also, so stay tuned for those updates. We’re due for another snow storm up here, though, so I’m praying this clears up soon. I really need to be at a ballgame with a cold beer, and the warm sun!
While down on Lansing, the Lugnut staff is going over the future plans for their ballpark, in West Michigan they’re just focusing on getting Fifth Third Ballpark ready for Opening Day. When that day comes on April 8, the Whitecaps will use the third-base dugout and locker room while they wait for theirs on the first-base side to be completed. The visiting teams will be using a temporary trailer just outside the center field gate, as will the umpires. The new locker room and clubhouse facilities are expected to be completed by May 1, in time for the ‘Caps home stand on the 5th. The temporary visitor clubhouse will only affect two home series, and four opponents in Wisconsin, Beloit, Bowling Green, and Fort Wayne.
“I know it’s going to be a bit of a change,” stated Whitecaps Vice President Jim Jarecki to MLive.com. “But cooperation from them (the opposing teams) has been very good. These guys may be prepping a bit and going back and showering at their hotel, but, for the interim, that’s the best setup we can do. Hopefully, it’s for a short period of time and we’ll put it behind us.”
The Whitecaps still expect to have the first-base side enclosed with concessions stand and restrooms ready to go. The re-building of the suites will be ongoing, but the smoke damaged ones on the third-base side will be ready to use. The effort by all involved has to be the weather we’ve been hampered with here in Michigan. This is one of the coldest winters in recent memory, and only two cities in the country (Buffalo and Erie) received more snowfall this year. The organization is still push to be ready by the home opener, and grounds crews will be removing over a foot of snow off the field in the coming week.
“We’re usually starting work on the field at this time,” Jaracki stated. “But you just can’t take off all the snow and go. You (remove it from) the warning tracks, then the infield skin. The grass will take care of itself, but the biggest focus will be on the infield skin and the mound and the home plate area. That has to get dried out.”
There’s no doubt that the ballpark will be ready by opening day, in my opinion. I know this organization will be striving to meet all of their goals. We plan on being in the stands on April 12, and for the Midwest League All-Star Game in June.
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Yes, I know there is still about ten feet of snow on the ground, but that fact couldn’t keep us from visiting Fifth Third Ballpark over the weekend. The West Michigan Whitecaps held a special Open House for their fans. There were many fun things going on, and the kids and I really had a good time despite the cold. In Michigan, the weather can always be worse, so at least the sun was out for us. Outside, Brian really enjoyed the carnival rides, Trevor showed off his throwing arm, and Lily taught her little brother how to make s’mores! Inside the Pepsi Stadium Club, we enjoyed some free hot dogs, and I was able to purchase some tickets for opening day and another weekend in April. We also got to interact with the Whitecaps’ mascots, Crash and Franky. Crash is all excited, because they will be joined by a female River Rascal on opening day. I was able to get some pictures of the progress of the ballpark reconstruction, also. I really couldn’t believe how many fans showed up, and even the staff on had been a little blown away by the attendance. We all had a great time, and again, it was just nice to get out to the ballpark, no matter what time of year it is.
The progress in rebuilding the decimated portion of Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan, seems to be coming along nicely. Before the Whitecaps Winter Banquet last week, members of the Detroit Tigers organization took time to look at the fire damage and how much work has been done so far.
“I was amazed when I first showed up,” said Dan Lunetta, director of minor league operations for the Tigers. “I was expecting to see all the damage I had seen before online. I was amazed at the progress.”
“The first thing that one thinks about is that nobody got hurt,” Lunetta told MLive.com. “There could have been serious injuries or fatalities … Then you begin to think about the extent of the damage, and things that were lost that are irreplaceable, and your heart breaks when you hear that. It’s obvious that this place means an awful lot to an awful lot of people in this community, and there are memories that will be just that because the ballpark will undergo some change. But under Lew’s (Chamberlin) leadership, there’s no doubt they will get through this period and get the job done right.”
The Whitecaps still plan on having Fifth Third Ballpark ready for opening day. The weather here in Michigan has been brutal, so I really don’t envy the company doing the construction. We’ve been battling nasty blizzards, and sub-zero temperatures he last two weeks. Spring cannot come soon enough for us up here, where dreams of baseball seem so far away.