The off-season is a time to reflect in the season past, and at the same time look to the future. With sports in general, fans have always conversed on the ‘what if?’ factor, and I’ve been contemplating an idea for months now, ever since last season’s baseball trip. First, let me state that my two favorite Minor League’s are the Midwest League and the South Atlantic League. The MWL has three teams here in Michigan, and is where my hometown team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, reside. We also attend some Great Lakes Loons games over in Midland, and that is a great venue, also. In fact, I’ve been to every stadium in the MWL except two, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. We’ll get back to those teams momentarily, as they’re important. As for the SALly league, through work training down in Charleston and southern Georgia, I’ve was able to attend a few games of the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Charleston Riverdogs. During my baseball trip to North and South Carolina last year, I was able to visit another five SAL towns. Through my experience, these leagues have a lot in common. Between the two, we can see some of the best logos, nicknames, and mascots in all of sports. Both have teams in some great towns, with stadiums ranging from state-of-the-art, to simple and classic. Some of the best baseball fans we’ve had the luxury of interacting with attend games of these great leagues. Oh, the MWL and the SALly league have one more thing in common: they are the only two Single-A league. Now, I know there is short season and advanced ‘A’ league, but these two are just plain ol’ Single-A. The only two. These two league also have a link, so let us back up to two teams mentioned earlier, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Captains organization played in the South Atlantic League from 1991-2009, hosting their All-Star Game in 2006. The franchise started out in Columbus, Georgia, as the Columbus Indians (1991) and RedStixx. The franchise moved up to Eastlake, Ohio in 2003 and became the Captains. Lake County joined the Midwest League in 2010 with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Hot Rods were previously the Columbus Catfish up until 2009, and the two northern most teams jumped to the MWL to alleviate travel expenses.
So, now that the link between the two has been established the fun can begin. We can ask ourselves ‘what if the teams from these leagues played each other?’, and if so, ‘in what capacity?’. Due to the aforementioned travel expenses, any interleague play between the two is illogical, so we’ll just scrap that right away. It could be possible to have a Single-A All-Star Game, pitting the MWL against the SAL, but I don’t care for that, either. It may work at the Triple-A level, but I don’t like it for this one. What I would purpose is to have a simple championship series between the two leagues. For the Triple-A National Championship, they have a pre-determined neutral site to hold the event, and the winners of the International and Pacific Coast League play a one game winner-take-all. This could work at the Single-A level, also, and would ensure the fans of every team to have the opportunity to witness the championship game, and be exposed to the other Single-A league. Another route would be to have a three game series, with game one and games two and/or three at each of the participating teams’ stadiums. Last season, the Quad Cities River Bandits won the Midwest, while the Sand Gnats reigned supreme in the SAL. What an amazing series this would make, and not for just the prospects involved. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Modern Woodman Park with its breath taking sight lines in right field, and Historic Grayson Stadium, where you can feel the ghosts of baseball past when you enter the gates. What if the Loons would wind up playing the Greensboro Grasshoppers at some point? It would be awesome to cover the games from both ends with my buddies from Hoppers Fan, with both teams having phenomenal venues and fantastic community support. On a personal note, what if my transfer down south is granted next year, and the ‘Caps end up opposing the Greenville Drive. Where would my loyalties lie between my birth city and my adopted home? Although the possibilities my be endless, the one fact that stands out is this would be a win-win situations for all baseball fans involved, as well as the teams from both historic leagues. It would also be fun to see a game like this featured on MiLB.tv or the MLB Network. This is still nothing but a pipe dream, but it’s fun to imagine who the first team might be to win the ‘Minoring In Baseball Cup’…
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
2013 Roster: The West Michigan Whitecaps, along with the parent Detroit Tigers, set and released the opening day ‘Caps roster yesterday. Well travelled manager Larry Parrish will take the helm of a more veteran club than we’ve seen in West Michigan the last couple of seasons. Every player on the roster is over 20, with the exception of top prospects Austin Schotts and Danry Vasquez, who will be 19 for the entire season. Schotts was the Tigers second pick in the 2012 draft, and is ranked as their fifth overall prospect by Baseball America. Last season with the GCL Tigers, he hit .310, stealing 15 bases, and scoring 31 runs in just 40 games. Schotts has the speed and athleticism for center field, which earned him a brief promotion to the Lakeland Flying Tigers late in the season. Vasquez, also and outfielder, started the 2012 season with the Whitecaps as the youngest player in the Midwest League. He struggled early, but excelled after being sent to the Connecticut Tigers in the NY/Penn League, where he hit .311, racking up a league leading 90 hits, and slugging 20 extra-base hits. Vasquez is ranked the sixth overall prospect for Detroit by BA. Joining the outfield duo from last seasons C-Tigs roster are pitching prospects Montreal Robertson (ranked 18th), Endrys Briceno (22), and Edgar De La Rosa (29). All three are expected to be part of the ‘Caps starting rotation this season, although no opening day starter has been named. The grandpa of the team will be returning outfielder Michael Hernandez, who suited up for West Michigan back in 2006, helping the team win the Midwest League Championship. He hit for the cycle twice that season, and set a record at the time with seven RBI’s in one game. The Tigers re-signed Hernandez, after trading him away in 2007. He’s played the last four seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Also returning from last season team are pitchers Brennan Smith (3-4, 3.86 ERA), Chad Smith (0-2, 4.38 ERA), Slade Smith (1 sv, 3.59 ERA), infielder Jeff Holm (.254 BA), and Lance Durham (.238, 4 HR).
Although this is his first season with the Whitecaps, Larry Parrish has managed the Tigers, Toledo Mud Hens, and has been the hitting coach in Texas. He’s joined on the bench by first year pitching coach, and former Tiger Mike Henneman, and returning hitting coach Scott Dwyer. This looks like it could be a special season for the Whitecaps…I’m hoping so anyway!
Open Workout: Whitecaps fans can meet and greet the new players and coaches, and catch up with the returning ones on Wednesday, April 3. The team will be holding an open workout where fans can watch practice, and get some autographs afterward. The event starts at 1:00 p.m., with the team practicing at 1:30, and the meet and greet from 2:30-3:00. The event is free for the public, as is the parking! If I was living a little closer, I’d be there for sure, as it was a big hit last season. The ‘Caps take the field for Opening Day on the 4th, hosting the Dayton Dragons.
Whitecaps on TV: For all the games I can’t make it down from the Upper Peninsula for, the Whitecaps have signed a deal to have all of the their home games broadcast on MiLB.tv. I bought this last season, and loved it. It’s also very cheap if you buy it along with the MLB.tv package. They join all Triple-A teams, along with select Double and Single-A teams who are broadcast on the network. They join fellow Tiger affiliate the Toledo MudHens, and fellow Michigan team the Great Lakes Loons also. Living so far away from the ballparks, this is really a great deal for me, so I can keep up on all my teams. I wish the MiLB.tv would be compatible with the online streaming devises for my regular TV, though, like the MLB.tv is. Watching on computer or iPhone is ok, but doesn’t compare to watching them on the big screen!
Logo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Schotts photo courtesy of Flickr.com
Team photo property of Minoring In Baseball