Until our Loons ground crew commenced snow removal operations today, the question of whether Dow Diamond’s grass would actually be visible at some point was as much rumor as fact.
The snow removal confirmed the rumor as true, but when you consider that we’ve been stuck in the aptly-named Polar Vortex – an inhuman mix of cold, snow, and worn-out snow blowers – it wasn’t easy to just accept it as gospel.
The fact is, no one really remembered when the ground wasn’t covered in layers of snow. There certainly was no dreaming of a white Christmas, because it was right there in vivid reality.
It’s been more than snow, though. It’s been weeks of wicked cold, which has made a brisk 7-degree morning seem like the new normal. A day in the 20s is reason enough to roll down car windows. And people who emerged into the bright sunlight of a recent 40-degree afternoon had the same gloriously stunned expressions of lottery winners.
But baseball will be played here. Make no mistake about it. The Loons home opener is April 8, and barring some last, evil tentacle reaching out of the Vortex, a game of baseball will commence at 6:05 p.m. against the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Unless it rains, of course, but that’s another matter entirely.
This isn’t, after all, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where in 1978 nearly 356 inches of snow was reported by students of Michigan Technological University in Houghton. It’s been said of the U.P. that there are two seasons: 1) winter, 2) A few months of bad skiing. Just for the record, Michigan Tech does not have a baseball team.
Despite the obstacles, these two Wisconsin colleges in the following video do play baseball, however, and probably should have paid their hot chocolate vendors by the mile during this brisk outing at the ballpark.
Not that Michigan, and the Great Lakes Bay Region, has exclusive rights to the Vortex, or fierce winters in general. Truth is, we’ve had a string of mild ones (which didn’t necessarily translate into mild springs and summers, mind you) until getting hit with this season’s frosty haymaker.
For instance, Kansas City was nailed with a snow surprise last May, which certainly put a damper on that day’s Royals-Rays game at Kauffman Stadium.But then there was last April’s doubleheader in Denver between the Rockies and Braves, in which temperatures at Coors Field bottomed out at 23 degrees. That didn’t stop Atlanta pitcher Mike Minor from wearing short-sleeves. Said Minor, “I don’t know what it is, but with (long) sleeves on, I feel restricted. It’s just a feeling and you want to feel comfortable out there.”
As a non-baseball aside, this state’s long-suffering Lions fans (yes, long-suffering may be redundant) won’t soon forget this past season’s game at Philadelphia in which eight inches of snow fell during the course of the game. The Lions’ loss was somewhat more tolerable because of the sheer fun of watching a game played in a blizzard.
But baseball’s rich history is certainly filled with cold and snowy tales, including those that took a wrong turn in the flurry-filled proceedings. The 1907 opener between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies was called when frustrated Giants fans pelted the field – and umpire – with snowballs when their heroes fell behind 3-0.
Still, in the course of a season rainouts will always lead the way, leaving snowouts in a category all of their own – one that is, thankfully, rarely accessed. After all, winter can’t last forever.
Since their first game on April 5, 2007, some 250 players have worn the Great Lakes Loons uniform.
It’s safe to say that most, if not all, of them were hoping to climb their profession’s version of the corporate ladder and end up at the top – in this case, the major leagues. Who wouldn’t? The pay’s pretty good these days, and if you’re really talented, like former Loon Clayton Kershaw, you end up with a cameo on ‘New Girl.’
That only 27 Loons have made it to The Show (the MLB, not ‘New Girl’) simply speaks to how crazy hard it is to actually make it that far.
“Baseball is a lot like life,” former big leaguer Rod Kanehl once said. “The line drives are caught, the squibbers go for base hits. It’s an unfair game.”
What follows is a look at those former Loons who have advanced to the MLB, but also an unofficial – very unofficial – ranking in terms of big league success and future potential. Clearly, some not only arrived on the scene, but made the most of the opportunity.
Not that “getting there” should ever be marginalized. Among Loons alums, they occupy the rarified 10 percent who’ve earned big league stripes – the few and the proud.
Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Carlos Santana.
Putting Kershaw here is as no-brainer as it gets, what with his two National League Cy Young awards, his league-leading ERA three years running, his two strikeout titles in the last three years, etc. The Dodgers recently rewarded him with the richest contract ever given to a MLB pitcher.
He’s even drawn comparisons to another prolific Dodgers lefty – Sandy Koufax. Enough said.
If you hit rewind and stop at 2007, you’ll find Kershaw in a Loons uniform. The Dodgers No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, Kershaw was the starting pitcher in the Loons first-ever game, and struck around long enough to make 20 starts and fan 134 Midwest League batters in 97.1 innings.By late May of 2008, Kershaw was in the MLB. He’s never looked back.
Jansen’s tale is less conventional. He was a light-hitting catcher for the Loons for parts of two seasons before the Dodgers decided he might have a better future as a pitcher. Boy, were they right.
Today, Jansen is L.A.’s closer – a role he earned last season while recording 28 saves, a 1.88 ERA and a 0.861 WHIP. In 216 MLB games, Jansen has a 2.10 ERA and 347 K’s in 222.1 innings. Needless to say, his catching days are over.
Santana has settled into a solid MLB career with Cleveland after being called up to the bigs in 2010. He’s hit 20 home runs in a season twice, including 27 in 2011. Like Kershaw, he was on the Loons inaugural 2007 team.
Paco Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Bryan Morris
Rodriguez emerged on the big-league scene last season, when he appeared in 76 games (all in relief) and had a 2.32 ERA, a 0.902 WHIP, while striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings. The only stain on his resume was a shaky postseason, which somewhat overshadowed his regular season accomplishments as a lefty specialist.
Eovaldi has a 9-21 MLB record, but 40 of his 46 career starts have come with the Miami Marlins, who haven’t exactly drawn comparisons with the 1927 Yankees. But his career ERA is 3.84, and he’s projected to be a solid middle rotation piece on the 2014 Marlins mound staff.
Morris, a former No. 1 pick of the Dodgers, is now in Pittsburgh and filled a bullpen role for the playoff-qualifying Pirates last season. The 2008 Loons alum appeared in 55 games in 2013, mostly in middle relief, but faded in the second half. Like Rodriguez, his ’14 roster spot seems fairly secure, but who knows what spring will bring?
Jose Dominguez, Dee Gordon, Scott Van Slyke, Javy Guerra, Josh Lindblom, Andrew Lambo, Ethan Martin
The Dodgers bullpen is crowded, what with the likes of Jansen, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell, and former Indians closer Chris Perez, but Dominguez has the proverbial “live” arm. He hit 101 mph on the Dodger Stadium radar gun while facing his first MLB batter last summer, and had a 2.16 ERA in nine games. The 2012 Loons alum may force his way into the L.A. bullpen posse.
Gordon stole bases like no other while with the Loons, but landing a full-time MLB gig has been another matter for the former 4th round draft pick. He was the Dodgers Opening Day shortstop in 2012, but has been inconsistent enough that he’s fighting for a roster spot now. A .301 MLB on-base percentage doesn’t help, but he has made himself more versatile by playing the outfield in winter ball.
Van Slyke, perhaps like the Detroit Tigers Don Kelly, is the consummate bench/role player. He hit seven home runs last season for the Dodgers in 129 at bats, and batted .400 as a pinch hitter. Another member of the Loons first-ever team, Van Slyke had a longer journey to the majors than some, but he seems to be carving out a decent career.
Guerra, like Dominguez, is competing with a cast of thousands for a job in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but he was L.A.’s closer for a spell in 2011 (earning 21 saves) and has a 2.90 big league ERA. Injuries and struggles last season have pushed him down the depth chart, yet he’s not completely out of the picture by any means.
Lindblom has pitched in the MLB for the Dodgers, Phillies and Texas, and now he’s in Oakland after a December trade. He’s made 109 big league appearances and is expected to compete for the 5th spot in the Athletics’ rotation.
Lambo has impressive power numbers in the minors – he hit 32 home runs in 2012 – but didn’t make his MLB debut until last summer with Pittsburgh. Strikeouts have been a nemesis, but Lambo figures to get a good shot at earning a first base platoon role this season with the Pirates.
Martin, another former Dodger first-round pick, made his MLB debut last August with the Phillies. He made eight starts with Philadelphia and struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings, but also struggled with his control. Still, he figures to a legitimate contender for a starting role this summer.
ON THE EDGE
Nick Buss, Matt Magill, Shawn Tolleson, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, Allen Webster, Steve Ames, Luis Garcia, Steve Johnson.
This group is comprised of those who got their first taste of big league competition last summer (Buss, Magill, Webster, Ames, Garcia), and those who have already had a taste and hope to come back for more.
Webster, who had a strong season with the Loons in 2010, made eight starts for the World Champion Boston Red Sox last year with mixed success, but is expected to be heard from again.
Sands, like Lambo, has hit with power in the minors but has bounced around with several MLB teams, and now finds himself with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has 128 minor league homers on his resume.
Johnson, now in the Baltimore Orioles organization, is part of local lore as the Loons starting pitcher in the first game played at Dow Diamond.
Josh Bell, Victor Garate, Elian Herrera, Trayvon Robinson, Josh Wall
Considering that Bell is playing professionally in Korea, and Garate in Mexico, this group has more of an international – long ways from the MLB – flavor.
Robinson, who had the first base hit in Loons history, last played in the MLB in 2012 (with the Mariners) but is back in the Dodgers organization. Herrera is now in the Brewers system, while Wall, now a Marlin, has a 12.08 MLB ERA, albeit in limited playing time.
Sure, there are the obvious similarities – both jobs require throwing a ball accurately to a target, with variance in speed, and even in trajectory.
Both jobs, literally and figuratively, are at the center of attention.
But if you ask former Great Lakes Loon Zach Lee what he thinks are the similarities between two roles he knows very well – pitching and quarterbacking – he’ll start first with the mental game.
“It’s really a cat and mouse game between both positions,” Lee told the (Chattanooga) Smokies Radio Network, describing how reading football defenses and a batter’s tendencies are part of the same puzzle.
Lee, now a top pitching prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, was a four-star football recruit as a quarterback for McKinney High School in McKinney, Texas. He threw for over 60 touchdowns in his prep career and originally planned to play both baseball and football at LSU.
Lee – no doubt prodded by a $5.25 million signing bonus – ultimately chose professional baseball. But he’s not alone among two-sport stars with similar pedigree who have had to make the same choice.
With the Super Bowl upon us, it’s a good time to re-visit the diamond/gridiron connection.Of course, you need only to look at Sunday’s big game for an obvious link. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson played two seasons in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, and was recently chosen by the Texas Rangers in MLB’s Rule 5 draft.
But Wilson, who has led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in only his second NFL season, seems to have settled nicely into his football career.
As far as the Loons, Lee isn’t the only player with baseball ties.
James Baldwin, who played the last two seasons at Dow Diamond, was drafted by the Dodgers in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. But he was a three-sport star at Pinecrest High School in North Carolina, and his football coach called him the most dominant prep wide receiver he’d ever seen.
Malcolm Holland, who played 84 games for the Loons last year, was a highly-recruited prep football player who was offered a scholarship by Boise State as a defensive back. Considering that he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash, it’s not hard to see why.
Then there’s the case of former Loon Jordan Pratt, who chose baseball over a college football career but now finds himself back on the football path. Pratt spent several seasons as a pitcher in the minor leagues – including a full season with the Loons in 2009 – before he decided to return to college.
Pratt chose Stanford, in large part because of its esteemed engineering school, but also because he was given the opportunity to join the football team as a walk-on wide receiver. Fast forward a bit, and you’ll find Pratt having just completed his junior season – as a 28-year-old – after helping the Cardinal win a Pac-12 championship.
Current Loons manager Bill Haselman, is another example; he played both football and baseball at UCLA before embarking on a professional baseball career that included 13 seasons in the big leagues.
Not that it’s unusual for top athletes to have proficiency in more than one sport. Let’s face it, an elite athlete is generally well-equipped to be good in any sport he or she tries. It’s been said that LeBron James would make an ideal NFL tight end, and not many would argue the point.
Detroit Tigers fans certainly remember Kirk Gibson, an NFL prospect as a college wide receiver who chose baseball. A couple of unforgettable World Series home runs later, and Gibson’s status as athletic Renaissance Man was secured.
Another former Tiger, Rick Leach, was a four-year starter at quarterback for the University of Michigan – he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in his senior season – before choosing baseball as his avocation. While he didn’t have nearly the impact Gibson had, he still managed to play 10 MLB seasons.
Like Leach, Drew Henson was a talented U-M quarterback who decided baseball was the best route to take professionally. Henson signed with the Yankees after being drafted in the 3rd round of the 1998 amateur draft. But he scuffled through a pro baseball career that never took flight, and then returned to the gridiron for two similarly uneventful NFL seasons.
Few, however, have truly defied the odds and made two athletic careers work at the same time. Bo Jackson, who was selected to play in baseball’s All-Star game and the NFL’s Pro Bowl, was one exception, as was Deion Sanders, although Sanders’ success was far more pronounced in football.
Jackson was equally adept at hitting tape measure home runs and breaking long runs in football (and baseball bats over his knee and head when frustrated), but a hip injury proved to be his kryptonite.
“My workout,” Jackson once said, “was running down fly balls, stealing a base, or running for my life on the football field.”
Wilson no doubt hopes he won’t be running for his life on Sunday against Denver’s defense. Then again, two seasons of chasing professionally-thrown curveballs – he batted a cumulative .229 – probably prepared him for any adversity.
The Great Lakes Loons enjoyed an incredible seventh season in 2013, one that culminated in the franchise’s third Midwest League playoff berth in its seven-year history. There were ups and downs, winning streaks and losing streaks, joy and heartbreak. In the end, there were the memories. From three players tying a Loons record for most RBI in a single game to four of the Los Angeles Dodgers top nine prospects passing through Midland at the same time to some of the funnest (or most fun, whatever) promotions in Minor League Baseball. And of course, the Loons players that Loons fans came to know and love. Over the past few weeks, those Loons fans have been voting on the Top 25 Loons Moments of 2013 on the Great Lakes Loons Facebook page. The votes have been tallied and now we have what I think is a pretty awesome list of great memories from the 2013 season at Dow Diamond. Counting down from No. 25 to the top moment of 2013, here’s the list of Loons fans’ top memories of this season:
25. ZOOperstars appearance: Always an entertaining group to have at the ballpark, the ZOOperstars bring an eclectic bunch of characters to entertain the crowd. The animal characters, whose names are all a play of words off a famous athlete, each have their own personality, but every one of them knows how to make fans laugh. The four ZOOperstars that came to Dow Diamond on June 23: Dennis Frogman, Harry Canary, Mackerel Jordan and Shark McGwire.
24. Malcolm Holland walk-off: After struggling through May, the Loons had put together six wins in a row coming into a home game against West Michigan on June 12. After a low-scoring game could not be decided after just nine innings, the Loons and Whitecaps went to extra innings. Great Lakes threatened in the 10th, but couldn’t score. In the 11th, Robbie Garvey singled and stole second base before Holland hit a single through the left side to score him for the game-winning run.
23. Mascot Mania: One of MiLB’s best social media contests put Lou E. Loon front and center in late July. For two weeks, #MascotMania (@greatlakesloons) consumed the Loons fan base, including a hectic race to the finish in the Loons front office. The Loons Ambassador of Fun enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from Loons fans and finished second in the Midwest League.
22. Fireworks Loontaculars, powered by Dow Corning: Fireworks Loontaculars, powered by Dow Corning, are one of the biggest draws at Dow Diamond. Loons fans poured through the gates for 14 of them in 2013.
21. Jose Capellan’s 6-RBI night: Jeremy Rathjen and Corey Seager were the first to do it in 2013 (more on that later), but Jose Capellan’s six-RBI night was certainly the least expected of the group. He became the sixth player in franchise history to drive in six runs in one game on August 19 and did it in a huge spot. Great Lakes came into that game on a five-game losing streak and were losing their grip on a postseason berth. Behind Capellan’s big night, the Loons picked up a 12-5 victory over the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Capellan went 2-for-3 in the game with two bases-loaded doubles that cleared the bases.
20. Loons win eight of 10 in late August to secure a playoff spot: As we already mentioned, the Loons came into their game against Fort Wayne on August 19 on a five-game losing streak and it looked like they might lose their grip on what had appeared to be a sure trip to the postseason. But then the Loons ripped off eight wins in 10 games between August 19 and August 29, including two home wins over Dayton to seal a spot in the postseason.
19. Turnaround from May to June: The Loons had one of the worst months in franchise history in May, going 7-23, but bounced back in June, behind a rejuvenated pitching staff, a healthy Corey Seager and Leo Rodriguez hitting .300. Great Lakes posted an 18-9 record to put themselves right back in the thick of the MWL playoff chase.
18. 15-1 win over South Bend in early June: As Great Lakes returned to Dow Diamond on June 8 to start a six-game homestand with a game against the first-place Silver Hawks, they had lost 10 of their last 13 games, so Loons fans really didn’t expect to see any kind of offensive outburst that night or that series. But that’s what they got. Behind three-hit games from Garvey and Kevin Taylor, who were just two of the five Loons with multi-hit games that night, the Loons crushed South Bend, 15-1, in game one of the series and outscored the Silver Hawks, 31-4, while sweeping the series.
17. Raining Money Night, presented by Chemical Bank: During Raining Money Night, presented by Chemical Bank, on August 23, $2,000 in cash was dropped from a helicopter onto the Dow Diamond field, giving a group of lucky Loons fans the chance to win as much money as they could pick up! It was almost as much fun for those watching as it was for those on the field.
16. Country Western Night: On a night that saw Lou E. Loon ride a mechanical bull and a man with a banjo play the seventh inning stretch, Dow Diamond drew a single-game record crowd of 6,189. That crowd saw the Loons pick up a key 2-1 victory over the Lansing Lugnuts.
15. Miguel Sulbaran’s performance in June & early July: Sulbaran struggled out of the gate, posting a 5.26 ERA over 37 2/3 innings in his first 11 appearances this season, while allowing opponents to hit for a batting average of .309. However, from June 9 through July 13, Sulbaran allowed just three earned runs over 40 innings in seven appearances, six of which were starts. That is a 0.68 ERA, which is filthy. Sulbaran also had an excellent 1.00 WHIP and a 31-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio during the seven-game stretch.
14. Geoff Brown named a Midwest League Postseason All-Star: Loons reliever Geoff Brown finished the season with 12 wins, second-most in franchise history, tying him for the league lead. Brown earned a spot on the Midwest League Postseason All-Star Team. Brown had a 2.08 ERA over 78 innings pitched, along with a 1.01 WHIP and a .208 opponents batting average. He also had a 56-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not bad for a guy who was pitching in Australia in 2011 and in the Frontier League for most of 2012.
13. Chicago Boyz appearance: The Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team came to Dow Diamond on July 27 to be a part of Lou E.’s Big Top Loontacular. The national act wowed the Dow Diamond crowd with same amazing athletic feats. Just a few weeks later, Loons fans watched them appear on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
12. Lou E.’s Big Top Loontacular: One of Loons fans’ favorite nights every year, Dow Diamond turned into a carnival, entertaining fans of all ages.
11. Jose Capellan walk-off: In one of the best games of the season at Dow Diamond, Capellan hit a single into center field to score Jeremy Rathjen for the game-winning run, giving the Loons an 8-7 victory over Lansing after the Lugnuts had scored four runs in the top of the ninth to force extra innings. Capellan’s single capped a three-game sweep over Lansing and sent the Dow Diamond crowd into a frenzy.
10. Jeremy Rathjen’s 6-RBI night: The lanky outfielder from Texas was the first Loon this season to pick up six RBI in one game and at the time, was the fourth player in Loons history to do it. Rathjen’s big day led the Loons to an 11-0 victory over South Bend on June 9, which was the second game in the three-game series against the Silver Hawks in which the Loons outscored them, 31-4.
9. Three 6,000-plus crowds at Dow Diamond: In the first six seasons of Loons baseball, there were seven crowds of over 6,000 people at Dow Diamond. In 2013, there were three: July 3, August 10 and August 22.
8. Rathjen’s grand slam on August 23: Before Capellan walked off against Lansing to complete the sweep, Rathjen had what looked to be the biggest hit of the game and maybe the season. In a crucial game with huge playoff implications, the Loons and Lugnuts were tied 3-3 in the seventh inning. Rathjen stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a 2-0 pitch over the left field wall for a grand slam that seemed like it would the difference in a Loons victory.
7. Julio Urias’ start on July 3: The Dodgers No. 4 prospect had arguably the best start of his young career against the Whitecaps on July 3. Urias was filthy, holding West Michigan scoreless on two hits over six innings, while striking out eight and issuing zero walks in an 8-0 Loons win.
6. Julio Urias’ professional debut: 16-year-old Julio Urias debuted on May 26 as one of the youngest players in professional baseball history. Urias struck out the side in the first inning and held Dayton scoreless over three innings of work. Urias finished the game with six strikeouts and only one walk.
5. New Loons records: Three Loons players set new single-season records for Great Lakes in 2013. Tyler Ogle set new Loons single-season records for walks and on-base percentage, while Jeremy Rathjen set a new single-season record in ‘hit by a pitch’ and Luis Meza set a new mark for appearances.
4. Turn-Back-The-Clock Night: The Loons turned back the clock on July 2 as part of the Michigan Legends Series. The jerseys worn by Great Lakes were auctioned to fans immediately following the game.
3. Loons clinch third playoff berth in franchise history: With a 3-0 win over the Dayton Dragons on August 29, the Loons secured their third playoff in the seven-year history of the organization. Great Lakes got four scoreless innings from Dodgers No. 7 prospect Chris Anderson and 3 2/3 scoreless innings from Brandon Martinez. Luis Meza pitched a scoreless ninth inning to close the game for the Loons and set up Great Lakes manager Razor Shines for a Gatorade bath.
2. Aaron Miller’s return to the Loons as an outfielder: Miller was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2009 draft out of Baylor and made his Loons debut on August 2, 2009. In seven starts for Great Lakes in 09, he was 3-1, with a 2.08 ERA and a 38-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Miller got the win in the first playoff victory in Loons history. After the Dodgers made the decision to switch him from pitcher to outfielder, he returned to Midland in late May as a position player. Miller spent the year in the heart of the Loons lineup and closed the season strong, hitting .314 in August.
1. Seager Goes Ham: The hype train surrounding Corey Seager was crazy heading into the 2013 season. The younger brother of Major Leaguer Kyle Seager, Corey was the Dodgers No. 1 draft pick from 2012 and at the time he was listed as the No. 3 prospect in LA’s farm system. Although he struggled out of the gate, he hit his stride when summer arrived, hitting .338 in June and .330 in July. On July 29, he gave Loons fans a moment they won’t forget any time soon, hitting two home runs and driving in five RBI in a 9-0 win over Lake County. In his first at-bat, he hit a 357-foot opposite field home run for the Loons first run of the ballgame. When he came up again in the second inning, he crushed a 420-foot grand slam that landed in the Dow Diamond parking lot and put Great Lakes ahead 7-0.
It was a great season in Midland. I’ll leave you with the Loons highlight video from the 2013 season. Can’t wait to see everybody back at Dow Diamond in 2014.
As the Great Lakes Loons wrap up their 2013 season over the next week, they have an opportunity to do something that they have not done since 2010: make the Midwest League playoffs. After beating the Dayton Dragons, 4-1, on Wednesday night, the Loons are 3 1/2 games up on Dayton with five games left. The Loons are five games up on West Michigan, but have the tiebreaker because they had a better record in the head-to-head matchups with the Whitecaps. If Great Lakes wins on Thursday night, they clinch a spot in the postseason (!) for the first time in three years.
Should they clinch, things should be a bit more positive for the Loons than they were for Jim Mora on that fateful day in Indianapolis almost 12 years. Although that video is still one of the all-time classic coaching rants in the history of sports.
Great Lakes has made the playoffs twice before during their seven-year history, in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 season brought the franchise’s first playoff appearance, with a team that was led by Midwest League co-MVPs Kyle Russell and Dee Gordon, a future two-time No. 1 Dodgers prospect. After the Loons finished 25 games below .500 in their first season and 31 games below .500 in year two, the 2009 team went out and brought home an 81-59 record, led by Gordon’s .301 batting average and 73 stolen bases, as well as Russell’s 26 home runs and 102 RBI.
The Loons advanced to the Eastern Division championship after knocking off the West Michigan Whitecaps, 3-2, in an elimination game at West Michigan. Jaime Pedroza, named to the Great Lakes Loons 5th Anniversary Team in 2012, hit a solo home run in the 10th inning to push Great Lakes past the first round. The Loons staved off elimination against Fort Wayne in the second round in one of the most improbable comebacks in franchise history before falling in game three in Fort Wayne.
That win had Loons fans buzzing all offseason and gave the franchise momentum that it would continue in year four.
The 2010 season gave Loons fans a team that would set a franchise record for wins, finishing with a record of 90-49 after a late-season win over Bowling Green at Dow Diamond. That Great Lakes team had a dominant pitching staff that featured five future big leaguers, including Steve Ames, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Magill, Josh Wall and Allen Webster. The Loons also had another future MLB player in Jerry Sands and were led by the 2010 Midwest League Manager of the Year, Juan Bustabad.
Great Lakes dropped the first game of the playoffs to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, but exploded in game two with an eight-run eighth inning to force a game three, where they knocked off the defending Midwest League champs with a 6-4 win at Dow Diamond in game three.
Brian Cavazos-Galvez homered and drove in five runs in the first game of the Eastern Division championship series en route to 10-8 victory at Lake County, but then Great Lakes took a crushing loss in game two and lost 6-1 in the deciding game three.
The postseason is special in any sport. It’s hard to win a championship at any level. However, the first step is getting there and the Loons have that opportunity in front of them. Thursday is a $1 Family Feast Night, presented by Chemical Bank, and Great Lakes will play in front of a packed house at Dow Diamond with a chance to punch their ticket to the Midwest League playoffs.
Loons fans have been very fortunate this season. They have seen four of the Dodgers top nine prospects come through Midland. The No. 2 prospect, Corey Seager, and the No. 4, Julio Urias, have played most of their home games in 2013 at Dow Diamond. Both may end up being All-Stars at the Major League level. Seager is one of the biggest (both literally and figuratively) shortstop prospects to come along in quite some time, while Urias took Minor League Baseball by storm when, at just 16 years old, he made his professional debut at Dow Diamond in late May.
The Dodgers also sent their top three draft picks from the 2013 draft – Chris Anderson, Tom Windle and Brandon Dixon – to Midland to hone their craft in their first seasons as professional baseball players. Anderson and Windle, both starting pitchers, are now ranked No. 7 and No. 9 on MLBPipeline.com’s top 20 Dodgers prospects. They both debuted against South Bend on June 25 at Dow Diamond and in that game, they both threw two scoreless innings in a 10-1 victory over the Silver Hawks. Both have a sub-2.50 ERA as of August 20 and could find themselves playing their home games at Dodger Stadium in the next couple years.
Along with some pretty great on-field memories from the 2013 season, like when Corey Seager had two home runs and six RBI in one of his last games at Dow Diamond (Seager capped the night with a 420-foot grand slam that landed in the parking lot), there have been a few great off-the-field memories as well.
The Michigan Legends Series, presented by MidMichigan Health, has provided a few classic moments at Dow Diamond in 2013.
The series of promotions, a spin-off of the successful Red Wings Legends Series, kicked off on June 12 and has featured four games already this season, with two more on the docket.
On June 12, 10-time MLB All-Star and LA Dodgers legend Steve Garvey visited Dow Diamond. He spent time talking with CrunchTime host Jared Sandler, tossed out a first pitch and signed a boatload of autographs. He also managed to get Loons manager Razor Shines to laugh a little. Here’s the full Facebook album.
After the Loons turned back the clock and gave away some sa-weet retro jerseys on July 2, four-time Stanley Cup Champion and Davison, Mich., native Ken Morrow graced Dow Diamond with his presence on July 10 in the third installment of the Series. Morrow was also a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic ice hockey team that won a gold medal in Lake Placid. Click here for the full Facebook album.
Morrow did a lot of the same stuff that Garvey did: talked with the media, threw out a first pitch and signed a lot of autographs. But he also brought his gold medal from the Lake Placid Games with him, an artifact that he usually keeps in a bank. Morrow let fans, media members and even bloggers take pictures with the gold medal.
The fourth installment of the Series was on July 24, when the Loons gave away 1,000 Dow Diamond replicas. There are two installments left. One is on August 28, when the first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a Tiger Stadium Replica. The other is an appearance by Michigan State legends Greg Kelser and Jud Heathcote on August 21 (tomorrow as of if this blog post).
Kelser, a forward and key contributor on the Spartans 1979 NCAA championship team, was drafted fourth overall in the 1979 NBA Draft. The Florida native played seven seasons in the NBA and is now an analyst on basketball broadcasts for Fox Sports Detroit and the Big Ten Network.
Heathcote was the head coach at MSU for 19 seasons and finished his career with a 339-221 record, a .605 winning percentage, including the 1979 championship season.
Loons fans have had a special 2013 season and there are still a few memories left out there, including a possible playoff run, but more on that later. For Loons fans, Wednesday night is a chance to meet two men that made a lasting impact on the sports landscape in the state of Michigan and for Spartan fans of my father’s generation, it is a chance to meet two people that played a huge role in bringing MSU their first national championship in basketball. If you want that chance, click here.
Corey Seager is a talented dude.
For starters, there aren’t many guys his size that have the athleticism to play shortstop. It’s a pretty short list (Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada along with one or two other guys that I’m forgetting). On top of that, he’s got a smooth, powerful swing that can hit line-drive double and long home runs.
He is an elite shortstop prospect and the only top shortstop in Minor League Baseball with a similar skill set might be the Astros’ No. 1 prospect, Carlos Correa. Incidentally, Correa also plays in the Midwest League. He is hitting .317, with a .460 slugging percentage for the Quad Cities River Bandits. Quad Cities plays their games at Modern Woodman Park on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, which might have the coolest backdrop in Minor League Baseball.
Back to Seager. The native of Kannapolis, N.C., is the youngest of three brothers and has a family that provides a great support system (for more on that, see the second edition of this year’s LoonsNest). His oldest brother, Kyle, starts at third base for the Seattle Mariners and the middle brother, Justin, just finished a great career at UNC-Charlotte, which led to him being drafted by the Mariners in the 2013 draft.
Last summer, the Dodgers recognized the kind of talent that Seager has and drafted him with the 18th overall pick. Loons manager Razor Shines
raves gushes about him. Through the first two months of the season, some wondered how long it would take Seager to produce like a first-round selection. It took him until the Loons 14th game to get above the Mendoza Line and even though he hit well in the second part of April, he struggled in May, hitting . 217 through six injury-riddled games.
But then he got healthy and came back with a vengeance. Since he returned to the Loons lineup on June 2, he has hit .335 with eight home runs and 40 RBI in 42 games. That’s 31 homers and 154 RBI over the course of a 162-game schedule. And with its big ballparks, the Midwest League is traditionally though of as a pitcher-friendly league. Not coincidentally, that’s about the same time that Great Lakes’ season turned around.
On July 29 (the day before this blog post went up), Seager put on exclamation point on the last two months with his best moment yet as a Loon.
In his first plate appearance, Seager hit an opposite field, 357-foot line drive that cleared the fence in left field. Great way to start a night.
In his second at-bat, he did something that everybody that was at Dow Diamond will remember for quite a while. He came up to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Seager sat on a 2-0 changeup and crushed it 420 feet for the grand slam. Everybody in the park knew as soon as he hit that it was gone, but then it left Dow Diamond. Not just the field of play, but the whole stadium. It landed in the parking lot!! The link below will paint a better picture than I ever could.
And here’s the game highlights from the InterTubes, which include both of Seager’s bombs and a mammoth 405-foot homer that Tyler Ogle hit onto the grass berm in straightaway center field.
When Seager came up for his third at-bat, I think everybody in the park felt like he was going to hit another one out. And he almost did, hitting a deep fly ball to center field that was caught 385 feet from home plate. He was under the pitch and the scary thing is, I don’t think he was really that close to hitting the ball on the nose. His last at-bat didn’t have the drama of the first three, but he did get a hit, with a line drive single to right field to finish his night at 3-for-4 with five runs batted in.
Loons fans have been very fortunate in 2013. Several future Major League ballplayers have passed through the hallowed halls of Dow Diamond this season. Along with Seager, 2013 Dodgers draft picks Chris Anderson and Tom Windle will likely end up in the show, and probably sooner rather than later. Julio Urias may end up being a once-in-a-generation type of story. Put it this way. The last player to make his Major League debut before he turned 19 was Alex Rodriguez. Urias could be next.
The list of future big leaguers on this roster could also include Miguel Sulbaran and James Baldwin, along with some other possible dark horses that have played well this year. MWL All-Star Tyler Ogle, Jeremy Rathjen, Craig Stem and Scott Griggs are a few players who could progress through the system. I also think guys like Geoff Brown or Owen Jones could surprise some folks. Brown has a really cool story and it would be great to see him make the show down the line.
What that means is Loons fans should soak this season up. Enjoy every time Seager comes to the plate. Watch as many Urias starts as you can. Some day, you might tell your grandkids about the time you saw them play at Dow Diamond. The folks in attendance on Monday night certainly won’t forget what they saw for a long time.
It’s that time of year again. Minor League Baseball is rolling out their annual Mascot Mania contest. It’s a little different than last year, which featured a 64-seed March Madness-style bracket.
Last summer, Lou E. Loon, the Loons’ Ambassador of Fun, made it to the Elite 8.
The format is different this year. In the first round, Lou E. will compete with the mascots of other Midwest League teams, with the mascot that receives the most votes moving on to compete with the champions of other minor leagues around the country.
Loons fans can vote in two ways. The first is to vote on the Mascot Mania webpage. Click on this link. The second way is to log on to the Twitter machine and tweet two words: #MascotMania @greatlakesloons. It’s that simple.
Well you’re at it, vote for fellow Dodgers affiliates, Albuquerque Isotopes (@AbqTopes, Chattanooga Lookouts (@ChattLookouts) and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (@Quakes_Baseball), who are partnering with the Loons in the first round, along with a few friends of the program in the Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) and the State College Spikes (@SCSpikes).
So vote now and vote often! Lou E. Loon is one of the best reasons to come to Loons games. As a person that hasn’t always liked mascots, let me emphasize that Lou E. is one of the most unique mascots in baseball and in sports (Rall E. Camel actually isn’t too bad either). Show the rest of the country whey Lou E. is so great. Vote for him.
Lou E. Loon approves of this message.
This is Doug Kern. He works as a Statistics Analyst for ESPN in Bristol, Conn. Last month, he stopped in Midland to come to a Great Lakes Loons game. It was the 157th baseball stadium in America where he has watched a game. Kern went to a West Michigan Whitecaps game the next night to bring that total to 158. If you are a baseball nerd (like me or Intern Matt, or almost anybody that works in baseball media, media relations or broadcasting), then Doug Kern is an extremely interesting figure.
The crude Photoshop job above shows where each Midwest League team is located. The team logos that are circled are the ones that Kern has NOT visited. He went to a bunch of MWL ballparks in 2010 after he went to see Target Field in his inaugural season. Kern has been to every current Major League ballpark and 11 that aren’t in regular use anymore, including Veteran’s Stadium in Philly, old Busch Stadium, old Yankee Stadium, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and Tiger Stadium.
Kern started going to games on three-day weekends and spur-of-the-moment trips. He points out that it’s really easy to get to a lot of parks because there are so many in the Northeast. The Washington D.C. native started rolling through Minor League parks in 2004 and 2005. From The Nest’s loonslivingston has been to 16 current MLB ballparks and nine old MLB ballparks (obviously not as impressive as Doug), so Kern was preaching to the choir when he said that traveling to different stadiums is a great way to explore the country and meet people.
“I’ve always loved traveling,” Kern said. “I wasn’t terribly into baseball when I was little. I grew up outside D.C. I kind of got on the Orioles bandwagon in ’83 when they won (the World Series). My dad was a football fan and I didn’t really get into baseball until after I got out of college. I did stats all the way through high school and college and so I got into baseball that way. I’ve also always been a numbers guy; I score every game that I go to. For me it’s fun to watch when you’re scoring along.”
The Virginia Tech alum listed PNC Park (Pittsburgh), AT&T Park (San Francisco), the new Busch Stadium (St. Louis) and Citi Field (New York Mets) as some of his favorite stadiums. Kern added that it’s tough to rank Minor League stadiums because there are so many different sizes and because they are all so different, even if each has its own charm. He added that most organizations do a good job branding and selling their stadium and their team.
“I liked (Dow Diamond) a lot,” Kern said. “It was easy to find. It’s a lot bigger than some of the other Midwest League parks I’ve been to on this trip. It’s definitely my favorite of the five on this trip. There weren’t any that were dumps. They’ve all been renovated in the last five years. (Dow Diamond) looks a lot bigger than it really is. I had a very good experience. I like the fire pits in the outfield. That’s why I think I enjoy the minors so much; there is so much value. I was sitting behind home plate and I think my ticket was $10.”
“In most minor league ballparks, there’s not a bad seat in the house. You’re right up close and you’re right on top of the action. The seat I was in last night is close to $500 in Yankee Stadium and you can’t even get those tickets. It was $10 to get in, $4 to park and it was ($1 Family Feast Night), so I didn’t pay much for food either. One person can get out of the park for $20. I’ve noticed that about the Midwest; everyone is very friendly and really nice. It’s just a great place to visit.”
The former information technology officer started working for ESPN in 2006 and provides support for Baseball Tonight and ESPN’s NFL coverage. He has worked with on-air personalities like Steve Berthiaume, Karl Ravech, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin and John Kruk.
Anybody that goes to a lot of baseball games will see their share of great moments. Kern is no exception. He told me about how he saw a game in Toledo 10 years ago that only lasted one hour and 50 minutes, mainly because one team had a perfect game through six innings and the other team had no-hitter through six, though neither the perfect game or the no-hitter was completed. The night after he was in Toledo, Kern went to a game in Pittsburgh that went 15 innings on top of an hour rain delay, ending when Randall Simon led off the bottom of the 15th with a walk-off bomb. Kern decided to go back to PNC Park the next night and saw another 15-inning game, which might be the last time there were back-to-back 15-inning games in the big leagues (per Mr. Kern, who is something of an authority on the subject).
Doug saw Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer all play on the New Britain Rock Cats (just east of Bristol) for a season. He was also at Josh Hamilton’s four-homer game in Baltimore last year, which is more rare than being at a perfect game. A four-homer game has only happened 16 times and a perfect game has happened 21 times in the modern era.
As a relatively young person, I feel like I’m very fortunate to have been to as many ballparks as I’ve been to, the 25 big league parks and countless Minor League parks (to be honest, I’ve never kept track, my dad has, he would know, but I’m not going to text him right now, okay off the rabbit trail). But Doug Kern has lived the dream, seeing the good, the bad and the ugly that American baseball facilities have to offer. We got the chance to pick his brain for a bit and listen to some of his stories. Maybe we’re the lucky ones. There are still a lot of parks that I haven’t seen and I can’t wait to get to the rest of them.
Doug, thanks for coming out to Dow Diamond! Enjoy the rest of your journey through baseball.
Over the last week, your friendly neighborhood Loons blogger went on an adventure, venturing into a vast, post-apocalyptic world known to the layman as Ohio.
Actually, it was a great four days, traveling through Cleveland (the Loons were at Lake County) to Dayton in a 2013 Chevy Suburban with a current Great Lakes All-Star and a former Great Lakes All-Star.
Sunday’s drive was uneventful, except for 20 minutes spent in a monsoon outside of Columbus. Of course, it would happen by Columbus. Ugh. Darn Buckeyes.
Oh and it turns out Joe Winker might be a bit of a hipster. Winker, of Call Me Maybe Fame, introduced me to the song of the summer for next year.
With only one Loon playing in the All-Star Game this year, due to the call-ups of Jharel Cotton and Carlos Frias, the 2013 edition was more about the trip itself and the events surrounding the game.
Sunday was an adventure, as I wanted to find a place to watch Game 5 of the NBA Finals. I stumbled upon (and by stumbled upon, I mean, looked up on Google Maps) a nice bar called Lucky’s, which provided me with some excellent Fish and Chips and a great beer called Curmudgeon, which is incidentally from Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids.
The Midwest League spared no expense, putting us up in the Crowne Plaza, which included a mini-frig in our rooms and you can put six packs of bee….soda in it.
Monday night featured a block party and a concert from a Jimmy Buffett cover band. I have no words.
The lead-up to the actual game on Tuesday included a Home Run Derby that featured Joe Winker’s younger brother, Jesse, who was hitting in front of his home fans in Dayton. Jesse is the No. 7 prospect in the Reds farm system. The younger Winker did not disappoint, leading all hitters with 10 homers and leading the Eastern Division to a victory in the Derby.
With baseball luminaries Joe Morgan, who I accidentally interrupted during one of his conversations with a member of the Dayton front office, and George Foster in the house, along with a “celebrity” that made the blogger a little sick, the 49th edition of the Midwest League All-Star Game did not disappoint.
The West took an early lead, scoring two runs in the second inning. The East scored four in the fifth to regain the lead and added another in the seventh.
With the end looming, the West got their first three runners on in the top of the ninth. This was the point where the writers on deadline started to get nervous. It didn’t help that certain people (might have been me) made a glib comment about going to extra innings after the first two guys got on base.
Cedar Rapids shortstop Niko Goodrum (surprisingly not signed to an endorsement deal by Captain Morgan) hit a two-run single and Kane County outfielder Bijan Racemacher scored on a wild pitch to tie the game.
In the bottom of the ninth, the East got runners to the corners with one out. Dayton shortstop Zach Vincej beat out a double play to keep the game alive and with two outs, Lansing outfielder Dalton Pompey hit a 3-2 pitch up the middle to score Brandon Drury to win the game.
Loons All-Star Tyler Ogle went 0-for-2, with a strikeout and a groundout, but had two solid at-bats, working a full count in both of his plate appearances. See Ogle’s postgame interview here, along with a photo gallery from the game here.
All in all, it was a great trip. Thanks Dayton for an excellent Midsummer Classic. See you next year in Comstock Park!