West Michigan Whitecaps vs. South Bend Cubs (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: For our last game in Michigan for awhile, mother nature really dumped on us, and it’s hard not to take this personally. For the Whitecaps home opener, it was a balmy 36 degrees, but honestly at least the sun was out and the game wasn’t cancelled. We wanted to make sure we were one of the first 1,000 through the gate, so we could claim our replica 2015 Midwest League championship rings.
Unfortunately, do to the field conditions and cold, they cancelled the on field catch and autograph session. They never opened the play ground, either, and really cheesed Brian off. At least we were able to see all three of the ‘Caps mascots one more time, as they entertained the kids until game time.
The team also had all six of West Michigan’s Midwest League championship trophies on display. The time finally passed, and while we were basking in the sun, the club had a little presentation of the newest trophy.
Before the game, we took a walk over to watch the ‘Caps warm up, and I got a couple of pics of starting pitcher Matt Hall (22) and outfielder Cam Gibson (23), son of Tiger great Kirk Gibson.
As you can see, the Whitecaps have added extended netting all the way across the dugout, and this really screws up my world as a baseball fan. Watching and trying to take pictures through this netting simply sucks, in my opinion. I do understand it’s for safety, but if some fans can’t keep off their iPhones during gameplay, or have small children, they need to pay attention or sit in a less dangerous area.
Due to the cold, the game itself seemed to be a little sloppy, although a few of the batters were given an ‘hit’ on a ball that would probably normally be an error. The Whitecaps could seem to get a big hit with players in scoring position either, with Brett Pirtle scoring their first run on a passed ball. On the bump, Hall pitched four innings, giving up one run on five hits, while striking out two. Relief pitcher Toller Boardman gave up three runs for West Michigan to take the loss, however.
Trailing 5-1 going into the ninth, the ‘Caps made it a little interesting, score a pair of runs, but it was too little too late. Offensively, Pirtle ended up going 1-3 with a walk and two runs scored. First baseman Will Allen and left fielder Rashad Brown each went 2-4, with Allen adding an RBI. I also had to take another walk to find a place for a few more photo not obstructed by the netting. Final: Whitecaps 3, Cubs 5.
Despite the cold and the everything, it was still a fun day at the ballpark. Again, the watching the game through all that netting isn’t as enjoyable, and Brian was bummed all game that they never opened the playground, but still a better time than doing anything anywhere else. We’ll be pretty busy the next couple of weeks, and can’t wait to be settled and at home in a new ballpark. I’ll sign off for now with a video of the game:
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.
Well, this is like Deja Vu all over again, as the Detroit Tigers organization has traded away one of my favorite prospects and former West Michigan Whitecap Javier Betancourt. I went through this a year ago when the Tigers shipped Devon Travis off to Toronto for Anthony Gose. I know this is a business, and the organization is making deals to better itself and be competitive for the 2016 season, but I’ve seen many of my favorite Whitecaps get traded away over the years. As a fan, it’s simply easier to invest in players that you’ve met and seen play live many times. Also, as a former second-baseman myself, they tend to be my favorites to track up through the system. Players like Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Betancourt, and most recently Joey Pankake, have patrolled second base at Fifth Third Ballpark, and I’d hope to see do the same at Comerica Park in TV. Sizemore had his chance, but was dealt after the fact, and many don’t even make it that far. Henry has come back to the organization as a scout, so I guess that could be considered a victory, right?
As for Betancourt, he’s now with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and in return the Tigers received a much needed closer in RHP Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod). The Brewers will also receive a player-to-be-named-later, as will the Tigers, possibly, well, that’s not guaranteed, I guess. Detroit signed Betancourt as non-drafted free-agent in 2011. With the Whitecaps in 2014, he hit .269, with 18 doubles and 54 RBIs, and was a Midwest League All-Star as the youngest player in the league. This past season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he hit .263, with 17 doubles and 48 RBIs. Known for his above-average defense, he was also considered a hard worker by coaches, and a good teammate by his peers. We wish him all the best in Milwaukee, and say ‘hi’ to former Whitecaps Hernan Perez and Corey Knebel for us…
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.