Congrats to Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays on winning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award. I was lucky enough to see him play back in May while he was still a member of the Durham Bulls of the International League and even back in 2010 when he was playing for the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. Wil posted a .293 average, with 13 home runs, and 53 RBI’s this season with the Rays. Just another example to get out to the Minor League ballparks when you get a chance. You never know what future award winners you’ll be witnessing.
Good new for me, as one of my favorite Tigers of the late 80’s has been named the new pitching coach for the Whitecaps. Mike Henneman, former Detroit Tiger and MLB All-Star will begin his tenure in West Michigan starting the 2013 season. This will be his first professional coaching job, but he does have plenty of experience coaching young players. Since his retirement in 1995, Henneman founded a select youth baseball team in McKinney, Texas, to make sure his kids received quality instruction and competition. His team grew into an organization of teams and eventually evolved into the McKinney Marshals Youth Baseball Organization. This includes 15 select youth teams as well as a Texas Collegiate League team. Henneman serves as the co-owner, president, and roving pitching instructor of the organization, but also built a 75-acre baseball complex with 15 baseball/softball fields, two pro-sized fields including locker rooms, press boxes and an 2,500 seating capacity. A training academy, pro shop, and concession stand are also present. That’s pretty impressive, and it must be nice to be able to play baseball year-round down there.
In his time with the Tigers, Henneman held the all-time saves record with 154 until is was broke in 2006. Coming up to the Tigers in 1987, he was named The Sporting News Rookie Pitcher of the Year and finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, after pitching to a an 11-3 record with seven saves and a 2.98 ERA. He led all Detroit relief pitchers in both wins and ERA in 1987-’88, he led the AL in win-loss percentage in 1987, and in 1989 he was elected to the All-Star team. During his decade in the majors, he earned a 57-42 record, with 193 saves and a 3.21 ERA. He also played in Texas and Houston, but seems happy to be back in the Tigers organization, and part of the Whitecaps.
“I’m so excited to be coming on board with the Tigers organization”, Henneman stated to MiLB.com. “To me, it’s like home-I came up with the Tigers; my career started here. I’m fortunate to be back with them. With these minor league guys, it’s all about learning their personalities and working with them in a way that works best for them, without forcing anything down their throats, because that will run them off. These guys in Class A ball have the skills and they know what they want, so it’s just a matter of teaching them how to be successful. I’ve got a bit of a wacky personality, so if we’re talking about something serious, I think I can make the point in a way that these guys will listen. We’re going to have a lot of fun next season at Fifth Third Ballpark.”
Sounds good to me! Just one more reason to get really excited about baseball next April. The Whitecaps staff is all set now, with Henneman, Scott Dwyer returning as hitting coach, and new manager Larry Parrish.
I put this post off, waiting until the outcome of the MVP race, but I did want to congratulate Mike Trout on winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He was basically a sure thing after his performance in the 2012 season. Trout was the unanimous pick for the award, as he’s not just the best rookie this season, but some say he’s the best rookie ever. He finished second in the league in batting average with .326, first in steals with 49 and runs with 129, third in on-base-percentage at .399, and third in slugging % at .564. His was pretty good defensively, too, robbing batters of four home runs, and 23 runs altogether. Trout also became the first player to win the MLB Rookie of the Month Award four months in a row. Then you hear him compared to guys like Mickey Mantle and things really start clicking. But with all his stats and steals and defense it still wasn’t enough to edge Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera for the MVP Award. It wasn’t all that surprising that Miggy won, I guess what surprised me is that the voting wasn’t a lot closer. So the Angels fans are probably feeling a little jilted, and they have a right to feel so, while the Tigers fans get a little reason to smile after the disastrous World Series. The voting really could have gone either way, though, and fans of both players have a reason to feel their guy is the best. All awards and voting and BS aside, though, nothing can take away the year that Trout had. The guy is 21 yrs-old. I’m sure within the next 20 years he’ll get his due. He’ll give Angels fans and all baseball fans alike some great moments in this sport.
When I saw him play back in 2010, he was a stand-out at the Single-A level at only 18. We sat in the front row right behind the on-deck circle, and he was nice enough to chat with us before the game started. He seemed pretty humble and had a great attitude about being a top draft pick. Then he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark. He had his own little cheering section, and he made sure his fans got a game ball. The whole game experience in Cedar Rapids was amazing, and watching a talent like Trout made it even better, especially the way he conducted himself. There’s nothing but good things for this guy in the future, and he’ll have a lot of fans rooting for him.
The West Michigan Whitecaps will continue to have ‘Tiger Friday’s’ as one of their top promotions next summer. The former Detroiter who will be ‘headlining’ this promotion will be one of the best second baseman in Tigers history…’Sweet’ Lou Whitaker. The other half of one of the greatest double-play tandems in history (along with Alan Trammel) will appear at Fifth-Third Ballpark on June 28. The first 2,000 fans will receive a bobble head, but due to high demand, there will be a raffle for autographs. Nothing has been posted yet on the ‘Caps website on how to enter the raffle, but when they due I’ll be sure to keep it to myself.. I would love to meet Lou, as a fellow second baseman, he’s was one of my idols growing up. He came up just about the time I was really getting into baseball, collecting cards, and getting my jersey dirty on the field myself. In high-school, I was even given the ‘Sweet Lou’ moniker for my play in the field. We’ve actually only been to one Tiger Friday, when we met John Wockenfuss back in 2009. I’ve missed some of my other favorites like Matt Nokes and Mickey Tettleton, though. I’m hoping that either one of the kids or myself win a chance to meet Whitaker. The rest of the participants for Tiger Fridays will be announced later this winter.
Lou played in Detroit for 19 seasons from 1977-1995. He and Trammel were one of the best double-play combinations in the game through out that period. Lou was on that great Tigers’ team of 1984 that roared to the World Series Championship. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1978, and a five-time All-Star. In 1985 he was voted to start the All-Star game, but forgot his bag in the back of his car before leaving for Minnesota. He used the glove, batting glove, and helmet from his fellow All-Stars, and wore a Tigers hat and jersey from a souvenir stand. One of the clubhouse attendants drew his #1 on the back with a marker. One of my favorite Lou stories.
Yesterday would have been the 58th birthday of former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. The age of 58 is considered fairly young, as ‘The Bird’ was taken from us early in a tragic accident in 2009. Also ending early, was Fidrych’s baseball career. For that one magic season, though, in 1976, he showed the world what baseball was really all about. He started the season as a non-roster invitee at spring training, and ended the season leading the American League in wins with a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, and winning the Rookie of the Year award. He also finished second in the Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer. More than all of that, the captured the imagination of a certain child in mid-Michigan…making him a baseball fan for life. I admit, I was caught up in all that Fidrych did on the mound, and it was no wonder opposing GM’s would beg Detroit to alter its rotation to make sure he would pitch in their stadium. They knew it would be a sell out. Fans all over the country couldn’t get enough of antics of talking to the ball and manacuring the mound. He would even congratulate his teammates on a good play, or go give them a pat on the back if they made an error. For years I carried a Fidrych card in my back pocket that I had cut off of the bottom of a Hostess Twinkies box. It’s corners are jagged and it has a crease down the middle, but I still have that card to this day and it is one of my most prized possessions. I was lucky enough to meet him back in 1995 at a baseball card show and he was very thankful for his fans. When my kids were born, I mailed him a coupled of cards and he was nice enough to sign them for Lily and Trevor and send them back. He is actually Lily’s favorite player, as she grew up with stories of his craziness on the mound, but I feel bad she will never be able to meet him. He had made a few appearances at the Whitecaps ’70’s nights, too, and that would have been a fun experience. I do have a DVD of a Monday Night Baseball game during the ’76 season, where he pitched a great game en route to a victory over the New York Yankees. I’m still always in awe that the crowd would not leave until he made a certain call. I think a lot of us kids saw in him what we saw in ourselves, just a kid having fun playing a game, which is the way it should be. Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych was larger than life. He was a super hero and a rock star all rolled into one. After all, he was the first athlete ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone…