West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Bowling Green Hot Rods: Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI
Our favorite game of the year is Star Wars night for sure. This time we brought Brian down for the fun, too. It was a beautifull night for baseball, but the real thrill for the kids was seeing all of their favorite movie characters. Me being a Star Wars freak since I was like, five, they’ve been exposed to the movies (original trilogy) for a number of years. We were able to get pics with most of the characters on hand, especially Darth Vader and Boba Fett, who is simply the greatest. There were some Jedi and X-Wing pilots hanging around, but the kids, especially Trevor, favor the Empire and thier legions of Stormtroopers, Snowtroopers, and pilots. Brian wanted no part of Darth Vader, either, as you’ll see he’s not in the picture with him. Darth Vader also threw out the first pitch, and had a little duel with Crash, the mascot. The night ended with a fireworks display with Star Wars theme music. The Whitecaps also wore special Star Wars jerseys. Of all the game I’ve been to so far, I think we’ve only seen the regular ‘Caps jersey’s once! There was a huge crowd again this year, season high 10,528, but we still got to see who we wanted and had time to play in the park there, too. I’m not sure what our next game will be, but it will be hard to beat this night.
In the game, the Whitecaps had a solid offensive effort, beating the Hot Rods 11-3. Top prospect Nick Constellanos had two home runs the game, and went 3-4. He was recently named the Detroit Tigers Minor Player of the Month for hitting .375 with 20 RBI’s in June. He now leads the Midwest League with 94 hits, leads the ‘Caps with 52 RBI’s, and is one of the MWL leaders in batting average with .306 and doubles with 23. Castellanos is a good bet for next seasons Furtures Game if he keeps this pace up. On the mound, Alex Burgos was solid in the win. He allowed three runs on five hits while striking out six, to up his record to 4-1. Three of the hits he gave up were infield singles.
Ok, I’ve been slacking a bit on my Whitecaps coverage, but at least I’ve been to more games this season that the last few years, so that more fun that’s just reading the stats. The Whitecaps are off to a solid second half, so here’s hoping they can stay hot and continue their playoff streak. Inserted are photos from the ‘Caps recent series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps from the Grand Rapids Press. Happy 4th of July everyone….
First Half: The Whitecaps really struggled early this season, with such a young roster, but were able to battle back a bit. They ended the first half 32-37, which was good for 6th in the eight team division. What’s impressive, is that they went through a rough 12 game losing streak early in the season, so being able to recover from that is a positive sign.
Second Half: West Michigan is off to a solid start in the second half of the season, going 7-4, which is good enough for second place in the East one game behind the Dayton Dragons. Outfielder Jeff Rowland is off to a great start in this second stint. He’s batting .400 with four doubles, six walks, and a .600 OBP. The pitching staff is also getting the job done for the Whitecaps. Their starters have had seven quality starts in the first 10 games and are 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. The team has gone 17-8 since June 3 and are almost at .500 for the entire season.
Team Leaders: Rookie sensation Nick Castellanos is emerging as a team leader, despite having a slow start to his first full pro season. He’s leading the ‘Caps in batting average with .306, RBI’s with 48, and SLG% with .441. James Robbins is leading the team in home runs with 10, and Luis Castillo is tops with a .369 OBP. On the mound, Kevin Eichhorn leads the team in three categories of his own: wins with 6, SO with 68, and a 1.17 WHIP. Antonio Cruz has the best ERA with 3.29, and Bruce Rondon is tops with 15 saves.
All Stars: Representing the Whitecaps in this year Midwest League All-Star game were Bruce Rondon, Rob Brantly, and Hernan Perez. Rondon pitched a scoreless 0.2 of an inning with one strikeout. Brantly went 0-3, while Perez went 0-2 in the East’s 8-3 loss to the West. In this season’s MLB All-Star game, catcher Alex Avila of the Tigers has been voted in as the starter. He’ll be joined on the American League roster by Matt Joyce (TB) and may face the National League’s Jair Jurrjens (ATL) on the mound.Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
The Streak: The Whitecaps young season has been interesting so far, to say the least. After having the first three games of the season postponed, to a beautifull opening day with 80 degree weather, to their five game winning streak. The unfortunate part, however, is thier current streak that has the team suffering it’s eleventh loss in a row, a new franchise record. The previous record was the inagural 1994 team that endured a nine game losing streak from July 22-30. A streak like this is tough on a ball club, especially the mangaer. Ernie Young made some statements to the Grand Rapids Press:
“We have a young team and we’re going to make mistakes. Right now, we’re taking some lumps, but I expect these guys to keep battling, get better and be professional.” He also stated: “It’s tough on everybody. It’s tough on the players, it’s tough on myself. I go home every night and re-manage the game from that day for anything I could have done differently. My job is to go out there and encourage these guys, let them know I’ve been in their shoes, I’ve done the same things they’re doing. As long as I can keep preaching to the and believe, they’re going to come through.”
Young seems to be the perfect manager to turn this youthfull team around. They’re in the cellar of the Midwest League as of now with a record of 7-14, but they were in last place at the begining of last season while still earning a playoff spot in the second half. The players seem to be taking things in stride, also. Some of the players also spoke to the Grand Rapids Press.
“It’s not like we’re not hitting, it has just been the timing of them,” stated Nick Constellanos. “We’re going to work hard to get through this.”
“Obviously, we’re frustrated,” stated P.J. Polk. “You want to win, but I think we’re as positive as you can be in this situation. Everybody is doinig their part in picking each other up. We’ll be all right.”
It’s only the fist month, so even a small winning streak can even out their record and get them back into the MWL title hunt.
Jonathan Welscott: The Whitecaps had a very special guest announcer on Friday, junior-high student Jonathan Welscott. Jonathan, who just happens to be blind and suffers from a mild for of cerebral palsy, announced the batters in the third inning at Fifth Third Ballpark.
“It was really cool,” Welscott told the Press. “I guess I was a good luck charm for the Whitecaps. I had no idea what it would be like, but it was a cool experience.”
The Whitecap scored three runs in the third while he was announcing. Maybe hire this kid full time? Why not, as announcing is nothing new to this eigth-grader. He’s called middle school and high school games in the past two years including volleyball, basketball, and football. Despite not being able to perticipate in sports, he still loves the games, and has a great attitude for someone who’s undergone more than 20 eye surgeries since he was born.
“Since it is hard to be involved in sports because I’m blind, this is a way for me to be involved in sports and I like doing it.”
This is a ‘beyond baseball’ moment if I ever heard one, people. All the best for this kid.
The Zumaya List: This is formerly known as the disabled list. Whitecaps pitcher Richard Zumaya has recently been put on the DL with shoulder stiffness. The 21-yr-old experienced discomfort after he took the loss in Friday’s game. He joins his brother Joel Zumaya, a career DLer with the Tigers. At least they can keep each other company and get some quality video game time in.
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Continuing with the ‘Ten Questions’ segment over at MiLB.com, Josh Jackson caught up with Nick Castellanos at spring training this year. Nick is ranked by Baseball America as the Detroit Tigers number two prospect in their system. So far this season with West Michigan, he’s hitting .186 with two doubles and four RBI’s in eleven games. Not real impressive numbers so far, but he’s just 19, and getting the playing time, so I’m sure things will turn around for him. We had a chance to meet him on opening day and he seemed real nice and autographed a ball for Lily, so we’re wishing him the best, and hope to see him up with the Tigers here in a few years.
MiLB.com: You only had time to slip into seven pro games last year, all in the GCL. It must be pretty incredible to be playing in the Grapefruit League. Have you been able to take a moment to reflect on that or have you been too concentrated on business?
Castellanos: You know, every day you have to come and play baseball, so I try and stay focused on that. I don’t really think about how I got here, [because] I really don’t have time to look back and appreciate it yet.
MiLB.com: What have you been working on most in camp?
Castellanos: Probably my defense. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot. I’ve been putting in a lot of early work on that, working with my coaches on that a lot.
MiLB.com: When did you start playing third base or having coaches identify you at a third baseman? What other positions did you play?
Castellanos: I played short most of my career, all throughout Little League and high school. Third base is still a little bit new to me, so I’m still learning it a little bit. [The biggest difference is] pretty much the reaction time, the way they’re teaching me to be set up before the pitch. It’s working on slow rollers, working on fielding bunts.
At shortstop, you have more time to play the ball where you want to play it. But at third base, you just have to react. There’s no time to do anything but catch the ball.
MiLB.com: What was Draft day like for you?
Castellanos: Draft day was a great experience. I had my family there, and I have some of my family in Detroit. I knew [the Tigers] were interested, but not more than some other teams.
MiLB.com: Was it especially exciting to be picked by a team with such a rich baseball history? And by the team that has Miguel Cabrera?
Castellanos: Oh, yeah, of course. It’s been really cool. I’ve looked up to him when I was a little kid, and now I’m here playing on the same team as him. Not very many kids get to have that experience.
MiLB.com: You ended up with a nice signing bonus. Was it weird to suddenly have that money — and to have everybody know about it?
Castellanos: You know, yes and no. I really didn’t think about it like that. My friends and family didn’t treat me any different, so, in a way, no. Everybody treats me the same.
But I don’t need to ask my dad for money when I want to go out for friends, so that’s different.
<p MiLB.com: The Miami area generates a lot of strong prospects. Do you remember playing against Orioles first-round pick Manny Machado at any point?
Castellanos: I played with him on the USA team. We both knew [we’d be in the same Draft class]. We really didn’t talk about it much, but we both knew we were the better ballplayers in the area. We knew that. He did his thing and I did my thing, and that’s why we are who we are.
MiLB.com: In your limited time in the GCL, you put up good numbers. Were you at all nervous, coming into that first pro experience?
Castellanos: My first at-bat, I was a little bit nervous, but I just remembered I was there for a reason. After that, baseball was baseball, and I did well.
MiLB.com: You’ve played in Wrigley Field and in Venezuela and now with the Major League club in Spring Training. It’s a weird question for somebody at the beginning of his career, but what’s been the highlight so far?
Castellanos: Probably Wrigley Field. [That day was] really, really good.
MiLB.com: It’s been reported that you’ll likely start 2011 with [Class A] West Michigan, a couple hours from Comerica Park. What are your expectations or goals for the season?
Castellanos: Just to play smart, play hard and do well. I’m guessing [my family members who live in the area] will come and see me play a couple times.
Heading downstate, I wasn’t very optimistic about this game actually taking place, as all the weather reports called for thunder storms. The baseball gods must have felt generous, though, and after the first three games of the season were postponed from Lansing, the Whitecaps and Lugnuts were finally able to kick the season off in Comstock Park. The sun was shining as I packed the kids kid in the car. The boys stayed back at my sisters due to illness, so I got to spend the day at the ball park with my favorite girl (my daughter, not Avril Lavigne). The weather was sunny as we played catch in the parking lot before the gates opened at 11:00 a.m. When we were finally let into the ball park our sences were overloaded with the smells of popcorn, hot dogs, and freshly cut grass as we recieved out free hats and found our seats. Lily played at the park for a bit before we got in line for autographs on the field at 12:15 p.m. They only allowed about fifteen minutes on the field, so we had to hustle to get her baseball and cards signed. Lily did get to meet the Tigers number two prospect Nick Castellanos and former Major Leaguers Ben Oglivie and Ernie Young. The rest of the day was perfect for baseball, topping low 80’s (a record high for the ‘Caps openers) with a nice breeze for us to enjoy the action.
The game itself was a real pitchers duel, with the Whitecaps winning 13-12 with a walk-off hit in the ninth. Trailing 12-7, they scored the last six runs of the game for the win. West Michigan battled back with a seventh inning two-run homer by Luis Castillo, and a three-run shot by James Robbins to even the score in inning eight. In the ninth inning, Dixon Machado stole second and scored the winning run on a two-out base hit by Rob Brantly. Machado was 4-5 on the day with a stolen base and three runs scored. Brantley went 2-4 with the home run and a two-run double. Bruce Rondon came on in the ninth to close the door and earn the win.
I simply can’t wait for the next ball game we can make it too. Just another month until our trip in May, which will include a Whitecaps game, too.
Photos property of M.I.B.
The Detroit Tigers organization along with the West Michigan Whitecaps have set the opening day roster which includes ten returning players and seven that are on Baseball America’s top prospect list. This will be a young team just like last year, with six teenagers being asigned to Detroit’s Single-A affilate in Grand Rapids.
The top prospect making the team is third baseman Nick
Castellanos (pictured), who is ranked number two on Detroit’s list after former ‘Cap Jacob Turner. The 19 year old was Detroit’s first pick and 44th overall in 2010. Castellanos impressed scouts at the 2009 Under Armor All-American Game at Wrigley Field where he won the home run derby and was named Player of the Game after hitting 4-4 with four doubles. Playing at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Florida, he was named 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year after hitting .542, 41 RBI’s, six homers, and 22 steals.
Other prospects joining this years club are relief pitcher Bruce Rondon, catcher Rob Brantley, shortstop Dixon Machado (sweet baseball name btw), and starting pitchers Kyle Ryan and Ramon Lebron.
The amount of young talent has first year Whitecaps manager Ernie Young optimistic about the upcoming season. He told the Grand Rapids Press: “It’s going to be and exciting group of guys. We’re going to do a lot of things baseball-wise–we’re going to hit-and-run, steal and take extra bases. We’re going to do little things to help us become a better ball club.”
Returnig to West Michigan are Brantly, Lebron, Antonio Cruz, Shawn Teufel, Patrick Cooper, Jordan Pratt, Luis Alberto Sanz, Hernan Perez, Jimmy Gulliver and Jeff Rowland.
Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Press