Although no players were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this season, the West Michigan Whitecaps will be. Holland, Michigan native, and former ‘Caps and Tigers pitcher Andy Van Hekken will be inducted during the Whitecaps Winter Banquet ceremonies on January, 23. Van Hekken pitched in West Michigan during the 2000 season, winning 16 games that is still tied for a team record. He still ranks in the top ten in team records for winning percentage at .727 (8th), ERA with 2.45 (8th), and the strikeouts to walk ratio at 3.41 (10th). Van Hekken made his major league debut for the Tigers in 2002, pitching a complete game shutout victory against the Cleveland Indians. He went 1-3 that season in five appearances, with a 3.00 ERA. He then spent the next two seasons in the Tigers farm system, as well as the systems for the Reds, Braves, Astros, and Royals in the following seasons. His latest stop is in Korea last season, playing for the Nexan Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization. Van Hekken will report back to the Heroes after the Banquet.
The Whitecaps Winter Banquet not only features the HOF induction, but dinner, a live auction, and guest speakers. This year, the guests will include Tigers President/CEO/General Manager Dave Dombrowski, outfielders Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks, and pitcher Drew Smyly. The proceeds from the banquet and auctions go to the Whitecaps Community Foundation, which in turn donates the funds to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program and the Detroit Tigers Foundation. The YMCA program, that is funded by the Whitecaps and Fifth Third Bank, provides about 1,900 children the chance to participate in a structured activity that provides guidance in their lives, per year. I would love to make it to this event at some point, but at $80 a ticket, it’s just to rich for my blood when you have three kids to bring along. This is a great event, though, for a great cause.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
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.
Bob Feller Hometown Museum: The second day of our pilgrimage took us west via the exciting I-80 highway, past the World’s Largest Truckstop, and into the small town of Van Meter, Iowa. Van Meter is just west of Des Moines, and home to Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller. A nice little museum was constructed in his honor there, and since we were going to Des Moines anyway, it seemed like a good stop on our trip. The museum wasn’t very big, but it was packed full of memorabelia from his early baseball days, to his MLB career and no-hitters, to his days in the Navy during World War II. Yes, Feller was one of the brave men who gave up his baseball career for a couple of years to server his country. Thank you for that, too, Bob. It was hard to get some really good pic because the building wasn’t big enough for me to back up and get some wide angled shots. We were also just shy of meeting Dwight Gooden, who was there the day before signing autographs. Some of the cooler stuff they had was the bat that Babe Ruth used to lean on during his retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium, which belonged to Feller, and a couple seats from the old Cleveland stadium. It was a fun time and definately worth the trip.
Photos property of MIB