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
Yesterday Minor League Baseball and Rawling Sporting Goods released the names of the nine players chosen to receive Gold Gloves for defensive excellence at their position. Three out of the nine happen to be Detroit Tigers prospects and former West Michigan Whitecaps. The 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were chosen from all the qualifying players from the ten domestic-based, full season Minor Leagues. Each player will receive his own Rawlings Gold Glove Award, modeled after the iconic award given to MLB’s top defensive players. Taking home the award at first base is Jordan Lennerton, who played with the Toledo Mud Hens in 2013. He posted an impressive .996 fielding percentage, with 1, 167 put outs, and five errors. Lennerton played two seasons in West Michigan, hitting .282 with 71 RBI’s, and a .996 fielding percentage in 2009. In 2010, he hit .290 with a .993 fielding percentage. Covering the hot-corner is Wade Gaynor. He had a .967 fielding percentage, with 95 put-outs, 227 assists, and 11 errors playing third base for the Erie Sea Wolves. We were lucky enough to meet Wade (pictured above) back in 2010 when he was with the Whitecaps. He hit .286 with 39 doubles, 80 RBI’s, and a .927 fielding percentage that year. Earning the honor in left field is Jason Krizan, who just played for the Whitecaps the last two seasons, where he hit .242 with 59 RBI’s, and a .980 fielding percentage combined. This season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he had a .995 fielding percentage, 175 put-outs, and only one error in the outfield. Congratulations to all three players. It was fun watching them in West Michigan, and I’ve been enjoying tracking their progress through the Tigers’ system.
“I know what an honor it is for a player to receive a Rawlings Gold Glove Award, having been involved in presenting them to the winners the last two years,” stated President and CEO of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Conner. “The players really appreciate and understand how prestigious the accolade is and I want to thank Rawlings Sporting Goods for their continued support of Minor League Baseball.”
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps are competing in their 20th season in the Midwest League. To celebrate this event, the team is having the fans vote on the best players they’ve seen in each position for the last two decades. Even three managers are up for the vote, in Bruce Fields, Matt Walbeck, and Tom Brookens. All three won the Midwest League Championship in West Michigan. Catchers such as Brandon Inge, current Tiger Alex Avila, and Miami Marlin Rob Brantley are all up for the best behind the plate. At first base, I think that Robert Fick has the inside edge. He was voted into the first Whitecaps Hall of Fame, and has the honor of hitting the last home run in Tiger Stadium. That’s just my vote, though. Second base is my favorite position, so I’ve followed the players there pretty closely. It will be tough for me to choose only one of my favorites such as Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, and Brandon Douglas. At short stop, in my opinion, the vote might come down to current Tiger Ramon Santiago, or last’s years MiLB Gold Glove winner Eugenio Suarez, which is a tough call. At the hot corner, top prospect Nick Castellanos may be the favorite despite being moved to the outfield last season with Lakeland and Erie. He may get a push from guys like Wade Gaynor and Wilkin Ramirez, though. Fans are allowed three choices for outfielders, and there are plenty. While players like Matt Joyce, Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross, and Brent Clevlen have all seen action at the MLB level, Gorkys Hernandez had a great season in West Michigan in 2007. He was also named the Tigers Minor League Player of the Year that year. Fans are also allowed to vote for three pitchers. Players like Andy Van Hekken, Casey Crosby, Duane Below, and Joel Zumaya all found success on the hill in West Michigan. Rounding out the relief pitchers, fans can vote for two, including Michael Torrealba and Anthony Claggett. This is another great way the Whitecaps are celebrating so much success the last 20 years. VOTE NOW!
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers: As we were rained out last night, the weather was on our side tonight. A beautifull night in Grand Rapids, to enjoy some baseaball. Of course, Star Wars night brought out over 10,000 fans to Fifth Third Ballpark for the game and to see their favorite characters. Yes, the two loves of my childhood colided in one special night with my kids. Baseball fans and Star Wars nerds fans alike were cheering in unison. The Whitecaps even wore special Star Wars jerseys with the likeness of Darth Vader on them. I think that Lily and Trevor were more excited over meeting the characters than the game, but at least they got to see everyone they wanted. Trevor’s favoites are the Stormtroopers and Lily liked meeting Chewbacca. The kids also got autographs from some of the Whitecaps players like third baseman Wade Gaynor and hitting coach Louis Quinnones who played with the Giants, Reds, and Cubs. The game was capped off with a fireworks display. Of course the kids had to watch the Star Wars movies on the way home (no prequals), and are now hounding me to play with my 30 year old toys. Oh well, they can’t last forever, but the memories of this ballgame can. Final: Whitecaps 4, Snappers 6.
Photos property of M.I.B.
First Half Report: The Whitecaps finished last in the Midewest League East Division with a record of 26-43, the worst in the team’s history. The club is on pace to score it’s fewest runs in a season (currantly 570 in 2003) and to have the highest ERA (4.04 in 1999). Offensively, the only standout is third baseman Wade Gaynor (pictured) who hit .269 with 20 extra-base hits. On the mound, Giovanni Soto led the way with a 5-4 record and 2.05 ERA. Pitching prospect Jacob Turner and first baseman Jordan Lennerton have been promoted to the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the Florida State League, and made room for some 2010 draft picks on the ‘Caps rosters. Coming to West Michigan are infielder Tony Plagman from Georgia Tech (where he hit 21 homers), catcher Robert Brantly from Univ. of Cal-Riverside (hit .373 with 20 doubles and 11 homers), and first baseman Clay Jones from Alabamba (hit .313 with 17 homers and 66 RBI’s for the Crimson Tide). Hopefully these guys an contribute and help to aviod the Whitecaps falling on their face again in the second half.
2010 Midwest League All-Star Game: Representing the Whitecaps in this seasons All-Star game were 19 year old pitchers Jacob Turner and Giovonni Soto. Turner pitched the third inning, giving up one double and retiring the other three hitters. “Whenever you make an all-strar team, it means you’re doing something right,” Turner told the Grand Rapids Press. “It felt all right. It was one inning. Nothing spectacular and it wasn’t terrible. I just went out there and did my thing. That’s what you have to try adn do.” The lefty Soto came in to pitch a shutout inning in the sixth. He gave up one infield single and struck out one. “I felt proud because I’ve never been on an all-star team”, stated Soto. “And I feel I pitched well.” Their efforts help lead the East Division to a 6-2 victory over the West for the second year in a row, and fifth time in the last six years.
Whitecaps Hall of Fame: Voting has now started for the 2011 class of the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. This years ballot features current Detroit Tigers Joel Zumaya and Ramon Santiago, as well as Detroit’s head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny. Heather is the first female head groundskeeper in Major League history, and used to run things at Fifth-Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids. You can cast your vote HERE.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press