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.
The Detroit Tigers have named Joe Jimenez as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and outfielder Mike Gerber Player of the Year. Both players laced up their cleats in West Michigan this season, and both were instrumental in the Whitecaps winning the Midwest League Championship. The 20-year-old Jimenez posted a 1.47 ERA in 40 games with the ‘Caps this season, earning five wins and 17 saves. He struck out 71 batters in 43 innings of work, with a 0.79 WHIP. His 97-98 mph fastball and nasty slider made him the ‘Caps ‘go-to’ guy in late innings, especially in the playoffs. Jimenez was the Tigers’ lone representative at the All-Star Futures game this past July in Cincinnati, and will head back to his home of Puerto Rico to play winter ball.
Gerber hit .292 this season in West Michigan, smacking 13 home runs and 76 RBI’s. He also added 31 doubles, 74 runs scored, and swiped 13 bases with a .822 OPS playing in 135 games this season. He also played eight games with the Whitecaps in 2014, hitting an impressive .387 with five RBI’s. Gerber, 22, was drafted by the Tigers in last seasons’ MLB Amateur Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 15th round. Ranked number 18 on Detroit’s prospect list, he’ll join fellow Whitecaps’ alums Austin Kubitza (last season’s Pitcher of the Year), Montreal Robertson, Dominic Ficociello (recently awarded a MiLB Gold Glove with a .996 fielding %), and Adam Ravenelle in the Arizona Fall League. JaCoby Jones will also be representing the Tigers as a member of the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. It was fun to watch Jimenez and Gerber play for West Michigan this season, and I’ll enjoy watching them climb the latter up the organization.
West Michigan Whitecaps-2015 Midwest League Champions
Monday night the Whitecaps held on to beat the Cedar Rapids Kernels 3-2 in a decisive game five to win the Midwest League crown. This is the teams first championship since 2007, but manager Andrew Graham won the title as a catcher for West Michigan back in 2004. The ‘Caps split the first two games at home, getting shut out 5-0 in game one, and coming back with a 4-1 win in game two (the one that we were at). They dropped a heart-breaker in game three, when the Kernels earned a 3-2 walk-off win in the ninth inning. Never giving up, the Whitecaps held on to win game four 2-1 and game five 3-2, on the back of relief pitcher Joe Jimenez.
In the final game, Ross Seaton earned the win on the mound, holding the Kernels to only two runs. The Whitecaps scored their runs on RBI’s by Francisco Contreras and David Gonzalez, while the third run was scored by Contreras on a wild pitch. Jimenez struck out the side on the ninth inning to secure the victory, and championship! As memorable as this season has been, we were lucky to get down to a handful of games to see the Whitecaps play. With Larry Parrish retiring in Toledo, I fully expect Andrew Graham to be promoted, unless the Tigers’ organization brings in someone to take over just at the Triple-A level. I think he’s done a great job with this team the last two seasons, and wouldn’t mind him sticking around. Congrats again, to the Whitecaps! You can read more on their championship win on the Midwest League website HERE.
Traverse City Beach Bums-2015 Frontier League Champions
The Beach Bums defeated the River City Rascals by the score of 4-1 last Friday night to win the Frontier Cup. The Bums swept the Rascals 3-0 in the best of five series, and were 6-0 in the postseason. In the ten year history of the ball club in Traverse City, this was the second time making to the finals, being defeated by River City back in 2012. The Bums literally went from worst to first this season, winning a club record 56 games as they advanced to the palyoffs for the fourth time since 2010. Injuries plaqued last seasons team, including Frontier Cup MVP Jose Vargas. Vargas was also the hero of game two, with a walk-off base hit to give his team a 6-5 win, and complete the comeback when they were down 5-1. Manager Dan Rohn, a Central Michigan alumni, did a great job with the team this season, and I think the Beach Bums are lucky to have a veteran coach at this level. Congrats to the Beach Bums, and were at least able to make it to a couple of games this season, including the last weekend of the regular season that started their nine-game winning streak. You can read more on the Bums title win on the Frontier League website HERE and at the Record Eagle website HERE.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League Finals)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Last week I was able to scratch one more thing off my baseball bucket list, while cheering on my Whitecaps in the Midwest League finals. The game was during the week, so the kids had to sit this one out due to school, but I was able to take a day off from work and make the trip down to enjoy the day with my dad.
The game was going pretty quick, as both the Kernels Sam Gibbons and the ‘Caps A.J. Ladwig were locked in a pitchers duel. Gibbons kept West Michigan off of the board until the seventh inning. Down 1-0, left fielder Christin Stewart smacked a double that put runners at second and third, with no outs, to really get things going. Designated-hitter Joey Pankake then singled to score two runs and the Whitecaps had a 2-1 lead. Stewart was awarded the run, as the Kernels’ catcher was blocking the plate without the ball. Cedar Rapids manager Jake Mauer was tossed by the home plate ump for arguing the call. Not well-played, Mauer. Things fell apart a bit for the Kernels, as they made two errors and hit a batter, as the ‘Caps chased Gibbons and took a 4-1 lead.
On the mound for West Michigan, Ladwig pitched a great game, giving up his only run in the second inning. He gave up only six scattered hits while striking out two, and issuing no walks in seven innings of work. Johan Belisario came in and carved up the Kernels batters in the eight with his nasty curveball, striking out one, and was credited with the hold. Top Tigers prospect Joe Jimenez pitched a perfect ninth, also, striking out two to earn the save. Great pitching performances all around for West Michigan. Leading the way offensively, Mike Gerber and Stewart each went 2-4 on the night, and Pankake went 1-4 with two RBI’s.
This was a great experience to be able to be at this game. Also fun when your team wins and you can high-five perfect strangers all around you and celebrate as fans. Good time for my dad and I to spend together, too, as baseball always goes best with family. This game tied the series at 1-1, but now as I’m posting this it’s tied at 2-2 with the fifth and final game tonight in Cedar Rapids. Win or lose, this was a fantastic season for the Whitecaps. They were an underdog team all season, and manager Andrew Graham has done a great job. Already looking forward to Minor League Baseball in 2016! Final: Whitecaps 4, Kernels 1.
Here’s a nice little video of the ‘Caps taking a 2-1 lead on a Joey Pankake base hit, where West Michigan scored the second run due to the fact that the Kernels catcher was blocking the plate without the ball:
MiLB.com did a great story on West Michigan Whitecaps outfielder Ross Kivett. Growing up on Ohio, Kivett started playing hockey at an early age, and only started baseball when he was 12. He’s having a nice season in West Michigan, so it looks like he made the right decision, and that’s not taking anything away from the great sport of hockey. I know for me living here in Michigan, hockey is huge (especially the town I’m living in right now). For me as a kid, the only two sports were baseball and hockey. It made sense, too, playing baseball all summer and hockey all winter, and they continue to be the true sport loves of my life. I really don’t think that kids play multiple sports like I did as a kid, and it’s too bad. You can read the full article on Ross HERE.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs Bowling Green Hot Rods (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Oh, it’s that time of the year, again, when my little Nerf-Herders and I head down to Fifth Third Ballpark for Star Wars Night. We got to meet old favorites like the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader, as well as a newbie like Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels. The one thing I was disappointed with was that there was no Boba Fett!! How could the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy not make an appearance?
After we mingled with members of the Galactic Empire and Rebellion, we were able to take a stroll around the warning track of Fifth Third Ballpark. Personally, I never turn down an opportunity to walk around on a professional baseball field. Jedi Franky welcomed us onto the field, and was able to get a few good pics of the boys.
With everything going on, we almost forgot we had a ballgame to watch. This was a pitcher’s duel for certain. On the mound for the ‘Caps, A.J. Ladwig gave up an early solo home run, but settle in and pitched a nice game. He went 6.1 innings, only giving up two earned runs, and striking out two. Gage Smith would come in and earn the save.
Offensively, West Michigan was led by catcher Arvicent Perez, who went 3-3 on the night, including an RBI. Both Rashad Brown and Michael Gerber went 2-4, respectively, with Gerber earning an RBI. Garrett Mattlage scored on a wild pitch, and Zach Shepherd walked and scored on a throwing error. Final: Whitecaps 3, Hot Rods 2.
After the game we were treated to some fireworks, which capped off a fantastic night. Just one more game where I feel lucky and blessed to be able to spend time with my kids and dad. We’re not sure when our next game will be, but we’ll be sure to make it’s a good one.
And one more photo we bought from MI Unlimited Photography. For some reason all three of us look like we were just captured and are about to be brought before the Emperor. I guess we’re just tired from travel and fun.