Burlington Athletic Stadium–Burlington, NC: On our way east from Greensboro, we decided to stop by the home of the Burlington Royals to check out the ballpark and see if they had a gift shop open. The Royals are in the Rookie Appalachian League, so they don’t start play until later on in June. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any memorabilia for sale at this time, but the ballpark was wide open for us to poke around a bit. We were also lucky enough to run into the Royals GM, Ben Abzug, who last season was named the Appalachian League Executive of the Year. Ben was a very gracious host, giving us a history of the team and the ballpark. I found it very interesting that the ballpark was originally built in Virginia, but purchased and brought to Burlington piece by piece when they were awarded a team. He also explained to us the differences between the rookie league and other Minor League clubs. It was a very interesting and informative morning! Too bad we couldn’t see a game here, but at least I made it into the park to get some nice pics. Next stop…Durham!
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
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!
Duane Below makes MLB debut with the Tigers
Everyone loves a ‘local boy makes good’ story, so this should make some readers ecstatic. Britton, Michigan native Duane Below made his Major League debut Wednesday night against the Oakland A’s at Comerica Park, about an hour away from his home town. The Tigers lost 7-5, but Below pitched well in his first game and gave his team a chance to win. He threw five innings, giving up three runs on five hits, but only one run was earned. He also had two strike outs in the game. Below seemed pleased with his performance, though.
“It’s nice, it’s exciting,” Below told MLB.com. “[I was] just trying to continue to feel it out and feel what I have to do to get better. I’m still kind of nervous a little bit, I’m still excited, not sure how to take it, because it’s still settling in. It’s a dream. Hopefully I can continue to stay here and help the team win.”
I love it when players sound like little kids when their dreams come true. We were lucky enough to see Below pitch when he was with the Whitecaps back in 2007. The game was a sell-out at the time, with a local boy on the mound, and the ‘Caps picking up an 8-4 win over visiting Fort Wayne. Below also pitched five innings in that game and gave up one run. He posted a 2.97 ERA with West Michigan in 2007, and had a record of 13-5. He was named the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year and the Whitecaps Pitcher of the Year after leading the Midwest League in strikeouts with 160 in 2007. I was able to scrounge up a couple of pics from that game before my MLBlog days, but nothing real good of Below.
Cruz traded to Kansas City Royals
Now-former Whitecaps pitcher Antonio Cruz was traded to the Kansas City Royals yesterday, in a deal that brought infielder Wilson Betemit to the Tigers. Lucky for Cruz, the Whitecaps were hosting KC affiliate Kane County Cougars, so he just walked across the field to his new dugout and team. He first joined the ‘Caps as an 18-yr-old in 2010, going 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA during ten late season relief appearances. This season, the left-handed hurler was 2-6 with a 3.11 ERA. At the beginning of the season he was a starter, but was moved to the bullpen to limit his innings pitched.
With the acquisition of Betemit, former Whitecap and Tigers staple third baseman Brandon Inge has been designated for assignment and has reported to the Triple A Toledo MudHens. He needs to clear waivers next Monday, but Inge can’t really picture himself playing anywhere but Detroit.
“I could’ve made the decision not to accept the assignment, and maybe get picked up by another team,” Inge stated. “But i live here, my kids go to school around here, I’ve made this home. I still feel, no matter what happens–and no matter what will ever happen–that this is home for me. I’ve spent so many years here, and still plan on spending a lot more here. Everyone goes through rough patches in their career. This is definitely on of them. But I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I opted not to push them into making a decision where they could release me.”
Inge is a fan favorite, and one of my favorites, but this had to be done. I wish him the best, and hope he can turn things around.
Below photo courtesy of Joel Dinda/mwlguide
Whitecaps game photo property of M.I.B.
Cruz photo courtesy of Emily Jones/MiLB
MLB Affiliate: Kansas City Royals
Home Field: Werner Park
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
League: Pacific Coast League
Fun Facts: The former Omaha Royals decided to change their name while moving into the new state of the art Werner Park in 2011. The team held a contest, and the Storm Chasers were the winners. When I first saw the name and logo…I was like..you gotta be kidding me. As I thought about it, though, this is what the Minors is all about. It’s a fun original name that is significant to the region and city it’s from. Good luck to the Storm Chasers this next season…may your t-shirt sales go through the roof.
Burlington Bees vs. Kane County Cougars: Our trip concluded in Burlington, Iowa, with the Bees. Community Field is the smallest Class A stadium in the country, but it is very intimate and well maintained. They get pretty solid attendance here for such a small community. The team and field are both locally owned, so no plans on this team going anywhere. We had good seats next to the thrid base dugout, but there was the protective netting in front of all of the primary seats. Still very close to the action and players, though. No problem chatting with the guys taking their cuts in the on deck circle. My colon and liver were both glad this was the last beer and cheesey brat of the trip. Luck here, too, to have a foul ball hit right to me on my way to the rest room. The Baseball Gods were good to us on this trip again. Final: Cougars 6, Bees 1. Best: Season tickets for box seat are only $270. Wow, that’s cheap, folks. Worst: No mascot present. The attitude seemed to be that it was a night game during the week, so why go all out. I wanted to see a giant bee, dammit.
Photos property of MIB