With the conclusion of the 2015 Minor League Baseball season, so comes the end of the franchise of the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League. The Sand Gnats played in one of my favorite ballparks, Historic Grayson Stadium. Having been built in 1927, you can really feel the history and ghosts of baseball past as you enter the gate. Unfortunately, the owners believed that the age of the ballpark and it’s 4,000 capacity was no longer conductive to a Single-A baseball team. When the city of Savannah made the decision not to build a new stadium, the owners made the decision to move the team to Columbia, South Carolina to become the Fireflies. Here are some nice ballpark photos HERE at one of my favorite websites.
I’m disappointed that the Sand Gnats are leaving, because they are one of the reasons that I love Minor League Baseball. It was ten years ago, the summer of 2005 that revived my love of baseball. I was down training in southern Georgia, and we were able to make it to a few Gnats games, as well as the Jacksonville Suns in northern Florida. I really did fall in love with the stadium for the reasons I stated above. Not only did great players take the field at Grayson in their Minor League days, but the fans there love to tell stories of the Major League teams stopping in for some games on their way north after spring training. I was lucky enough to take in another couple of games back in June of 2009 (about a month before I started this blog) when I was down that way for some more work-related training in Charleston, SC and Savannah. The photos posted are from those games against the River Dogs with a disposable camera, which can explain the very low quality of them. I was also down south there this April, but unfortunately the Gnats were out of town the entire time I was there. I really hope they can get another pro team in Savannah, because it’s definitely one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and I plan on going there again when I get a chance. Well, so long Sand Gnats, I will miss you when I go back there, for your historic ballpark, awesome logo, and cool mascot (Gnate the Gnat)
The Detroit Tigers have traded former West Michigan Whitecaps second baseman turned outfielder, Justin Henry to the Boston Red Sox in a deal also involving the New York Mets. They, in turn, received second baseman Jeff Kobernus and LHP reliever Kyle Lobstein. While with the Whitecaps in 2008, Henry hit .295 with 24 doubles, and 27 stolen bases. He was also a Detroit organizational All-Star in 2011. I never really understood why the Tigers would move him to the outfield where they have an abundance of prospects, from the infield, in which they have few. They seem to have gotten a pretty decent infield prospect in Kobernus, though, who spent last season with Double-A Harrisburg (Nationals), stealing 42 bases and hitting .282. He was picked by Boston in the Rule 5 draft, then immediately traded for Henry. The Tigers think he might contend for a utility role in spring training, along with former ‘Caps Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago. Lefty pitcher Lobstein is expected to be in the Tigers’ bullpen next season. Last season he went 8-7 with a .407 ERA and 129 strikeouts for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay). Both Rule 5 picks, Kobernus and Lobstein must remain on Detroit’s 25-man roster all season in 2013 or be offered back at half of their claiming price.
I will miss Justin Henry, though, as he was my favorite player off the 2008 team. As some of my readers know (who am I kidding?), I tend to favor the second baseman, being one myself. I always thought Henry would make it to Comerica Park. I did have something tingling in the back of my mind, though, something about Justin Henry and the old Tiger Stadium…then it hit me! The ball player should not be confused with the actor Justin Henry, though, who made it to Tiger Stadium in the Disney TV movie Tiger Town, staring him and Roy Scheider (JAWS). I really don’t remember this movie from when I was a kid, but picked it up a couple of years ago, and loved it. It is a sad story, though, about a young boy whose father died, but told him that anything is possible as long as he believed. Taking this advise to heart, he wished that his favorite player, an aging Scheider, would play like his old self. It worked!!! Due to the belief in his idol, the Tigers make a historic play-off run. The film also included great Ernie Harwell and Sparky Anderson playing themselves. I highly recommend this movie to any baseball fan, not just us Tiger fans. Oh, Justin Henry was also in some movie called Kramer vs. Kramer, where he almost won an award, or something. Just can’t compete with Tiger Town, though…
Top photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Movie photos courtesy of Walt Disney/Disney Channel
Coca-Cola Field–Buffalo, NY: After 19 short years, I finally returned to the site of my first Minor League baseball game-Buffalo, New York. Then known as Pilot Field, the improved Coca-Cola Field is not only the nicest park we were at on our trip, but one of the best I’ve ever been to. Buffalo is a big time city, and the Bisons give you a bit of the ‘Major League’ feel to it. Parking is rough, but the site-lines in the stadium were great. The gates opened at 5:00 for a pre-game party, and a chance to watch some batting practice. We were treated with a free concert on one of the dugouts, which was very entertaining. We watched the Gwinnett Braves take some batting practice and enjoyed the music. Out in right field, I was able to catch up with fellow bloggers Danny and Quinn from nybisons. They were doing an impressive job of shagging any baseball within a half-mile of the stadium. Getting these two to slow down for a bit to chat was a challenge, and I wish I had their energy. Both young men were very polite and even visited us in our seats later in the game to talk baseball. The game itself was a good one, and the Buffalo won a close one thanks to two monster home runs by Valentino Pascucci. We sat in the upper deck for this one, and had an awesome view of the action. I’m sure there is no bad seat at this ballpark. The staff and the fans all seemed very friendly, and helped make this game another great experience. We ate some great food, but no beer this time because we had a long drive back to Michigan after the game. Two more games to go in our home state… Final: Bisons 5, Braves 3.
NYSEG Stadium-Binghamton, NY: Our second game here in Binghamton, but we still couldn’t make it to the game early. We were busy with museums and other things that up-state New York had to offer, but we were still in our seats by the first pitch. We had great seats for this one, front row on the third base side that gave us a different perspective of the game. The game itself was a real ‘barn-burner’, with the score 0-0 going into the ninth inning, but got exciting when the B-Mets won with a walk-off single. The high-light of the game for me was getting a game ball from Trenton center fielder Melky Mesa. He was running in from the outfield and launched one to me just past second base, and I simply made an amazing catch. It was a fun game for us, but still not much of a crowd, which surprised my again when the Mets and Yankees affiliates are playing. They had really good burgers off the grill here, though, which gave me something to go with my beer for the night. We stayed in town, but had a long trip back up to Rochester for a game the next day. Final: B-Mets 1, Thunder 0.
NYSEG Stadium-Binghamton, NY: Since it took us about half the time at the Hall of Fame than we expected, we decided to pick up an extra game in Binghamton. It rained all day in Cooperstown, and a little on our drive down, but turned into a beautiful night for baseball. Because heading down there was a last-minute decision, we didn’t get there real early and have as much time to poke around the park before game time. Someone was handing out vouchers outside of the stadium, too, for discounts, so we picked up our tickets for only $6.00 a piece, which is a great deal for baseball. NYSEG Stadium is a decent venue for Double-A (Eastern League), but we’ve been in better for Single-A. The crowd wasn’t as ‘baseball savvy’ as some of the other ones we’ve talked to on our trip, and they didn’t seem real into the game. Lots of people their drinking tons, which I have no problem with, but obvious they could care less about the game. You’d think they’re would be a better showing for the a matchup of the Mets and Yankees affiliates. Not real surprising to hear that this is the franchise rumored to be heading to Ottawa, Ontario in the future. I did like the fact here that there were plenty of vendors walking the stands, so you really could sit and not miss much of the game, and the concessions were reasonably priced. The mascots did a good job, too, of walking the stands and entertaining the kids. It was a chance for us to see more baseball, though, which is always a good thing. The Thunder really brought their bats this night and beat up the home team a bit. We’ll see if the Mets can bounce back the next night, as we’ll be back in Binghamton for the rematch. Final: Thunder 10, B-Mets 1.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats vs. Binghamton Mets: Northern Delta Dental Stadium-Manchester, NH
I was very happy to learn on my arrival to Manchester that tonight’s game was going to be played. This is my first time watching a game from the Eastern League, and I was excited to see actually baseball taking place. Northern Delta Dental Stadium is nothing fancy, but definitely a nice place to watch a ball game. The staff was very friendly and helpful. We had a long chat with the head of the Food Service department, as he worked for the West Michigan Whitecaps for years when he first broke into working in Minor League baseball. He had nothing but good things to say about the ‘Cap organization, but New Hampshire was his home state, so he jumped at the chance to work for the Fisher Cats when the opportunity came. It’s amazing how much my Whitecaps hat is recognized, and the conversations it can start. Our seats were down the third base side, but the visitors dugout, so lots of pics of the visiting Mets. The crowd was pretty thin due to the cold and rainy weather, so it was hard to gauge the real atmosphere. I’m betting this team gets lots of support through the season, though. The highlight of the night was me getting a chance to play movie trivia and be on the big screen in front of dozens and dozens of people. It was Teacher Appreciation Night, but due to the small crowd, they couldn’t find a teacher, so I had to due (my sister is a teacher…so I guess that was close enough). The movie clip they showed me was pretty easy to guess…it was The Incredibles by Disney/Pixar. Having kids is really starting to pay off. I won two free movie tickets to the local theatre, but gave them to some kids because we were heading out of town the next morning. Yeah, I know..awww. In return, the kids gave me a game ball, so it worked out for the best for all of us. If some of the pics look foggy it’s from the, fog, I guess, as well as the constant misting. It really felt good to get the game in though…hoping we luck out in Portland. Our experience in Manchester was definitely a positive one. Final Score: New Hampshire Fisher Cats 7, Binghamton Mets 1.
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