The West Michigan Whitecaps seem to be faring well at the current Baseball Winter Meetings. They were first presented with the 2014 Bob Freitas Award, that is given to the organization with the best overall operations. The award honors teams that demonstrate a sustained excellence in the business of Minor League Baseball based on the last five years. The Whitecaps also earned this honor back in 1998, making them the second Class A team in history to win this award twice. The San Jose Giants also won it in 1990 and 2009. The Whitecaps CEO and Managing Partner Lew Chamberlin seemed very humbled that his team had been selected.
“The Freitas Award is one of the most prestigious awards that a Minor League franchise can receive and we couldn’t be more honored to be this year’s designee,” Chamberlin stated to MiLB.com. “The success that the award recognizes is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of our staff, the support of and incredibly engaged fan base and community, a terrific Major League partner, and a little but of luck. It’s been an incredible year for us in so many different ways and we’re very appreciative of this award.”
The ‘Caps also earned a Minor League Baseball Presidential Citation, which is a special award presented by MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Connor, and recognizes exemplary service on behalf of Minor League Baseball. Due to the fire last January at Fifth Third Ballpark, the team was given the award due to their effort through the community to rebuild and be ready by opening day. West Michigan also hosted the Midwest League All-Star Classic last season, and it drew the highest attendance in the last 12 years.
“We’re appreciative of this recognition,” Chamberlin also stated to MiLB.com. “Our Minor League peers have all been very supportive during the days immediately following the fire and throughout the rebuilding process and we’re pleased that that support has culminated in this citation from MiLB.”
This was a great season for Whitecaps baseball, that started with their open house back in February. The team made the playoffs, and I wish they would have made it a little farther, but we all had a great time at Fifth Third Ballpark this season. I’m hoping 2015 is just as fun, but if I get my transfer I will definitely miss being at the ballpark in West Michigan.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
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.”
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.
20th Winter Baseball Banquet: The Whitecaps have announced that their annual winter banquet will be held on January 23 at the DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Attending this years ceremony will be the Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, winner of this seasons Cy Young award. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski will also be in attendance, as well as 20 other ball players, including newly acquired Joba Chamberlain and Steve Lambardozzi. Whitecaps’ co-owners Lew Chamblerlin and Denny Baxter will also be on hand to discuss the recent fire at Fifth Third Ballpark, and the renovation plans. Dombrowski and the players will be speaking and taking questions at the event, also. The proceeds from the banquet go to the Whitecaps Community Foundation, that donates the funds to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program, and the Detroit Tigers Foundation (affiliate with Ilitch Charities). Very positive things to look forward to this month, and throughout the constructions process.
Connolly HOF Induction: Pitcher Jon Connolly will be inducted into the Whitecaps Hall of Fame at the winter banquet, also. He played in West Michigan in 2003, earning a 16-3 record in 25 starts. Connolly’s ERA of 1.41 is the lowest for a starter in the history of the Whitecaps. He was drafted in the 28th round of the 2001 Draft, out of Oneonta (NY) High School. Connolly was probably familiar with the organization, as Detroit’s short-season single-A team was the Oneonta Tigers at the time, and where he played in 2001-02. He bounced around all levels of the minor with both the Tigers and Cubs organizations until 2008, when he ended his career with the Newark Bears of the Independent Atlantic League.
Spring Training Invites: The Detroit Tigers have invited 16 minor league players to their major league camp, come February. The list includes some former Whitecaps, like Duane Below, Devon Travis, and James McCann. Below is back with the organization after spending the last season with Miami and the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. Below was 12-3 with West Michigan in 2007, and carried a 2.97 ERA. McCann spent last season with the Erie SeaWolves last season, hitting .277, with 54 RBI, and a .731 OPS. He suited up for the Whitecaps for only nine games back in 2011. Travis was awesome last season, hitting .351, with 16 home runs, and 76 RBI’s between the ‘Caps and Lakeland Flying Tigers. He was the MVP of the Midwest League All-Star game, post season All-Star, Tigers Minor League Player of the Year, and won a MiLBY for Offensive Player of the Year. Here’s wishing these guys luck this spring!
Travis photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The day after fire decimated a portion of Fifth Third Ballpark, it’s time to step back and see what was really lost. The Belfor Restoration company arrived at the ballpark early this morning, to begin removing debris from the burnt areas, and determining just what might be salvageable out of the mess. The Whitecaps’ co-owner Lew Chamberlin also arrived at the ballpark today to take in the damaged areas and reflect on what might be lost. After 20 years of baseball, many signed items, artwork, and personal mementos were damaged or lost.
“I can’t say it’s a life’s work, because there’s a lot more to life than just one profession or achievement or items”, Chamberlin stated to MLive. com. “Nonetheless, everything that’s in here represents a lot of my life, and in that case, it’s sad. But, you know what? We’re just going to do it all over again and build new memories.”
Chamberlin’s office is located behind home plate at the ballpark, but still sustained some water and smoke damage. Some items that are in jeopardy are autographed baseballs from players and coaches, original programs and schedules, signed baseball cards, as well as some original artwork featuring the Whitecaps that became program covers. Chamberlin is also fearful that some very personal items that his son made may be lost. According to Whitecaps’ vice president Jim Janecki, memorabilia that is confirmed to be destroyed includes photos from Opening Day in 1994, and autographed Matt Walbeck jersey, and a signed picture of former manager Tom Brookens and Ryne Sandberg (Peoria Chiefs).
It’s a shame that those items are gone, I love baseball history and memorabilia, and this loss really seems pointless. Again, though, at least no one was hurt in the blaze, and that’s the important thing. We’ll be keeping updates on the progress on the re-building of Fifth Third Ballpark the next few months until opening day. We’ll be down that way for a Griffins game soon, and for the Whitecaps game on April 12.
Photos courtesy of MLive.com