Kicking off our annual baseball trip this season will be the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game in Comstock Park, MI in less than two weeks. This will be the first All-Star game of any kind that we have attended, and it will possibly be the highlight game of the trip. The gates to Fifth Third Ballpark will be opening at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll be able to see both teams take batting practice and be able to take part in an on-field autograph session. Also in attendance, joining the Whitecap’s own Crash the River Rascal, will be Big Lug (Lansing), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), Fang (Wisconsin), and Johnny (Fort Wayne). There will also being jugglers, stilt walkers, and face painters on the concourse before the game. Sounds like a great place to be a kid, and it’s almost guaranteed we’ll be seeing some great baseball. The Midwest League has announced the rosters for the event, also.
The West Michigan Whitecaps lead the way with five (or six?) players selected. Infielder Javier Betancourt (.272, 68 hits) and outfielder Wynton Bernard (.298, 14 doubles) were picked as the position players representing the ‘Caps. On the mound, pitchers Buck Farmer (5-4, 2.81 ERA), Austin Kubitza (5-0, 2.02 ERA), and Joe Mantiply (4-1, 2.00) will represent West Michigan. Jonathan Crawford (2-1, 2.27 ERA) is listed on the ‘Cap website, but has yet to be added to the official roster. That’s a very good group for the home-town fans to root for.
The Lansing Lugnuts will be sending four players north on I-96. Starting for the Eastern Division will be first baseman Matt Dean (.297, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and third baseman Mitch Nay (.267, 31 RBI’s). Outfielder Derrick Loveless (.287) will come off the bench, as will pitcher Griffin Murphy (2-2, 1.73). Not a bad group to represent the Lugnuts this year.
Three members of the Great Lakes Loons will also be all-star bound. Starting for the Eastern Division will catcher Kyle Farmer (.308, 15 2B, 33 RBI’s) and outfielder Joey Curletta (.314, 72 hits, 95 total bases). On the hill will Mark Pope, with a 1-0 record and miniscule 0.41 ERA. What the Loons lack in quantity, that definitely make up for in quality. All three players are having great seasons in the Midwest League this year!
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps successfully held their home opener on Tuesday night. Was there ever any doubt? Apparently, there was, as the organization coined the phrase ‘never in doubt’, when stating that Fifth Third Ballpark would be ready, willing, and able to host baseball after the fire back in January. Co-owners of the team Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter addressed the crowd before the game, welcoming them back for a new season. The two business partners became fast friends, and together brought baseball to West Michigan in 1994. They both had the same feeling about Tuesday as they did 21 years ago.
“I’m so glad to see all you here tonight because this is why we do this,” Baxter stated to the rabid Whitecaps fans. “This is your team. This is your facility. Lew and I are so proud to be the stewards of this franchise for you folks.”
The season is underway, but there is still some work to be done. Most notably the home clubhouse and suites on the first base side.
As for the game, the Whitecaps hung on to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2. Jeff Thompson was the starter, pitching 4-plus innings, striking out six and did not get scored on. Julio Felix earned the win, despite getting into trouble a few times. Montreal Robertson earned his second save of the season in the win. Offensively, Dominic Ficociello knocked in the winning run, going 1-3. Ben Verlander also went 1-3 with two RBI’s, and Javier Betancourt singled and scored a run. The ‘Caps improved to 3-2 on the young season, but dropped game two to the T-Rats, and are now 3-3. The home stand continues over the weekend, and we’ll finally get to see them play on Saturday. Manager Andrew Graham seems to know there’s some work to be done, but is also confident in this team.
“We’ll be a scrappy team,” Graham stated to MLive. com. “We’re going to have to fight for those 27 outs every game.”
After being swept by the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, it seems the West Michigan Whitecaps could be snakebitten at Fifth Third Ballpark. The ‘Caps seemed to be on a roll, after sweeping the Lake County Captains on the road in Eastlake, Ohio. The T-Rats didn’t return the favor, though, beating the ‘Caps in three straight games. It seemed that West Michigan had a great chance to steal a victory on Saturday afternoon, but couldn’t find the winning run and lost 3-2 in twelve innings. Eugenio Suarez had a good game at the plate, though, going 3-5 with a double and RBI. On another good note, ‘Caps relief pitcher Nick Avila pitched over four scoreless innings to keep his team in the game. The winning pitcher for Wisconsin was Tommy Toledo, who had one of the best baseball names I’ve ever heard. The Tigers need to trade for this guy and put him on the Mud Hens roster immediately. The 7-9 Whitecaps now must take on the Beloit Snappers in a three game set starting this afternoon, and hope they can give their fans something to cheer about with a victory or two, or three.
With the MiLB season over, it’s time to look forward to next year. I can do this with some good ol’ American plagerism-ripping of MLB Network’ Prime 9 show for a littlle countdown of my own. Narrowing the list to just nine parks wasn’t as easy as I thought, but here we go.
9) Fox Cities Stadium-Appleton, WI: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers/Class A Midwest League. Picking number nine was the hardest of all. Fox Cities Stadium barely beat out the ballparks in Dayton, Cedar Rapids, and Charleston, respectively. The stadim itself isn’t huge, with a capaicity of only 5500, but it’s a nice place to watch a game. The fans gave this ballpark the egde, with it’s spacious parking lot perfect for tailgating. And Wisconsin fans love to tailgate. The beer and the brats are always perfect for a game, before and after. The affiliation with the Milwaukee Brewers has really helped the atmosphere here, and the attendance. The park itself is basic, with no real site lines, but not a bad seat to watch baseball. The park is very easy to find, but with only one entrance and exit, there might be a wait.
8) Pilot Field-Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Bisons/Triple A International League. Now called Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo is a major league city with a nice minor league park. At a capacity of almost 21,000 it’s a good sized ballpark to watch a game. There are still no bad seats in the house, though, and the sightlines of the city are pretty awesome. We always got there by train, so I’m not too sure about the parking situation. The concessions are good and there is a resteraunt in the right field area. The Bisons draw a good crowd, which is probably even better now that they’re affiliated with the Mets. I was able to watch the Bisons play here in 1993 along with some of the World University Games matchups. If I can ever find my pictures I took back then, I’ll scan them and get one put up. Until then you can check it out here. This is probably as close as you can come to a major league feel for the minor league price.
7) Fifth-Third Field-Toledo, OH: Toledo Mud Hens/Triple A International League. Opening in 2002, this ballpark is great all round. It’s carved into the downtown, and even has and area of seating in right field called the ‘Roost’ which is attached to a neigboring building. These have been dubbed the best seats in Minor League Baseball. The sightlines of the downtown area arn’t quite as good as Buffalo, but are more than enough of an eyefull. The seating is great, and the prices are very reasonalbe. We paid $8 and sat behind the dugout. You can’t really beat that. Parking is tough because it’s right downtown, so get to the park early, and even eat at Tony Paco’s accross the street, who you’ve might have seen Klinger on MASH talk about. Of all the the stadiums, this is one I’d love to visit more often. Throw in the fact that the Hens are the Tigers affiliate, and it’s a winner in my book.
6) Baseball Grounds-Jacksonville, FL: Jacksonville Suns/Double A Southern League. The Baseball Grounds was like my second home in the summer of 2005 when I was training in southern Georgia for over four months.Being at the ballpark was about the only thing that could take my mind off the fact that I was missing my wife and kids hundreds of miles north in Michigan. Add to the fact that it’s a great ballpark and the Suns won the Southern League in 2005, and this could easily be moved up on the list. The park holds about 11,000 and is nestled next to the Jaguars Alltel football stadium and Jacksonville’s indoor arena. It’s located right on the river and has great seating. Solid promotions and cold beer make this one of my favorites also. This is another parks I wish I could find my pictures of, but here are some good pics of it.
5) Louisville Slugger Field-Louisville, KY: Louisville Bats/Triple A International League. The front of the stadium is unique, as it’s built into an old train depot, which they also built two resteraunts into. The seats are great on right on the field where fans like them to be. It sports a large concourse and a huge party area in the outfield for all of the drinking crowd. The kids park is really put together nicely, too, with a carosel and all. Not much for sightlines, other than the bridge over the Ohio River. With the Louisville Slugger Museum/Factory down the street, this is a baseball experience every fan should take part in.
4) Modern Woodman Park-Davenport, IA: Quad Cities River Bandits/Class A Midwest League. USA Today billed this as the best Minor League ballpark in the country. It’s easy to get to and has one of the best views of probably any ballpark in the country with the brige over the Mississippi in right field. The concourse is set up so you can walk all the way around, which I like, and get a good view of the river and riverfront. The baseball atmosphere wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, which is why it didn’t make the top three. This is a must see for any baseball fan.
3) Victory Field-Indianapolis, IN: Indianapolis Indians/Triple A International League. I really enjoyed the games here in Indy. The whole town is sports nuts and the atmosphere is great. The entrance to the stadium is in the outfield, which makes it unique from other parks. There are also some kids games going on in the concourse which makes it very kid friendly. The whole park is set up with the family in mind, and it seems to be working. The sightlines downtown are great, but there was a lot of construction going on at the time that was a little distracting. The seats in the upper deck are some of the best I’ve had and are the perfect spot to watch the game. The wost part is there is a very small parking lot, so you have to find a parking garage downtown. The best part is there is a parking garage right accross from Hooters…
2) Fifth-Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: West Michigan Whitecaps/Class A Midwest League. Yeah, I’m a bit of a homer here, but this is the list of my favorite ballparks. With a seating capacity of 10,000 it makes it pretty large for a Class A stadium, competitive with some Triple A and Double A stadium. It’s run and taken care of like a big stadium, too, with lots of unique concessions. The Fifth-Thid Burger was even featured on Man vs. Food last season. Located just north of Grand Rapids, there is a great atmosphere for baseball. The Whitecaps being a Tigers affiliate helps with that. All the memories of my kids and I here easily puts this ballpark toward the top of the list.
1) Grayson Stadium-Savannah, GA: Savannah Sand Gnats/Class A South Atlantic League. The reason historic Grayson is at the top of my list is quite simple. I just really really like it there. In truth, I have a love affair with the whole city of Savannah. I got a taste of it while down there training in 2005, then last summer I was actually stationed there for a week. Luckily the Gnats were in town, and I couldn’t get enough. The horrible pics I took with a disposable camera can not do this ballpark justice. It’s small and cozy, and as a baseball fan you just feel at home. You can actually feel the history of the sport sputter though you’re vains while watching a game here. It’s like actually taking a step back in time and seeing the game in it’s pure form. The brick exterior is classic baseball, while the weeping trees make it classic south. Nothing really fancty about the park, other than pure baseball. Savannah offers so much to look at, but catching a game here would be worth it.This is defiately a place I’d like to bring my kids down to someday.
So, there you have it. Again, it was very difficult choosing just nine, but truth be told I have never been to a ballpark I didn’t like. Everyone is unique and meeting the great fans everywhere makes every team worth checking out. So that’s my Prime 9. What’s yours?
Photos property of M.I.B.
Appleton, WI-August 4-5, 2009: It’s already August, and the kids will going back to school soon, and summer will be officially a thing of the past. Wanting to get one more trip in, we headed west through the U.P. to Wisconsin to take in a couple of Timber Rattler games. We watched the T-Rats play the Kane County Cougars on Tuesday night at 7:05, then for a Wednsday matinee at noon before heading home.
Playing in the Midwest League, the T-Rats are enjoying there first season as a Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. This is obviously helping attendance, as the stadium was packed with Brewers fans for both games. Also helping was the fact that Hall of Famer and former Brewer legend Paul Molitor was there signing autographs on Tuesday night. I didn’t even bother to get in line to see him the line was so long. I also enjoy visiting a ballpark for the first time and Fox Cities Stadium didn’t disappoint. Not as big as some of the other Class A ballparks, but really nice and not a bad seat in the house. The lower box seats make you feel like your right on the field. The food was pretty good and the beer was cold, so no complaints there.
The Rattlers lost both games to the Cougars, but both were very competitive. Tuesday night game went to the tenth with Kane County coming out on top 4-2. Wednsday’s game ended 3-1 in favor of the Cougars again. Wisconsin left a lot of base runners in scoring position both games. We saw some good pitching and defense from both teams, too. I have to give props to the Cougars Chris Berroa(pictued) for throwing me a game ball.
Photos property of MIB
Pounding The Ball: ‘Caps third basebman Bryan Pounds has been on a roll the last nine games. He’s batting .361 with 15 RBI’s and seven runs scored. Pounds is getting offensive
help from the outfield as well. Left fielder Billy Nowlin is batting .389 with nine RBI’s and seven runs scored. While not patroling center field at Fifth Third Ballpark, Ben Guez is slugging .333, respectively, and has added 11 RBI’s and nine runs scored including a home run in his last ten games.
Snakebitten: The Whitecaps have had a rough time with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers this season, dropping 5 of 6 games. Last week the ‘Caps commited four errors that led to three Rattler runs in a 5-2 loss at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. In the lone ‘Caps win, however, they won 11-2 on the back of 17 hits.
Ups and Downs: Being promoted to West Michigan from the GCL Tigers is short stop Hernan Perez. Perez was batting .255 with five RBI’s in 13 games so far in the Gulf Coast League. He replaces Gustavo Nunez who has been recently suspended. Nunez has been batting .328 with one home run, 24 RBI’s and 37 stolen bases so far this season with the ‘Caps.
Johnny B In West Michigan: This Friday is another Tiger Friday at Fifth Third Ballpark. Former Detroit Tiger fan favorite Johnny B. Wockenfuss will be on hand to sign autographs and meet fans. Wockenfuss played in Detroit from 1974-1983, being traded to Philadelphia before the Tigs won the World Series in 1984. He was a solid utiliy player who played catcher, first base, and outfield. His career BA was .262, slugging 86 home runs and 310 RBI’s. Wockenfuss also managed the Toledo Mud Hens starting in 1987. In 1989 the Mud Hens (Detroit’s AAA farm team) actually beat the Tigers with Wockenfuss himself being the winning pitcher. Had had never pitched in his Major League career. I’ll be on hand this Friday, too, to get my free bobblehead and enjoy the game.