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!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
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.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
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!
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Just a quick entry before the kids and I head off downstate. The West Michigan Whitecaps have gotten off to a pretty good start this season. An early record of 3-2 isn’t amazing, but we’ll take it in this Michigan weather. After a great 7-6 comeback win against the Dayton Dragons on opening day, they followed that up with a nice 6-0 shutout. They faltered the next couple of games, losing to Dayton by the scores of 8-3 and 4-1, however. The ‘Caps bounced back in a big way, taking the first game of the series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps 11-4. Jake Stewart is currently leading West Michigan with a .462 average, followed by fellow outfielder Michael Hernandez at .429, and second baseman Devon Travis hitting .381. Travis is also one of the RBI leaders for West Michigan at five, tied with outfielder Jeff Holm, and trailed by Lance Durham with three. It’s a little early to judge the pitching stats, but Endrys Bicendo and Brennan Smith lead the team with four strike-outs each. Today’s game with Fort Wayne has been rained out, and the weather doesn’t look good for the rest of the week. High percentage of rain is anticipated for both games in Great Lakes and Lansing we planned on going to.
After looking at the Loon’s opening day roster, it looks as if they have a pretty talent laden team. Manager Razor Shines, who has one of the coolest names in baseball, should have a successful season leading his charges at Dow Diamond. The team seems to have a pretty good mix of young talent and they return eight players from the 2012 roster. Possibly the player Loons fans may be most eager to see play, is infielder Corey Seager. The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ top pick of the 2012 draft, 18th overall, Seager will play his first pro season for Great Lakes. He’s ranked by Baseball America as the Dodgers’ 3rd best prospect, is the first position player since James Loney (2002) to be a first pick for L.A. With this assignment, Seager becomes the highest drafted position player to ever play for the Loons. He joins five other prospects currently ranked by Baseball America on the Great Lakes roster. Pitching prospects include Scott Griggs (ranked 18th), Zach Bird (19), Angel Sanchez (25), outfielders James Baldwin III (22) and Jeremy Rathjen (29). Baldwin and Griggs are two of the returning players, as well as pitcher Ralston Cash, Daniel Carela, Arismendy Ozoria, and Miguel Sulbaran, catcher Tyler Ogle, and outfielder Davin Shines, son of manager Razor. Sanchez also played for the Loons back in 2011. Also joining Shines in the dugout, are pitching coach Bill Simas and hitting coach Mike Eylward. The Loons open their season at home on April 4th, hosting the Fort Wayne TinCaps. I expect to see some great games between the Loons and Whitecaps this season, as both organizations have their games on the MiLB.tv network. Less than a week away from the season’s start, it already looks like it could be a very entertaining one, if mother nature ever decides to stop punishing us. With another blanket of snow dumped on us, and blistering cold wind, it seems more like December 1st than April 1st…I guess the joke’s on us here in Michigan.
Photos courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons
Recently Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, has been honored by Stadium Journey magazine as the best overall Minor League experience. This is the second year in a row that Parkview and Fort Wayne has received this award. In Stadium Journey’s ‘Top 101 sports venues of 2012’, Parkview ranked #14 overall.
“The thing about Parkview Field, is that it combines all of the elements that we recognize as making a stadium experience great”, stated Stadium Journey’s president and co-founder Paul Swaney. “The food and beverage is better than you’ll find most places and (the concessions options are) related to the overall theme. When I go to Parkview Field apple turnovers are something I seek out. Having a downtown location is an important factor as well. The variety of seating selections is important, too. Fans can go back again and again and have different experiences each time depending on where they want to sit.”
Stadium Journey ranked the venues on many different factors, including the neighborhood, food and drink options, fan experience and atmosphere. The access to the outside and inside of the stadium is also taken into consideration.
“This award is a testament to our great community and fans who continue to make Parkview Field an enjoyable place to be,” TinCaps president Mike Nutter stated to Stadium Journey. “We’re honored to be ranked among the best venues in all of professional sports.”
We were lucky enough to visit Parkview Field in its first year during our 2009 baseball trip. We had a great time at the game, and the ballpark does live up to the hype. Our seats were directly next to the Fort Wayne dugout, to the point that we could literally look right into it and interact with players. It didn’t take much for Trevor to snag a game ball that night. It had been raining all day, and we were pretty lucky to even get the game in.
Moving on up: I’ve been so busy catching up on my posts from my baseball trip, I’ve almost forgotten my boys in blue (except for the previous post..) The West Michigan Whitecaps have been playing some very good baseball lately, as they’ve won eight of their last ten game. Their record now stands at 30-31, and in fourth place in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division. They’re only three games out of second place, and securing a playoff berth. The team went on a five-game winning streak that included a sweep of the Great Lakes Loons in Midland. The Loons did earn a small victory, however, as their mascot Lou E. Loon beat out our very own Crash the River Rascal in MiLB.com’s Mascot Mania. Crash made it through the first two rounds, but was somehow ousted by Lou E. We’ll be in Midland watching the ‘Caps next month, and we’ll let them know we think Crash is the best!
Weekly MWL Award Winners: Two Whitecaps were won the weekly Midwest League Awards on June 6. Infielder Eugenio Suarez won the Player of the Week, while Tommy Collier was named Pitcher of the Week. Suarez hit safely in all seven games last week and had multiple hits in six of those, including two four-hit outings. He went 18-28, batting .643, hitting four doubles, eleven runs scored, five stolen bases, with a .857 slugging percentage. Suarez is now hitting .318 for the season with two homers and 30 RBI. On the mound, Collier pitched a nine inning shutout and complete game against the Lake County Captians. That led to a ‘Caps 1-0 win, on the back of his seven strikeouts. He only allowed four hits and issued one walk. Collier is now 3-4 on the season with a 2.60 ERA and leads West Michigan in quality starts with seven.
Whitecaps All-Stars: Fiver players from this season Whitecaps roster were named to the 2012 Midwest League All-Star Game. Outfielder Steven Moya and DH Dean Green will be starting for the Eastern Division, while infielder Eugenio Suarez was selected as a reserve player, and pitchers Tommy Collier and Michael Torrealba will be making the trip to Kane County. Moya is hitting .299 with five home runs and 28 RBI. He started the season red-hot, hitting .377 before being placed on the DL. Green is batting .304 with nine homers and 34 RBI. His nine home runs leads the Whitecaps this season.
Pics: The pictures shown are from the ‘Caps recent home stand with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press and MLive.com. Last nights’ game also featured the return of Tiger Fridays, and former catcher and 1984 World Champion Lance Parrish was on hand to sign autographs.
Ok, I’ve been slacking a bit on my Whitecaps coverage, but at least I’ve been to more games this season that the last few years, so that more fun that’s just reading the stats. The Whitecaps are off to a solid second half, so here’s hoping they can stay hot and continue their playoff streak. Inserted are photos from the ‘Caps recent series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps from the Grand Rapids Press. Happy 4th of July everyone….
First Half: The Whitecaps really struggled early this season, with such a young roster, but were able to battle back a bit. They ended the first half 32-37, which was good for 6th in the eight team division. What’s impressive, is that they went through a rough 12 game losing streak early in the season, so being able to recover from that is a positive sign.
Second Half: West Michigan is off to a solid start in the second half of the season, going 7-4, which is good enough for second place in the East one game behind the Dayton Dragons. Outfielder Jeff Rowland is off to a great start in this second stint. He’s batting .400 with four doubles, six walks, and a .600 OBP. The pitching staff is also getting the job done for the Whitecaps. Their starters have had seven quality starts in the first 10 games and are 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. The team has gone 17-8 since June 3 and are almost at .500 for the entire season.
Team Leaders: Rookie sensation Nick Castellanos is emerging as a team leader, despite having a slow start to his first full pro season. He’s leading the ‘Caps in batting average with .306, RBI’s with 48, and SLG% with .441. James Robbins is leading the team in home runs with 10, and Luis Castillo is tops with a .369 OBP. On the mound, Kevin Eichhorn leads the team in three categories of his own: wins with 6, SO with 68, and a 1.17 WHIP. Antonio Cruz has the best ERA with 3.29, and Bruce Rondon is tops with 15 saves.
All Stars: Representing the Whitecaps in this year Midwest League All-Star game were Bruce Rondon, Rob Brantly, and Hernan Perez. Rondon pitched a scoreless 0.2 of an inning with one strikeout. Brantly went 0-3, while Perez went 0-2 in the East’s 8-3 loss to the West. In this season’s MLB All-Star game, catcher Alex Avila of the Tigers has been voted in as the starter. He’ll be joined on the American League roster by Matt Joyce (TB) and may face the National League’s Jair Jurrjens (ATL) on the mound.Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Fort Wayne TinCaps: Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI
It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a Whitecaps game as part of our baseball trip, and it was good to be home back in Michigan. On the plane waiting to fly home, the pilot announced the weather in Grand Rapids as 77 degrees and sunny. When we arrived and hour and a half later, it was 69 and raining. I swear these storms have been following me around all week like some really bad Jaws movie (see: Jaws- The Revenge). You could also tell we were back in Michigan as I ran into an old friend from Battle Creek, as the Kelloggs employees were occupying the party deck in right field (Fact: I played Little League Baseball for Kelloggs when I was younger). After only a thirty minute rain delay, we finally got things started. It was Military Appreciation Night, so the ‘Caps were wearing special camouflage jerseys, we saw a WWII Vet throw out the first pitch, and had a fly over by some older military planes. It actually turned out to be a really nice night for baseball, and we were able to shed our corny yellow ponchos and enjoy the game. Despite the weather, 7, 313 fans were in attendance, but we were still able to get our free Whitecaps camo hats at the gate. The game was exciting, but error filled, as the young West Michigan team lost to Fort Wayne. It was a long trip, and we were happy to be home with all of our baseball memories. I’m already hard at work on the early stages of planning for next year, and we’ll be down to see the Whitecaps a couple of more times this season. Final Score: Whitecaps 7, TinCaps 9.
Anyone thinking that being a grounds keeper at a professional ball park is an easy task, think again. After a freak snow storm dumped over three inches on Fifth Third Ball Park on Monday, first year head groundskeeper Adam Ferrell and his crew took action. Actually, more than 20 staff members, including front office personnel, the grounds keepers, and salesman all chipped in to remove the snow. It was a three hour process, with snow ball fights, snowmen, and Christmas music keeping the mood light. Even a Christmas tree was placed on the Whitecaps dugout.
Ferrell told the Grand Rapids Press: “I was a little nervous when I first woke up and it was coming down good, but we got some manpower behind it and everybody chipped in. We removed the snow off the tarp, flipped it over, and let Mother Nature do her thing. It melted by 3 p.m.”
With eleven forign-born players on the West Michigan roster, some were seeing this type of weather for the first time. Outfielder Luis Castillo from Panama and Clemente Mendoza from Venezuela are two of them.
“I was like, oh my God,” Castillo told the Press. “This was the first that I’ve seen this and couldn’t believe it.”
Mendoza chimed in, “It’s really depressing, and nobody from the Latin countries have seen this before. I didn’t think we would be playing baseball, I thought they would cancel the game because of the snow on the field.”
Ferrell, an intern with the Whitecaps in 2008, though, was up to the task. He worked under Heather Nobozny and the Detroit Tigers in 2009, and was head groundskeeper for the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League last season. He was named the NWL Sports Turf Manager of the Year for 2010.
The ‘Caps were able to play Monday’s game, but were rained out Tuesday night. They were able to beat the Fort Wayne TicCaps by the score of 7-3, much due to the return of designated hitter Billy Nowlin. Nowlin drove in four runs including a two-run homer to lead the way for West Michigan. After being hit in the head and sustaining a concussion in spring training, he was just activated from the DL on April 14. In his four game so far this season, he’s hitting .400 with two home runs and six RBI’s. Nowlin was a Midwest League All-Star in 2009, and split last season between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
“I’m just going to keep going out and playing hard, playing with my team here and see what happens,” Nowlin told the Press. “It’s always nice coming back to a place where you already know the ins and outs and stuff like that. Being familiar with a place is always a good thing.”
Manager Ernie Young seems happy to have Nowlin on the roster as well, “He swung the bat very well tonight. Billy being here is definately a good thing because it solidifies the middle of the order.”
Catcher Rob Brantly also drove in two runs in the game, and Hernan Perez scored three runs. On this hill, Jeff Ferrell picked up his first win of the season.
Photos courtosy of the Grand Rapids Press