The Detroit Tigers were a busy bunch at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski traded away a few more West Michigan Whitecaps alumni, trying to build a team to win the World Series in 2015. The price was steep, and we fans had to say goodbye to some solid young ballplayers. Before the meetings even began, the Tigers traded away middle-infielder Domingo Leyba, along with pitcher Robbie Ray, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in three-way deal that brought starting pitcher Shane Greene from the New York Yankees. The 19-year-old prospect hit .397 in 30 games for the Whitecaps this season, after being promoted from Class-A SS Connecticut Tigers when short-stop Willy Adames was traded late last season to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The second trade involving some West Michigan alumni, had another middle-infielder in Eugenio Suarez and starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Alfredo Simon. As a rookie, Suarez hit .242 with four home runs, and 23 RBI’s last season in 85 games with Detroit. In 2012 with the Whitecaps, Suarez batted .288 with 34 doubles and 67 RBI’s. His .947 fielding percentage helped him win a Minor League Baseball Gold Glove at short-stop (.971 at short, and his fielding percentage was 1.000 at second base). Crawford was a first round draft pick by Detroit in 2013. He pitched for the ‘Caps this season, going 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA, and was the starting pitcher for the East at the Midwest League All-Star Classic played at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The Tigers also lost former Whitecaps pitcher Alex Burgos in the Triple-A/Double-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The 24-year-old hurler saw action in Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo, but mostly with the Flying Tigers earning a 4.26 ERA. He suited up for the ‘Caps in 2011, pitching to a 6-5 record and a 2.19 ERA. We were able to see him pitch on Star Wars night that season. Two other former ‘Cap pitchers, Edgar De La Rosa and Montreal Robertson were spared in the Major League portion of the draft. We wish the best of luck to all of the players we were lucky enough to watch in West Michigan.
Toledo Mud Hens vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (International League)
Fifth Third Field-Toledo, OH: Well, it’s been about seven years since our last trip to Toledo to see the Mud Hens, so it was about time we made it back to Mudville. We stayed in Findlay, so it was a fairly brief drive into Toledo. With any downtown stadium, parking can be tough, but we got there early enough to make it into the lot across the street. The weather was perfect, even though it had rained the night before. I was hoping for maybe a double-header, but the Hens finished five innings the night before to make it a complete game. We had plenty of time to get a beer and a dog for lunch, and get some shopping in. I was hoping to get Brian a Muddy mascot, but they didn’t have any for some reason. He was happy I picked him up a Ghostbusters night t-shirt, though, as he loves that movie. There was a pretty decent crowd, and, as many mid-week day games go, catered to kids and seniors. I really do love seeing kids at ball games, but when they’re brought in for groups, the counselors really need to set some rules for them. The kids next to us were in and out of their seats every inning, which can be distracting, and inconvenient for my elderly father. Before the game we also got to see Tigers’ prospect Robbie Ray getting some extra work in. He didn’t pitch on this day, but always cool to see a top prospect. The mascot Muddy also paraded some kids from a youth group around the field.
As the Mud Hens are a Tigers affiliate, I was pretty familiar with most of the players, and had seen many of them in West Michigan. The RailRiders even had former Whitecap Scott Sizemore on their roster, who was one of my favorite players from the ‘Caps 2007 Midwest League championship team. Others we’ve seen before included first baseman Jordon Lennerton, second baseman Brandon Douglas, third baseman Wade Gaynor, catcher James McCann, and Duane Below who was on the mound for Toledo. The game got off to a good start, with the Hens scoring twice in the first inning on Tyler Collins sacrifice fly, and a home run by Trevor Crowe. Gaynor hit an RBI double in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead.
With the Mud Hens doing well, I took the opportunity to explore the ballpark a little bit more. I love the full wrap-around concourses, and used it to get some nice shots, including a panoramic of the stadium.
The ‘Roost’ is a set of seats connected to a neighboring building, with a great view of the game. We couldn’t buy these unfortunately, because they are always saved for a group outing. The usher, or ‘guard’, at the stairs to the Roost let me sneak up there and take a few pics, even though he made it clear he wasn’t supposed to.
We were also able to see the RailRiders ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte for a few innings. He took the loss for Scranton/WB, though. I remember watching him throw back in 2009 when he was playing for the Charleston River Dogs.
The Hens gave up three runs in the sixth inning, but got those three right back. Both teams ended up trading runs in the eighth inning, also. Ezequiel Carrera went 1-4 on the day with two runs scored and a stolen base, while Gaynor ended up 2-3. Below earned the win, pitching 6.2 innings, giving up the three runs, with one strike out and Kevin Whelan earned the save. Carrera also made a wicked catch in the outfield. In all, this was just a great day watching a great game, and I got a game ball to top it all off. I really love Fifth Third Field, and need to make it there much more often. Final: Mud Hens 7, RailRiders 4.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
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.
Empire State Yankees vs. Durham Bulls
Frontier Field-Rochester, NY: While the Red Wings are away, the Yankees will play…in Frontier Field, that is. Due to a new stadium being built, the Scratnon/Wilkes Barre Yankees will be taking on the moniker of ‘Empire State’ for the season, and playing ‘home games’ in places such as Rochester and Syracuse while the home teams are out-of-town. This gave us a great opportunity to catch a game, and see two more teams, that we probably would not have seen otherwise. I found Frontier Field a very nice venue, and our seats could not have been better, front row on the third base side. The kids had a lot of fun watching this game on MiLB.TV, as they could see their daddy and papa quite a bit. The game itself flew by, as the Durham Bulls shut out the Yankees 1-0. Alex Cobb got the win on the mound for Durham, and I was surprised to see him pitching for the Rays when I turned the game on last night versus the Red Sox. We had a lot of fun here, and were excited about the fact we would be coming back in a few days to watch the Red Wings. I went right to bed after the game, though, as the next morning we would get up bright and early to get on the road to Cooperstown…Final: Bulls 1, Yankees 0.
Pawtucket Red Sox vs. Scranton/WB Yankees: McCoy Stadium-Pawtucket, RI
Our 2011 adventure started out in Pawtucket, home of the International League’s Red Sox, or PawSox. I really liked McCoy Stadium, as it’s a throwback to the more classic ballparks. Walking through the gates at McCoy is like taking a step back into time. The fans and staff are extremely friendly, and are more than happy to talk about the history of the stadium and the team. Some of the older staff members had some great stories. With the rain delay, we had plenty of time to explore the ballpark and get our shopping in also. My favorite park was the mural of my favorite player as a kid, Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. The ballpark has pictures from all sorts of historic events that have taken place there, especially the longest game in pro baseball history that lasted 33 innings. Despite the fact that it had not been raining for some time, the game was called and we missed our first game to rain in the seven-year history of our trip. Some of the fans thought that the teams just wanted to hit the road early, as they played in worse weather the two previous nights. Definitely disappointing, but you don’t have to see a game here to realize how special the ballpark is, but I’m sure since the PawSox were playing the Yankees, the atmosphere would have been great.
This is a pretty good reason to watch independant pro baseball, and ‘feel good’ story if I every heard one. On Monday, Jeff Williams, a closer for the Frontier League’s Traverse City Beach Bums, had his contract bought out by the New York Yankees. He has been assigned to the Charleston RiverDogs of the Class A South Atlantic League. Williams was signed by the Red Sox out of college (Colorado State-Pueblo) but never saw action in there system.
So Williams spent two and a half seasons playing independant pro ball with the Beach Bums. In that time he became the Bums single season career record holder for saves. He converted 26 straight saves dating back to June 6, 2008. That including 13 this season which is tops in the league. Williams was also and All-Star this season and even earned the save in that game by hurling a 1-2-3 ninth inning that included two strikeouts.
He also leads Traverse City this season with 23 appearanced and a tiny ERA of 0.78. Williams has not allowed a run in his last 16.2 innings of work, including 23 strikeouts. In 2008, he set a single season team record by converting on 15 saves out of 16 opportunities. He appeared in 39 games going 3-4 with a 3. 40 ERA. In 2007 he pitched 38 games and posted an ERA of 4.61 with 52 strikeout.
So, good luck Jeff, in taking your mid-nighties fast ball to the show. It’s a big step up from being a Bum in Traverse City (right in my back yard) to Charleston, SC (where I was training last month). It’s a small world, but then baseball has the habit of uniting the world.
Photo courtesy of the Traverse City Beach Bums