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.
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!
Just when I start complaining that the Tigers keep trading away some of my favorite prospects and Whitecaps alumni, they do something like this. And totally redeem themselves! Friday night Detroit acquired Cameron Maybin from the Atlanta Braves for relief pitcher Ion Krol and Gabe Speier. With the loss of Rajai Davis to free agency, Maybin fills that gap nicely as he can play for center and left field. He had the best season of his Major League career in 2015, batting .267, with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. Maybin was originally dealt to the Florida/Miami Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers in 2007, so there’s no way I can complain about how that deal turned out! Speier did pitch in 33 games for West Michigan this season, however, posting a 2.86 ERA while earning four wins, to two losses. We wish the best to both he and Krol with the Braves organization.
Maybin played with the Whitecaps during the 2006 season, helping the team win the Midwest League Championship. He hit .304, with 20 doubles, with 69 RBI’s and 27 stolen bases on the season. I wasn’t running the blog back then, and didn’t think to take any pictures of the kids with him (and no camera on my phone, either…), but Maybin was nice enough to sign some items for us. He signed a baseball card each for Lily and Trevor (Brian wasn’t even BORN yet…), and a Whitecaps ball and program. He was really nice to the kids then, and we’ve continued to be fans and track his career. It’s good to have him home, back in Detroit, and I hope he can contribute and help the Tigers return to their winning ways.
Awards just keep coming the way of the West Michigan Whitecaps, this time with their home field getting the nod. Fifth Third Ballpark has received Ballpark Digest’s Best Ballpark Improvements Award for 2015. This is an impressive feat, especially since the ballpark wasn’t selected from just Minor League teams, but stadiums hosting Major League, Independent Pro, and summer college teams, also. Here’s the official page, off of the Ballpark Digest website:
After the fire that devastated a good portion of Fifth Third Ballpark in January of 2014, the Whitecaps used the opportunity to renovate along with the rebuild the last couple of seasons. This is definitely one of my favorite ballparks, and one of my favorite places to be in this world with my family. If you want to see for yourself, check this out:
I can see myself taking the tour quite often this winter, wishing that I was in the stands soaking up the sunshine. However, if we had baseball all year ’round, and our winters weren’t so brutal, we wouldn’t appreciate summer and baseball season as much. Congrats to the Whitecaps for this honor.
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.
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.