West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Back in the mitt to visit friends and family before school starts, we were lucky enough to take in a Whitecaps game. The ‘Caps were hosting another one of our Michigan teams, the Lansing Lugnuts. It was Super Villain Night at Fifth Third Ballpark, and Brian was able to meet some of these dastardly scoundrels that give our heroes so many fits. Above, he’s with Harley Quinn, Crossbones, the Winter Soldier (who I really don’t consider a villain, he was brain-washed after all, and Bucky is really a good guy), and Poison Ivy. Below, he is hanging out with Batman nemesis The Penguin, and Spider-Man foil, The Lizard.
We were also able to catch up with Crash the River Rascal, and it was good to see him again! He also gave Bri a t-shirt.
We seemed to pick another great day to be at the ballpark, and to see some free baseball. The Whitecaps and Lugnuts would finish a tied game suspended the night before, with the ‘Nut winning this one 5-3 in the 12th inning. The scheduled game would go into extras, also. West Michigan tied the game at one in the second inning, when Will Allen scored on a Jose Azocar double, after hitting one of his own. Azocar would plate another RBI in the fifth inning, scoring Brett Pirtle on a ground out. Both team would load the bases in the 11th, but came away with nothing. The ‘Caps would have better luck in the 12th, however, as Arvicent Perez earned the walk-off RBI with a bases-loaded hit.
On the mound, Trent Szkutnik started the game giving up just the two runs. The bullpen came through also, with Drew Smith, Zac Houston, and Toller Boardman combining for six no-hit innings and 11 strikeouts. FINAL in 12: Whitecaps 3, Lugnuts 2.
Another fun game, and it’s always good to be back home. Especially seeing a game with Brian and his Papa (and even getting photo bombed by the Whitecaps staff…). With the minor league season rapidly winding down, we will definitely try to catch at least one more game in Kentucky. Here’s a video for y’all.
Video and photos property of Minoring In Baseball
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. South Bend Cubs (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: For our last game in Michigan for awhile, mother nature really dumped on us, and it’s hard not to take this personally. For the Whitecaps home opener, it was a balmy 36 degrees, but honestly at least the sun was out and the game wasn’t cancelled. We wanted to make sure we were one of the first 1,000 through the gate, so we could claim our replica 2015 Midwest League championship rings.
Unfortunately, do to the field conditions and cold, they cancelled the on field catch and autograph session. They never opened the play ground, either, and really cheesed Brian off. At least we were able to see all three of the ‘Caps mascots one more time, as they entertained the kids until game time.
The team also had all six of West Michigan’s Midwest League championship trophies on display. The time finally passed, and while we were basking in the sun, the club had a little presentation of the newest trophy.
As you can see, the Whitecaps have added extended netting all the way across the dugout, and this really screws up my world as a baseball fan. Watching and trying to take pictures through this netting simply sucks, in my opinion. I do understand it’s for safety, but if some fans can’t keep off their iPhones during gameplay, or have small children, they need to pay attention or sit in a less dangerous area.
Due to the cold, the game itself seemed to be a little sloppy, although a few of the batters were given an ‘hit’ on a ball that would probably normally be an error. The Whitecaps could seem to get a big hit with players in scoring position either, with Brett Pirtle scoring their first run on a passed ball. On the bump, Hall pitched four innings, giving up one run on five hits, while striking out two. Relief pitcher Toller Boardman gave up three runs for West Michigan to take the loss, however.
Trailing 5-1 going into the ninth, the ‘Caps made it a little interesting, score a pair of runs, but it was too little too late. Offensively, Pirtle ended up going 1-3 with a walk and two runs scored. First baseman Will Allen and left fielder Rashad Brown each went 2-4, with Allen adding an RBI. I also had to take another walk to find a place for a few more photo not obstructed by the netting. Final: Whitecaps 3, Cubs 5.
Despite the cold and the everything, it was still a fun day at the ballpark. Again, the watching the game through all that netting isn’t as enjoyable, and Brian was bummed all game that they never opened the playground, but still a better time than doing anything anywhere else. We’ll be pretty busy the next couple of weeks, and can’t wait to be settled and at home in a new ballpark. I’ll sign off for now with a video of the game:
Video and photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Dow Diamond-Midland, MI: On Saturday the Great Lakes Loons kicked off their 10th season with an event to unveil their new logo and uniforms. The concourse at Dow Diamond was able to be enclosed, and we were able to enjoy the presentation, along with all of the other activities, in relative comfort. The presentation started with a video that showed some of the highlights of the first nine seasons of Loons baseball. Then the new logos were revealed, all together, and then they went over each one. My favorite is probably the Loon with the fishing hat. In won’t show each one individually, but you can see them all between the top and lower photo of Brian and I.
We ended the day both taking some cuts in the batting cages. Brian and I were both able to experience this back when I played the fantasy game here, but it’s always fun to get some swings in, especially in winter when it’s -15 outside!
Photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Tonight the West Michigan Whitecaps will add two more players to it’s prestigious Hall of Fame, as alumni Don Kelly and Cameron Maybin return to Grand Rapids for the 22nd annual Whitecaps Community Foundation Winter Baseball Banquet. Maybin is returning to the Tigers organization after being traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. He was a first-round pick of the Tigers in 2005, playing his first full pro season in West Michigan in 2006, hitting .304 with nine home runs, 69 RBI’s, and 27 stolen bases. Maybin also played in the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game, and help lead the ‘Caps to the 2006 Midwest League Championship while being named MWL Prospect of the Year.
Kelly played for the Whitecaps way back in 2002, and was an 8th round pick of Detroit in 2001. He went on to hit .286 with 59 RBI’s, and was also the starting shortstop in the Midwest League All-Star Game that season. Kelly is mostly known for being a super-utility player, and has seen action at every position on the field, including pitching an inning or two. Other ‘Caps alumni scheduled to be at tonight’s banquet are Wynton Bernard, Nick Castellanos, Jeff Ferrell, Montreal Robinson off of the Tigers’ Caravan. Other Tiger players, coaches, and personnel that will be there include Al Alvila, Alan Trammell, Matt Boyd, Tyler Collins, Michael Fulmer, Anthony Gose, Shane Greene, Blaine Hardy, Bryan Holaday, Jose Iglasias, Mark Lowe, Drew VerHagen, Alex Wilson, Wally Joyner, and Omar Vizquel. That’s a lot of baseball guys under one roof, and one day when I win the Powerball I’ll be able to get tickets for the kids and I too attend. The Whitecaps Community Foundation does a lot of good in the Grand Rapids area, though, so it’s nice to know the money is being well spent.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
With time winding down on 2015, it’s time to look back and reflect on this past year. Due to a personal loss, we didn’t get to take in a ballpark tour this season, but that didn’t stop us from having some great times, and making some unforgettable memories. Every moment spent with my kids and dad are special, and it’s always difficult to narrow a list down and do every event justice.
9) Meeting Joey Pankake: Picking the #9 slot is sometimes harder than the #1, as it usually means that one special event is left out. I decided to go with Brian meeting his favorite player in Whitecaps’ second baseman Joey Pankake. We watched him on TV last year when he was playing his college ball with South Carolina, and were excited when the Tigers picked him up in the draft. Every Sunday home game the Whitecaps let the fans on the field to meet the players, so we took advantage of that. Joey was really nice to Brian, as he signed a program for him and got a picture. Times like this is what makes baseball fans.
8) Back in Jax: While I was down in southern Georgia doing some training for work in April, I was able to take in a couple of Jacksonville Suns games. The Suns have a great venue, and a game here is always a great experience. Back in 2005 when I was down training for 18 weeks, I went to many games, and the Suns were a positive distraction from missing my kids back home. It was good to be back after a decade, and I hope I don’t have to wait that long to catch another game in Jacksonville.
7) Baseball in Michigan in March: This is an odd pick, I guess, for different reasons. For us, being able to watch live baseball in the month of March is amazing, and we were definitely lucky to be able to take a game as the Central Michigan Chippewas hosted the Ohio Bobcats. On a more somber note, this game was a chance for my dad and I to get out of town and away from things for an afternoon after my mom passed. She loved baseball and CMU, so this was a good place rehash some good memories of her.
6) Star Wars Night: Although Star Wars Night usually ranks higher on our list, it shouldn’t take away how much fun we had. This season we were back at Fifth Third Ballpark to watch the Whitecaps and see some of our favorite Star Wars characters (we were in Lansing last season). Most of the main guys were there, except Boba Fett, which is a favorite of Trevor and I. This was our fifth year in a row for a Star Wars event, so I’m glad that we are keeping up the tradition. It will be interesting next season to see if any of the characters from the new movie show up. After all, the 18th is coming up fast…
5) Playoffs in West Michigan: In September I was able to cross one more thing off my baseball bucket list, attending my first ever playoff game. The Whitecaps were hosting the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League finals, and were down in the series 1-0. We were able to witness a late come-from-behind victory as the ‘Caps evened the series. It was one of those exciting, high-fiving-total strangers type of game, and it was amazing! West Michigan went on to win two out of three games in Cedar Rapids to secure the championship, and I feel privileged I could be part of the play off run.
4) BTTF Night: This was a great night, and ranks so high probably because this was our first ever Back To The Future night event. Brian had an awesome night, and loved that he was able to sit in the Delorian, pretending to be bolted back to 1985. There was a BTTF theme throughout the Great Lakes Loons game, also, with music and games all relating to 1955, 1985, and 2015. Dow Diamond is one of the best ballparks in the minors, also, so just watching the ballgame is very enjoyable. And with a three hour drive before and after the game, was had plenty of time to watch all three BTTF movies during our trip.
3) Brian’s Lugnuts Clinic: For a Little Leaguer having the chance to play some ball on a professional field is quite the experience. Brian was a little intimidated at first when he stepped onto the big field, and the fact that we live so far away he didn’t have any friends in the clinic. Once things got going, though, he was able to relax and just play and have fun, which is the important thing. I hope this was a good experience for him, and that one day he can appreciate being taught the game by professional ballplayers and coaches. If nothing else, the Lugnuts certainly made another fan.
2) Loons Fantasy Camp: This summer I was also able to live out a fantasy I’ve had since being Brian’s age, and that was playing baseball in a professional stadium. The Great Lakes Loons held a drawing to be able to play in a fantasy game at Dow Diamond, and I was lucky enough to secure a slot. The game was a lot of fun, and I hit the ball well each time up going 1-3. In the field at least I didn’t make any errors and a couple of plays. This was an amazing experience, and having the kids there to cheer me on was just awesome. If any other fans have the opportunity to play in one of these games, I highly recommend it.
1) Coaching the Cubs: As usual, being able to coach one of my kids in Little League is always number one. Brian and I were members of the Cubs this season, and this was a great team full of great kids. Being able to spend time with him like this is a dream come true, and I love this age level, as I can nurture the kids love of the game while teaching them the basics. No matter how long Brian decides to play this great sport, I will hold on to these years with all my heart and soul. Merry Christmas everyone, and God Bless in the new year!
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps are winners again, this time in the annual MiLBy Awards. The ‘Caps organization won the award for Best Blooper based in this video:
Always good press for West Michigan, and makes me miss baseball season even more. Time to start the countdown until April!
Video courtesy of the Whitecaps/MiLB.com
The Detroit Tigers have named Joe Jimenez as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and outfielder Mike Gerber Player of the Year. Both players laced up their cleats in West Michigan this season, and both were instrumental in the Whitecaps winning the Midwest League Championship. The 20-year-old Jimenez posted a 1.47 ERA in 40 games with the ‘Caps this season, earning five wins and 17 saves. He struck out 71 batters in 43 innings of work, with a 0.79 WHIP. His 97-98 mph fastball and nasty slider made him the ‘Caps ‘go-to’ guy in late innings, especially in the playoffs. Jimenez was the Tigers’ lone representative at the All-Star Futures game this past July in Cincinnati, and will head back to his home of Puerto Rico to play winter ball.
Gerber hit .292 this season in West Michigan, smacking 13 home runs and 76 RBI’s. He also added 31 doubles, 74 runs scored, and swiped 13 bases with a .822 OPS playing in 135 games this season. He also played eight games with the Whitecaps in 2014, hitting an impressive .387 with five RBI’s. Gerber, 22, was drafted by the Tigers in last seasons’ MLB Amateur Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 15th round. Ranked number 18 on Detroit’s prospect list, he’ll join fellow Whitecaps’ alums Austin Kubitza (last season’s Pitcher of the Year), Montreal Robertson, Dominic Ficociello (recently awarded a MiLB Gold Glove with a .996 fielding %), and Adam Ravenelle in the Arizona Fall League. JaCoby Jones will also be representing the Tigers as a member of the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. It was fun to watch Jimenez and Gerber play for West Michigan this season, and I’ll enjoy watching them climb the latter up the organization.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
West Michigan Whitecaps-2015 Midwest League Champions
Monday night the Whitecaps held on to beat the Cedar Rapids Kernels 3-2 in a decisive game five to win the Midwest League crown. This is the teams first championship since 2007, but manager Andrew Graham won the title as a catcher for West Michigan back in 2004. The ‘Caps split the first two games at home, getting shut out 5-0 in game one, and coming back with a 4-1 win in game two (the one that we were at). They dropped a heart-breaker in game three, when the Kernels earned a 3-2 walk-off win in the ninth inning. Never giving up, the Whitecaps held on to win game four 2-1 and game five 3-2, on the back of relief pitcher Joe Jimenez.
In the final game, Ross Seaton earned the win on the mound, holding the Kernels to only two runs. The Whitecaps scored their runs on RBI’s by Francisco Contreras and David Gonzalez, while the third run was scored by Contreras on a wild pitch. Jimenez struck out the side on the ninth inning to secure the victory, and championship! As memorable as this season has been, we were lucky to get down to a handful of games to see the Whitecaps play. With Larry Parrish retiring in Toledo, I fully expect Andrew Graham to be promoted, unless the Tigers’ organization brings in someone to take over just at the Triple-A level. I think he’s done a great job with this team the last two seasons, and wouldn’t mind him sticking around. Congrats again, to the Whitecaps! You can read more on their championship win on the Midwest League website HERE.
Traverse City Beach Bums-2015 Frontier League Champions
The Beach Bums defeated the River City Rascals by the score of 4-1 last Friday night to win the Frontier Cup. The Bums swept the Rascals 3-0 in the best of five series, and were 6-0 in the postseason. In the ten year history of the ball club in Traverse City, this was the second time making to the finals, being defeated by River City back in 2012. The Bums literally went from worst to first this season, winning a club record 56 games as they advanced to the palyoffs for the fourth time since 2010. Injuries plaqued last seasons team, including Frontier Cup MVP Jose Vargas. Vargas was also the hero of game two, with a walk-off base hit to give his team a 6-5 win, and complete the comeback when they were down 5-1. Manager Dan Rohn, a Central Michigan alumni, did a great job with the team this season, and I think the Beach Bums are lucky to have a veteran coach at this level. Congrats to the Beach Bums, and were at least able to make it to a couple of games this season, including the last weekend of the regular season that started their nine-game winning streak. You can read more on the Bums title win on the Frontier League website HERE and at the Record Eagle website HERE.
Photos courtesy of the Whitecaps and Record Eagle
West Michigan Whitecaps vs Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League Finals)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Last week I was able to scratch one more thing off my baseball bucket list, while cheering on my Whitecaps in the Midwest League finals. The game was during the week, so the kids had to sit this one out due to school, but I was able to take a day off from work and make the trip down to enjoy the day with my dad.
The game was going pretty quick, as both the Kernels Sam Gibbons and the ‘Caps A.J. Ladwig were locked in a pitchers duel. Gibbons kept West Michigan off of the board until the seventh inning. Down 1-0, left fielder Christin Stewart smacked a double that put runners at second and third, with no outs, to really get things going. Designated-hitter Joey Pankake then singled to score two runs and the Whitecaps had a 2-1 lead. Stewart was awarded the run, as the Kernels’ catcher was blocking the plate without the ball. Cedar Rapids manager Jake Mauer was tossed by the home plate ump for arguing the call. Not well-played, Mauer. Things fell apart a bit for the Kernels, as they made two errors and hit a batter, as the ‘Caps chased Gibbons and took a 4-1 lead.
On the mound for West Michigan, Ladwig pitched a great game, giving up his only run in the second inning. He gave up only six scattered hits while striking out two, and issuing no walks in seven innings of work. Johan Belisario came in and carved up the Kernels batters in the eight with his nasty curveball, striking out one, and was credited with the hold. Top Tigers prospect Joe Jimenez pitched a perfect ninth, also, striking out two to earn the save. Great pitching performances all around for West Michigan. Leading the way offensively, Mike Gerber and Stewart each went 2-4 on the night, and Pankake went 1-4 with two RBI’s.
This was a great experience to be able to be at this game. Also fun when your team wins and you can high-five perfect strangers all around you and celebrate as fans. Good time for my dad and I to spend together, too, as baseball always goes best with family. This game tied the series at 1-1, but now as I’m posting this it’s tied at 2-2 with the fifth and final game tonight in Cedar Rapids. Win or lose, this was a fantastic season for the Whitecaps. They were an underdog team all season, and manager Andrew Graham has done a great job. Already looking forward to Minor League Baseball in 2016! Final: Whitecaps 4, Kernels 1.
Here’s a nice little video of the ‘Caps taking a 2-1 lead on a Joey Pankake base hit, where West Michigan scored the second run due to the fact that the Kernels catcher was blocking the plate without the ball:
Photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Dow Diamond- Midland, MI: Last week I was lucky enough to participate in a Fantasy Camp hosted by the Great Lakes Loons. This was rescheduled after we were rained out last month. Unfortunately, that meant that the Loons players and coaches were away in Lansing while we were there. They still took great care of us, though. Walking into the locker room and seeing my name above the locker was awesome, just like I dreamed about when I was ten years old. We started out as usual by playing catch to warm up, then they took us to the indoor batting cages to get some swings in. I even snuck Brian down to take a few cuts.
We were split up into Blue and White teams wearing Miller Lite shirts, with my White team being the visitors. We took some infield and outfield practice, and I got stuck in the latter where I have no business playing. As the visitors, we were up to bat first. I held my own at the plate, going 1-3 and getting on base all three at-bats. My hit was a solid liner up the middle, so I was happy with that one. It was also a thrill to hear my name announced and be on the video board.
While I was mostly stuck in the outfield, but did get to play shortstop for an inning. I caught the only ball hit to me, a pop fly over second. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to actually play second, since that’s my position, but still had fun in the field.
After the game, the Loons gave away some prizes and Lou E signed autographs for the kids. In all, this was a great experience and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Thank you to the Loons and Miller Lite for sponsoring this.
UPDATED: This was sent to me by the Loons this morning. Our group shot with both teams.