Players of the Year: The Detroit Tigers have named outfielder Steven Moya their Minor League Player of the Year, and Austin Kubitza the Pitcher of the Year. Moya, playing for the Erie SeaWolves this season, hit .276, with 33 doubles, three triples, while stealing 16 bases. He set records with Erie with 35 home runs and 105 RBI’s this season, also. Moya lead the Eastern League with 70 extra-base hits and was named the league’s MVP. He’s ranked as the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect by MLB.com. Kubitza pitched for the West Michigan Whitecaps this season, but we never had a chance to see him on the mound. He was named the Midwest League’s Pitcher of the Week on two separate occasions, and had an impressive 2.34 ERA this season. He had a 10-2 record for the ‘Caps and had 140 strike outs.
Executive of the Year: The Whitecaps’ vice president of ticket sales Steve McCarthy has been named the Midwest League Executive of the Year. This season the ‘Caps averaged 5,595 fans per game, good for fourth in the league, and their total attendance of 391,000 was the most through the gates of Fifth Third Ballpark since 2002. In all, this was one of West Michigan’s best seasons for advertising revenue, attendance, and ticket revenue. McCarthy was in intern for the Whitecaps in 1995, then with Van Andel Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills. He worked for the Detroit Pistons as a ticket sales account representative and Director of Group Sales, before returning to West Michigan in 2001. He was promoted to vice president of ticket sales in 2005.
Tigers call up…Reatini? The Whitecaps’ clubhouse attendant Sam Reatini has been temporarily called up to the Detroit Tigers. He has been the clubhouse attendant in West Michigan for the last two seasons, and is now sitting in the opposing teams clubhouse at Comerica Park. If he needs any supplies for the ‘Caps, he contacts John Nelson, who is the assistant equipment manager for Detroit and handles minor league equipment needs for the affiliates. Nelson asked Reatini to join him when his college interns left toward the end of the season to go back to school. With the Whitecaps season over, this is a great opportunity for Reatini, and I’m sure at least heard the Tigers’ celebrate winning the Central crown for the other side of the field.
Henneman leaving: The Whitecaps pitching coach Mike Henneman has informed the Tigers he won’t be coming back next season. To be closer to his family, he is returning to the D-Bat baseball academy, where his duties include pitching coach and camps coordinator. Starting with West Michigan in 2013, he greatly improved the teams’ ERA from 3.62 to 3.05 this season, one of the best in the Midwest League, and in the teams history. Henneman pitched for the Tigers for nine of his 10 years in the majors. We’ll miss Mike at Fifth Third Ballpark, as he was one of my favorite players as a kid. We did have a chance to meet him, though, and he signed some cards for the kids. We wish him the best down in Texas. UPDATE: Henneman has come back to the Tigers organization, and will become the pitching coach for the Erie SeaWolves.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, this was our first ballgame of the season, and the Michigan weather treated us about as well as can be expected. I want to make a statement, too, that I loathe the Weather Channel. They are complete liars, and I will never trust them again. Never. Despite what mother nature through at us, though, we had a fun time together at the Whitecaps game, and I still was happy just to be watching live baseball. The kids had a fun time, and the game was part of their Papa’s birthday present. I was still impressed at how good Fifth Third Ballpark looked after the fire in January, too. They did a good job of rebuilding it and getting it ready for the season. We settled in and grabbed some hot dogs and pop for the kids, and a beer for my dad and I. The boys and I went down to the field level to watch pitching coach Mike Henneman work with some of the staff, and see some of the warm-ups. The game was off to a good pace with lots of action early on. I really like how Andrew Graham is working this team; lots of movement on the base paths, bunting, and smart baseball. Lily took Brian to the park for a short time, and he was able to meet the new mascot, Roxy, a female River Rascal. The rain hit us about the third inning, but we toughed it out until the tarp came out after the top of the fifth.
The game was a good one for the Whitecaps, as they produced four runs before the delay, and four after for the win. The ‘Caps racked up a season high 15 hits to go along with the season high of eight runs. Raph Rhymes led the way offensively, going 3-5 with two RBI. He was helped out by both Brett Harrison and Wynton Bernard who were each 3-4. Javier Betencourt was 2-4 with and RBI, and Ben Verlander was 2-5 to pitch in, also. On the mound, Buck Farmer earned the win, only giving up one run, striking out six, and issuing one walk. He pitched himself out of trouble at times, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, and eight Snappers runners on base. Montreal Robertson and Will LaMarche kept Beloit in check the rest of the game. A good outing, and good work by this team all around. It will be interesting to see which players make the All-Star squad here in June, as there are a handful of candidates so far in the early going. We had planned on maybe hitting a Great Lakes Loons game, also, while down state, but the Weather Channel stated it would be raining all day (they ended up playing a double-header on a beautiful day…). We’ll see the Whitecaps again early next month down in Lansing as they take on the Lugnuts. Final Score: Whitecaps 8, Snappers 1.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Back, again, just north of Grand Rapids for our last Whitecaps game of the season. A very bitter-sweet moment, but so much going on at this game, I’m not sure where to start. First, Brian was happy they had a ‘bounce castle’ set up in the parking lot. We didn’t have much time for him to play, but he still was able to bounce around for a little while before we made our way into the stadium. Upon entry, each of us received a free mini-bat, to commemorate the ‘Caps 20th season of play. Brian has been collecting the bats lately, so more for him. It was super hero night at the ballpark, just like in Battle Creek last month, but the only ones dressed up were the Whitecaps’ on-field staff. Still, some of them has some cool outfits. We were at the ballpark early, so we saw the Captains take some batting practice, and waited for the home team to hit the field for their warm-ups. We went down to field level, where we met former Tigers’ relief pitcher, and current ‘Caps pitching coach, Mike Henneman. He was nice enough to sign a baseball card for Brian (a future hurler, himself!). Before the game got underway, we were also entertained by team Ghostrider: basically monkeys riding around on dogs. They would appear a few time throughout the game, herding goats and riding away. When monkeys act like cowboys, everybody wins! It didn’t take the kids long to get hungry, and Lily, Brian, and their Papa stuck with traditional hot dogs. Trevor and I, however, wanted to try the Baco! We made our way through the concourse, and with a sold-out crowd we were moving slowly. We took a break, though, to check out the Whitecaps 2007 Midwest League Championship trophy that was on display. The team was also celebrating the championship during this game, too. We finally made it to the other side of the ballpark to get our Bacos. Trevor didn’t care for it too much, but I thought it was pretty good. Not worth $6 each, but had to do it. Unfortunately the Whitecaps has some of the slowest concessions ever, so we missed a good chunk of the game waiting in line. We decided to head back to our seats through the lower bowl, which was a good idea because Trevor got a foul ball that bounced our way. We were finally able to sit down and enjoy the rest of the game, which was a good one. The ‘Caps also provided post-game fireworks that the kids really love, too. It was a hectic night all around, and sold-out crowds will do that, but still hard to wrap my head around the fact it will be a minimum of nine months before I’m enjoying baseball at Fifth-Third Ballpark again!
Like I stated, the game between the ‘Caps and the Captains was a good one. West Michigan was down 2-0 in the third, but busted out for three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Connor Harrell and David Gonzales started it off with a pair of singles, then Lake County started walking some batters. The Whitecaps scored two runs on walks, then Jason King hit a sac fly for the third run. In the fourth inning, Jeff Holm hit a solo shot to put the ‘Caps up 4-2. West Michigan concluded the scoring in the eighth inning, when Lance Durham hit his team leading 14th home run, after King singled. On the hill for West Michigan, Edgar De La Rosa pitched a solid game, only giving up the two runs in six innings of work. He struck out four and didn’t walk any of the Lake County hitters. The bullpen finished the job, throwing four shutout innings, with Corey Knebel closing the door in the ninth. Holm lead the offense going 2-4, and Gonzalez went 2-3. Final Score: Whitecaps 6, Captains 2.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth-Third Ballpark–Comstock Park, MI: As much as I loved my time in North Carolina, it was good to be back in Michigan, and have the home field advantage. It felt comfortable to be back in my own ballpark, and to see the Whitecaps play for the first time this season. After riding in airplanes most of the day, it was nice to be in the fresh air and wandering around Fifth-Third Ballpark. We were also one of the lucky ones to get an Avisail Garcia bobble head at the gate. It was good to see the best mascot in the minors, Crash the River Rascal, hamming it up on the concourse with the kids. I wandered down and watched the Whitecaps warm up, and got some good pics of the team. I was excited to see guys like Devin Travis and Danry Vasquez in action. It was also cool to see new pitching coach Mike Henneman, who was one of my favorite Tigers when I was younger. Henneman seemed to be joking around with his staff a little, and keeping his pitchers loose. It was good to see some familiar faces and be back home, and this will go down as one of the best baseball trips ever.
The game did not go our way, and the Whitecaps home field advantage did them little good as the Hot Rods shut them right down. Starting pitcher Charlie Gillies took the loss, but had no run support. He gave up three runs and struck out three, in just over five innings of work. Both second baseman Jared Reaves and third baseman Mario Martinez went 2-4, but could not help get a run across the plate. Win or lose, however, there’s still no place that I’d rather be. Final score: Whitecaps 0, Hot Rods 4.
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.
Photo courtesy of the Detroit News
2010 Coaching Staff: The Detroit Tigers organization announced the coaching staff for this season’s Whitecaps team. Returning to the helm as manager for his thrid season is Joe DePastino. He led the ‘Caps to two playoff appearances in 2008(72-65) and 2009(81-59). Also returning for a third season is former Tiger and pitching coach Mark Johnson. Joining the staff this season as hitting coach is Luis Quinonnes. Quinnones was the hitting coach for the Class A-Short Season Oneonta Tigers for the last three seasons. Moving on is former hitting coach Benny Distefano who has been in West Michigan since 2006. He resigned to accept a position in the Mets organization. Benny was very good to the fans and always good about signing autographs. Below is a good pic of him and my daughter from last season.
2009 Promotional Video: Click HERE for the Whitecaps 2009 Promo Video. It’s entertaining and gives a good view at what to expect at future Minor League games.
Tiger Fridays are back: This will be the second season the Whitecaps are offering Tiger Fridays, where a former Detroit player or players will be at 5/3 Ballpark to sign autographs. They usually have a bobblehead giveaway, or something like that, too. Here’s the lineup for this season; Jack Morris (June 4), Juan Berenguer and Ozzie Virgil (June 25), Larry Herndon (July 23), Mike Henneman (Aug. 6), Dick McAuliffe (Aug. 20), and Frank Howard (Aug. 27).
Path of the Pros: MiLB.com is continuing it’s Path to the Pros series this time featuring former Whitecap Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens was part of one the worse trades in Tigers history (maybe that’s pushing it, but my opinion) being sent to Atlanta in a deal for Edgar Renteria. You can read the full story at MiLB.com HERE.
Prospect Chat: Baseball America has a nice interview with Casey Crosby who played for the Whitecaps last season and was named the top Minor League Pitcher in the Tigers organization. You can check this out HERE.
Winter Beer Festival: 5/3 Ballpark is hosting the 5th annual Winter Beer Festival this year on Saturday Feb. 27. You have a unique chance to sample some great beers that are brewed in Michigan. They are expecting over 35 microbreweries and beerpubs to participate, and over 200 beers to sample. Sounds like a good way to handle the winter weather to me.
Photo property of MIB