Taking a Look Back

Adam McIntosh of the Greetings from Michigan blog put together this piece, taking a look back at the history of the logos for the Loons, even before the move north 10 years ago.

On Feb. 13, the Great Lakes Loons are hosting their 10th annual kickoff event and part of the event will included an updated logo and updated uniform. Since the team came to Midland, Mich., in 2007, they have been a Single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and this has been there primary logo.

loonslogo

And these three images have been their cap insignia since their inception.

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The Loons have only been in Midland since 2007, but their team history goes back to 1982 when they where the Springfield (IL) Cardinals, boasting this logo:

cardinals

The cardinals played in Lanphier Park from ’82 – ’93 as a Single-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals and the declining condition of their park led the team to relocating to Madison, WI where they became the Madison Hatters playing their games at Warner Park.

Still the Single-A Affiliate of the Cardinals, the Hatters had the below team logo (pictured left) and cap insignia on the right.

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Only staying in Madison for year the Hatters moved to Battle Creek Michigan at the end of the ’94 season when they became Michigan Battle Cats, playing their games at C.O. Brown Stadium.

They had a team logo that looked like so (pictured left) and their caps bore the insignia on the right.

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From ’95 – ’98 the Battle Cats were the Single-A affiliate of the Red Sox, and then from ’99 – ’02 they were affiliated with the Astros. In 2003 they became affiliated with the Yankees and became the Battle Creek Yankees.

The team logo (pictured left) and the team cap bore the insignia on the right.

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In 2005 their affiliation with the Yankees ended, they became affiliated with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and they became the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays.

The team logo (pictured left) and the team cap bore the insignia on the right.

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Following the 2006 season they moved to Midland, Mich., and became the Great Lakes Loons affiliated with the Dodgers. Here we are ten years later with the next chapter in the teams logo and cap insignia history.

Seager Set for Breakout Year

By Matt DeVries

corey seager

When Corey Seager donned a Great Lakes Loons uniform in 2013, there were lofty expectations for the teenager from North Carolina. Now, after making his major-league debut in 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers prospect is being tabbed as one of five hitters who could have a breakout season.

“Seager’s time in the big leagues at the end of the 2015 season was brief, but he proved himself more than capable of handling big league pitching. He batted .337/.425/.561 in 27 games (113 plate appearances). Obviously, Seager isn’t going to post numbers like those, as big league pitchers will eventually figure him out a bit. But his fluid-yet-compact left-handed swing doesn’t seem to have many flaws.”

AJ Cassavell tabs four other players to watch heading into this year

Before getting the promotion to High-A Rancho Cucamonga three years ago, the 21-year-old was hitting .309/.389/.529 with 12 HR and 57 RBI in the Midwest League. After playing for the Rookie-level Ogden Raptors upon being drafted in the 1st Round of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft, it was his first full season in professional baseball.

Corey Seager (3)

“Seager is currently ranked as MLB.com’s No. 2 prospect, and it’s easy to see why. Regardless, he won’t keep that title for very long — because he won’t be considered a “prospect” for very long. The Dodgers are ready to hand Seager the keys at shortstop, and he already appears to be the favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.”

Back in November, Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times wrote that, “if Seager is as successful as expected, he should prove a centerpiece for the Dodgers for many years to come.”

When you hit .337/.425/.561 in your first 27 games and 97 at-bats as a big leaguer, success certainly seems to be on the not-so-distant horizon for you.

Cassavell and Dilbeck might be on to something.

Former Loon Urias Ready for 2016

By Matt DeVries

urias 2

He’s the No. 2 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and Julio Urias (’13) says “he’s ready for his next goal which is reaching the majors.”

Watch his full interview with MLB.com

The Mexican teenager made his professional debut with the Loons during which he started 18 games compiling a record of 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA. It was rare for Urias to get a decision in his starts with him being on a strict pitch count and not going the minimum number of innings.

In his first-ever start as a pro at just 16 years old, the left-hander went three innings and struck out six against the Dayton Dragons. In his two decisions that season, Urias pitched 11 scoreless innings while allowing three hits, issuing just two walks and 13 strikeouts.

After undergoing successful eye surgery last year, Urias says he feels like “nothing can stop me and I’m deadset on reaching my goal.”

Pitchers and catchers begin arriving at Spring Training on Feb. 18.

New Voice Finishes First Year as Lead Broadcaster

By Matt DeVries

Working in minor league baseball can be a little unusual. For instance, I doubt Vin Scully has a mascot visit him in his radio booth very much. That wasn’t the case for first-year Great Lakes Loons radio broadcaster Chris Vosters during the 2015 season.

The Loons qualified for the Midwest League Playoffs by finishing in second place during the first half of the season with a 38-30 record. However, they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

It was a rollecoaster year of sorts for the Loons that saw the first three home games of the season wiped out due to a field malfunction, the high of clinching a playoff spot and the ultimate end of your season.

Turns out, it was quite the up-and-down year for Vosters, as well, with him joining the Loons and ESPN 100.9-FM (WLUN) as the team’s second play-by-play broadcaster in its history.

“I wasn’t nervous or worried about anything, maybe there were some jitters going into the season because it was my first time as a No. 1 broadcaster, but it was very much an excited energy more than anything,” Vosters said. “I was very excited to get my first game under my belt and I’ll never forget that. It was down in West Michigan at Fifth Third Ballpark.

“It was also a crazy way to start the season because of losing the first three games of the season. I just had to laugh when it was happening because I had been waiting all winter to step into this role and get started with the baseball season. There was something telling me to just be patient and relax a little bit.”

Chris Vosters calls a game against the Burlington Bees at Dow Diamond on Saturday, June 6, 2015. (Amanda Ray / Great Lakes Loons)

Chris Vosters calls a game  against the Burlington Bees at Dow Diamond in the ESPN 100.9-FM radio booth on Saturday, June 6, 2015. (Amanda Ray / Great Lakes Loons)

One of the big reasons the Loons made the playoffs was thanks in large part to a string of games towards the end of May and into the early part of June that saw the Loons catch fire and take the MWL Eastern Division by storm.

“The highlight of the season was definitely when the team won 10 (games) in a row to tie a franchise record, and ultimately 15 of 16 for that stretch,” Vosters said. “It was cool to see it happen and the turning point was in a game against Fort Wayne. There was a disputed call involving a baserunner at second base and (Loons) field manager Luis Matos was ejected. I think that served as the catalyst for the rest of the first half of the season.

“The on-field performance was great, but it was also cool to see how the team gelled both on and off the field. It gave me an appreciation for how many little things go in to a team coming together to collectively achieve a goal, in this case, winning a baseball game.

One of the many beautiful nights at Dow Diamond during the 2015 season. (Amanda Ray / Great Lakes Loons)

One of the many beautiful nights at Dow Diamond during the 2015 season. (Amanda Ray / Great Lakes Loons)

“It was the timing of the year, too. The weather was finally starting to get warm, there were some good crowds at the ballpark, it just felt like there was a lot of promise in the air.”

Vosters found his way to Midland, Mich., after a few stops in broadcasting. Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin, where he was the Sports Director of WSUM-FM 91.7, Chris spent two seasons in the collegiate summer Northwoods Baseball League, where he got both play-by-play and hosting experience.

He then spent the 2014 baseball season as the No. 2 play-by-play voice of the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders working alongside Alex Vispoli. Before making the leap over Lake Michigan, he spent time at 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee doing high school sports.

Vosters, pictured center, during his time with 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee alongisde his “Preps Live” colleagues Matt Menzl and Matt Salmon. (Photo from JacobsMediaBlog.com)

Vosters, pictured center, during his time with 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee alongisde his “Preps Live” colleagues Matt Menzl and Matt Salmon. (Photo from JacobsMediaBlog.com)

“I think because it was my first time going through everything, I treated every day as a new experience,” Vosters said. “Of course, there are bumps and bruises along the way like the couple of times when we would become disconnected and dropped our signal on the road.

“But in hindsight, it really wasn’t a big deal. We were able to get every single game on the air and almost all in their entirety, whenever we dropped it was never for very long. I feel very good about the product that we put on the air.”

The transition from providing support throughout the day and receiving limited repetitions each night calling baseball games, to running your own show and being the lead broadcaster for a 140-game season can be both time-consuming and strenuous.

“I learned a lot about how to carry a broadcast for a whole nine innings as opposed to coming on for three innings in a relief role, you might say, as a No. 2 broadcaster,” Vosters said. “I think I gained a better feel for the ebb and flow of a game of baseball and learned to relax a little bit and have fun with the game.

“I think you learn that every game, there are similarities, but every game is different. So don’t go into it with a mindset of this is how I want the game to go; I want to talk about this in this inning, just react to the game and pick your spots when it might be a good moment to weave in a good storyline or a fun fact about a player. Also, know the moments when it’s okay to step back and let the game call itself and let the crowd and the excitement from the crowd tell the story.”

While seasons can tend to drag on, especially in the dog days of mid/late-July, there are bright spots with the job of broadcaster in minor league baseball.

“One of the fun things is every ballpark is different,” Vosters said. “Bowling Green, for instance, you’re along the third base line which, quite frankly, is difficult to adjust to. When you have the vantage point like you have here at Dow Diamond, you can get better reads on fly balls and you can just see the game play out in front of you. Even just the way the sound of the game seems to slowly roll up and rises towards and embraces you.

“In places like South Bend and Kane County, you’re at the top of a seating bowl and you’re basically embedded in the action. That’s a cool perspective because you can really see the breaks on pitches and get a good idea for a strike zone and really kind of see the way the ball spins. And you can get a much better view of ball and strikes. You really feel like you’re in the game, almost like you’re calling the game from the dugout or right behind home plate.”

The unique thing about the Loons job that sets itself apart from nearly every other broadcasting job in minor league baseball is it is a full-time, year-round broadcasting/radio job. Along with maintaining the programming on WLUN during the calendar year, when MWL baseball isn’t on the air, Vosters can be heard describing some of the best high school action in Mid-Michigan. It has both benefits and drawbacks.

“Haven’t had a lot of time to digest everything just with flying right into high school football season, but I was really grateful through the season for the support I had from the Loons staff and from people in the community with the feedback that I got,” Vosters said. “It’s much more gratifying to look back and see how much I improved over the course of the season by relaxing and trusting that I would get better simply by calling 140 games over the course of a season.”

“Lots of room to improve for me fundamentally and mechanically, my knowledge of the game, all of those things need to get better. But it’s exciting to look back at last baseball season and see how much more I know now than I did even just a short time ago and being able to project that same progress and growth forward for another baseball season. It’s very exciting and more than anything a lot of fun.”

How the Loons Fared During the 2015 MLB Season

Clayton Kershaw (2007, Dodgers)

What more can be said about arguably the best player ever to put on a Loons uniform. Kershaw had another stellar year on the mound for the Dodgers and was a horse when they needed him to be. Since 2011, the left-hander has thrown 20 complete games, 10 of which were shutouts. He’s also either led, or tied for the National League-lead in complete games each of the last two seasons. He did have his highest ERA since 2012 (2.53) this season, but has had a sub-3.00 ERA since 2008, his first season in the MLB.

clayton kershaw stats

Along with his wife Ellen, Clayton founded Kershaw’s Challenge, a Christ-centered, others-focused organization, in 2011. This past summer, they hosted the third annual #PingPong4Purpose fundraising event at Dodger Stadium. It’s a celebrity ping pong tournament that includes blue carpet interviews, social ping pong games, high-end silent auction and more. Dodger players, corporate VIPs, local athletes and notable media outlets all attended the event. In 2014, it raised over $250,000.

Dee Gordon (2009, Marlins)

The 27-year-old second baseman in Miami led the MLB in hits (205) and stolen bases (58) in his first year with the Marlins. Gordon needed three hits on the last day of the season to edge past Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper for the batting title. He hit a career-best .333/.359/.418 atop the Miami lineup this season. The son of longtime major leaguer Tom Gordon, Dee was a National League All-Star selection for the second consecutive year.

Joc Pederson (2011, Dodgers)

Pederson was part of one of the most memorable MLB Home Run Derby contests in recent memory. Now, it was mostly due to the fact that Todd Frazier, playing in front of his hometown Cincinnati Reds crowd, was putting on an absolute show. But, Pederson hung with him till the very end, forcing Frazier to hit a walk-off winner in the final round to win 15-14.

But, the best moment of the night might have been when Joc’s brother Champ got the chance to meet his favorite player Albert Pujols during the derby.

Joc was selected to the NL All-Star Team for the first time in his career, but faded towards the end of the regular season. He was picked for the Dodgers postseason roster, but finished the 2015 season with a .210 batting average, 26 home runs and 54 runs batted in.

Nate Eovaldi (2009, Yankees)

What a turnaround. Eovaldi went a dismal 6-14 in 2014 with the Marlins. Then December 19, 2014 came and Eovaldi was traded to the New York Yankees. In 27 starts in the Bronx, the right-hander went 14-3, by far his best season in the MLB. In 2+ seasons with Miami, Eovaldi went 13-27. The trade that brought him to Yankee Stadium saw the Marlins send Eovaldi, RF Garrett Jones and RHP Domingo German to the Yankees for RHP David Phelps and 3B Martin Prado.

nate eovaldi stats

Kenley Jansen (2007-08, Dodgers)

The 2015 season was Jansen’s fourth full campaign as the closer at Chavez Ravine. Once again, the one-time catcher for the Loons was as reliable as any closer in baseball with the Dodgers converting 36-of-38 save opportunities. Since making his major-league debut in 2010 with Los Angeles, he’s converted 88.2% of his save situations (142-of-161). More recently over the last two seasons, Jansen has ranked in the Top 10 in saves in the MLB. Of course, Kenley enters games with the recognizable California Love by 2Pac blaring at Dodger Stadium.

Shawn Tolleson (2011, Rangers)

Amid his joy of signing with his hometown Texas Rangers, Allen High product Shawn Tolleson heeded warnings of potential drawbacks. Ticket requests. Time demands. Distractions. Turns out, the homecoming has been a continuous, and needed, embrace. Tolleson, 27, returned the hug by literally saving the Rangers in their unexpected run to the playoffs, which begin Thursday in Toronto. Tolleson replaced Neftali Feliz as Texas’ closer in mid-May. For the rest of the season, he notched the most saves (35) and the highest save percentage (94.6) in the major leagues as Texas rallied to win the AL West Division. – Excerpt from an October 7 article by Dallas Morning News reporter Brad Townsend

Corey Seager (2013, Dodgers)

Man, they sure do grow up fast. Just two seasons ago, Seager was plying his trade at shortstop at Dow Diamond. This September/October, he was playing on national television in front of capacity crowds at Dodger Stadium, BATTING 3RD in the lineup. He’s truly a special talent with an effortless look to him in the field and as smooth a swing as they come at the plate. After being named a Baseball America Minor League All-Star in the Pacific Coast League, he was a September call-up for Los Angeles. Upon joining the big club he hit .337/.425/.561 with four home runs and 17 RBI in under 100 at-bats. There’s also a lot to be said of the fact that Dodgers management handed Seager the No. 5 upon joining the team. It’s not every day you get called up from the minors and get a single-digit number.

new corey seager career

Carlos Santana (2007, Indians)

Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana looks to the bench during the second inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit, Sunday, June 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana looks to the bench during a game against the Tigers in 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Santana has never been a guy who’s going to hit for a high average. But, he’s always been counted on to provide some pop in the Cleveland Indians lineup. He was able to provide that in 2015 as he hit 19 home runs and tied a career-high in runs batted in with 85 (also in 2014). On the flip side, he didn’t hit much for average turning in a paltry .231, tying the lowest mark of his career (also 2014). His durability will not be questioned, however, as he’s played 143 games or more each of his five seasons in the majors, including 154 this past year.

Pedro Baez (2010, Dodgers)

After getting called up from then Dodgers Triple-A affiliate the Albuquerque Isotopes in August 2014, Baez stuck in the L.A. bullpen. He appeared in 52 games this season and two games in the NLDS against the New York Mets. The 27-year-old right-hander was 4-2 with a 3.35 ERA and consistently averaged 97 mph and up with his four-seam fastball. Baez also had a 10.6 K/9 ratio in the Dodger blue this season.

Scott Van Slyke (2007-08, D0dgers)

In 96 games with the Dodgers this season, Van Slyke hit .239 with six home runs and 30 RBI. He’s spent parts of four seasons with the Dodgers since making his debut in May 2012. Him and outfielder Yasiel Puig seem to get along pretty well, too.

Yasiel Puig

Carlos Frias (2013, Dodgers)

Frias, who worked almost exclusively in the minors as a starting pitcher, found himself thrust into a reliever role when he joined the MLB club late in the 2014 season. Fast forword to 2015 and due to some injuries in the starting rotation, 13 of his 17 appearances were starts. Frias was 5-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 77 2/3 innings pitched. His strikeout numbers were low (4.99 K/9) and his opponent’s batting average was higher than you’d like (.297). But, in a fill-in role, Frias performed admirably.

Paco Rodriguez (2012, Dodgers/Braves)

Left elbow strain caused Rodriguez a lot of discomfort this season, forcing him onto the 15-day disabled list in May and then the 60-day disabled list in early July. When the trade deadline came, the lefty, along with another former Loon in Zack Bird, were traded to the Atlanta Braves. In total, Rodriguez appeared in 18 games for the Dodgers prior to being traded, compiling a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings pitched. On October 2, it was reported that Rodriguez underwent Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews.

paco rodriguez trade

Jerry Sands (2009-10, Indians)

When he made his debut in 2011 with the Dodgers, he had what would amount to be career-highs in nearly every statistical category. For the next three seasons, Sands would struggle to find regular playing time at the big league level. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in October 2012; traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in December 2012; claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays in December 2013; and signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Indians in December 2014. From 2012-2014, Sands played in just 19 games in the majors. This past season, he saw the most action at that level since 2011 playing in 50 games for the Indians and hitting .236 with four home runs and driving in 19 runs.

Loons fans, however, will likely always remember him for this…

Darnell Sweeney (2012, Phillies)

When Chase Utley was acquired by the Dodgers in August, that meant RHP John Richy was headed to the East Coast. So was Sweeney. Upon his arrival, his contract was selected from Triple-A by the Phillies and he played in 37 games getting 85 at-bats. With 14 of those games including pinch-hit duty, Sweeney didn’t find regular playing time until the calendar turned to September. For the season, Sweeney hit .176 with three home runs and 11 RBI.

Allen Webster (2010, Diamondbacks)

Back and forth Webster went between the Triple-A Reno Aces and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015. After being traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in 2012, the right-hander was apart of the deal between Boston and Arizona in December 2014 that sent LHP Wade Miley to the Red Sox in exchange for Webster, RHP Rubby De La Rosa and SS Raymel Flores. Webster appeared in nine games for the Dbacks, five of which were starts, compiling a 1-1 record in 2015.

Scott Schebler (2012, Dodgers)

Schebler followed suit and spent his 2015 season splitting time between Triple-A Oklahoma City and the Dodgers. He was summoned from the Triple-A Dodgers on three separation occasions throughout the season. Combined, he played in 140 games and hit .241 (113-for-468) with 16 home runs and 54 RBI. He was also named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for the week of June 22.

Zach Lee (2011, Dodgers)

Zach Lee was asked how he’ll remember his Major League debut. “Bittersweet is probably the best word to describe it,” said Lee, who suffered the loss in the Mets’ 15-2 rout of the Dodgers on Saturday night at Citi Field. “It’s great to come up here, but unfortunately it was not a very good outing to hang your hat on.” The former LSU quarterback recruit was charged with seven runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings. – Excerpt from an article by MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick

After that game, Lee was optioned back to Triple-A Oklahoma City and did not make another appearance for the Dodgers in 2015.

Playoff Baseball in Midland Once Again

Come September 9, playoff baseball will return to Midland. The Great Lakes Loons secured a spot in the Midwest League Playoffs back on June 20, the second-to-last day of the 1st half. With a record of 38-29, the Loons locked up a spot in the 1st half for the second time and the fourth time in franchise history (2009, 2010 and 2013).

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Going into that night’s action, one spot remained up for grabs in the Eastern Division. The Loons held a two game lead over Lake County for the slot with two games to play.

The Captains dropped a 9-8 decision to the Dayton Dragons and could not make up any ground on the Loons in the standings. Trailing the Loons by two games with one remaining, the Captains were eliminated from contention.

News of Lake County’s defeat rendered the results of the Loons’ game that night against the Lansing Lugnuts largely irrelevant. Had Lake County prevailed, the Loons would have needed a win or a Lake County loss the next day to clinch. The results removed what could have been a drama-filled Father’s Day for the Loons against Lansing’s powerful lineup.

Now the Loons are set to face the Lansing Lugnuts, a team they have never faced in their previous appearances in the postseason. With new memories to be made this fall, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remind everyone just how things felt those few short years ago.

September 9, 2009: The Loons defeat the West Michigan Whitecaps 7-2 at Dow Diamond in the first playoff game in franchise history. The Loons defeated the Whitecaps in the series.

September 12, 2009: The Loons defeated the Fort Wayne TinCaps, 11-10, in Game 1 of the MWL Eastern Division Championship in one of the most memorable games in team history. The Loons rallied from behind to tie the score four times — including once on a three-run, ninth-inning home run by Jaime Pedroza. The Loons took their first lead on a game-winning, 11th-inning single by Jerry Sands.

September 14, 2009:  The Loons are eliminated by the eventual league champion in a thrilling three-game series two days later.

June 16, 2010: Loons clinched a first-half playoff berth with a 4-3 win over South Bend, securing a spot in the Midwest League playoffs for the second straight season.

September 6, 2010: The Loons wrap up the 2010 regular season with a 90-49 mark, the best record in Minor League Baseball and the only team to win 90 games in the Minors in 2010. The Loons were named the Baseball America Low-A Team of the Year. That year, the Loons knocked off Fort Wayne in Round 1 of the playoffs (2-1) before falling to eventual-champion Lake County (2-1).

June 19, 2011: On the last day of the first half of the season, the Loons lose 5-0 to Fort Wayne while Lansing wins 8-2 at Dayton. The Loons finish the first half in a virtual tie with Lansing but the Lugnuts clinch the playoffs with a better winning percentage by .002 despite the fact that the Loons won more games (39 vs. 38).

September 5, 2011: The Loons lost 5-3 to South Bend to finish the regular season 72-67, the Loons’ third straight season with a winning record but miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

September 4, 2013: The Loons begin their third playoff appearance after a remarkable turnaround season. Following a 27-43 first half, Great Lakes captured the second half Eastern Division wildcard with a 40-29 mark. The Loons were swept in a best-of-three series by South Bend.

The Loons are back in the playoffs and will be looking to leave the Bowling Green Hot Rods and Dayton Dragons behind as the only teams who have not won a Midwest League Championship.

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So make sure you join us at Dow Diamond for what we all hope is the beginning of a special few weeks in Loons history! It’d be pretty great to see you!

that'd be great office space

Baseball and Italy — A Match Made in Heaven

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By Neil Rosan @neilandsports

Federico Celli has always been a baseball player.

Despite growing up in the soccer crazed nation of Italy, the right-handed, lanky left fielder found a love for America’s pastime between matches of footy and volleyball starting at a very young age.

“When I was eight years old, my father brought me to a baseball stadium and wanted me to try this new sport,” the Rimini native said. “He played when he was 18 years old and thought I would like to try it. After the first day, I was in love with the sport. I just wanted to play.”

His father’s experiment would pay off, as Celli’s play started to grab the attention of baseball experts a few years later.

“After a few years some scouts came to me and asked me if I had ever heard about pro baseball,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting, so I started to play harder.”

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Federico Celli slides in for a triple against the South Bend Cubs at Dow Diamond. Celli was promoted from extended spring training on June 11, 2015. (Amanda Ray / Great Lakes Loons)

His father may have been the reason he started playing baseball, but Celli started finding inspiration for professionals in America. A certain shortstop playing in the Bronx caught the young Italian’s eye in the mid-2000’s.

“I always liked Derek Jeter,” he said. “I was like he is the hero. He is the man.”

Since Celli’s first game for Great Lakes on June 12, he has been one of the heroes for the Loons.

The Italian is batting .269 with a .300 on base percentage. In 37 games, Celli has driven in 13 runs and scored 15 of his own. Defensively, the left fielder has committed 3 errors and recorded 2 outfield assists this season.

Needless to say, Celli has adjusted to the American game.

“Baseball is all about timing,” he said. “You need to take at bats every day and soon your eye is going to recognize pitches better. I wasn’t struggling at the beginning, but I have gotten better.”

The baseball wasn’t the only thing Celli had to get used to. The American style of food has started to grow on him as well.

“There is nothing wrong with American food,” Celli said with laugh. “It’s just different. It tastes good. I still eat it.”

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A little fun in the dugout never hurt anyone. (Amanda Ray / Great Lakes Loons)

Fitting in with his teammates has also never been in question with Celli. Even though he is the only European in the clubhouse, he insists that he has fit right in, though he may have to book a few more plane tickets the next time he
goes home.

“All my teammates say I need to bring them back with me one day.”

Celli has set a high standard of play for himself, so it looks like he won’t be going home for good for a long time as he continues to blaze a trail for future European talent.

No matter where Celli ends up in baseball, maybe one day there will be another young Italian playing in the minor leagues that will cite Celli as his personal hero. But until then, he is focused on the present.

“This is the first step,” Celli said. “I don’t want my mind to get too big.”

#LoonsTakePeoria for MWL All-Star Game

A long car ride culminating with a visit to the wrong hotel; that’s how the trip to the 2015 Midwest League All-Star Game in Peoria, Ill., kicked off. But, the annual trip for some of the Great Lakes Loons staff and players ended up being a major success.

“The River City” provided the locale for the mid-summer classic for the first time since 2005. Before all-stars Michael Ahmed, Grant Holmes and J.D. Underwood were able to hit the road for central Illinois, the boys had to pack up after the 1st half of the season wrapped up.

The trio concluded a successful 68-game stretch that produced the first playoff berth for the franchise since 2013 and the 4th in team history. In the three instances prior to the current season (2009, 2010, 2013), the Loons have reached the Eastern Division Championship twice, falling to the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Lake County Captains in back-to-back seasons.

From Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, Mich., an infielder and two pitchers squeezed into the backseat of a SUV rental and hit the road for the supposed 5-hour, 13-minute trek for Dozer Park, home of the Peoria Chiefs. However, just as in Michigan, construction proved to have a say in proceedings and delay the arrival of the convoy. Upon pulling in to a Courtyard by Marriott, the group was informed that they were at the wrong hotel. Whether communications manager Matt DeVries or production manager Trent Elliott were at fault, remains a mystery. A short trip back downtown saw everyone get where they needed to be.

After a good night’s sleep, Monday was a day where Ahmed, Holmes and Underwood visited the local zoo and attended the dinner party held for MWL players and staff, while Matt and Trent decided to see what the great city of Peoria had to offer.

Tuesday was gameday: Eastern Division All-Stars vs Western Division All-Stars. But, before the festivities at the stadium could take place, some official business needed to be taken care of.

Longtime league president George Spelius gave so much to the sport and the Midwest League during his 28 years in the big chair. His name is now on the trophy that will be awarded to the league champion each September.

To the ballpark. Players arrived in the early afternoon in preparation for that night’s game. After some catch, stretching and batting practice, the home run derby kicked things off. However, the Chiefs decided to give it a little twist. Players would be hitting from directly in front of the centerfield wall towards the seating bowl behind home plate. Some players took this opportunity to freshen up on their selfie skills.

#Repost @robbyrow12 with @repostapp. ・・・ #InstaChiefs #MWL #AllStarGame #TheSandbar homerun derby

A photo posted by peoria chiefs (@peoriachiefs) on Jun 23, 2015 at 6:25pm PDT

 

Prior to the game getting started, fans familiar with hockey were treated to a rousing performance from Chicago Blackhawks national anthem singer Jim Cornelison.

2015 #MWLASG #ChicagoBlackhawks Jim Cornelison sang the National Anthem

A photo posted by peoria chiefs (@peoriachiefs) on Jun 24, 2015 at 8:45am PDT

 

The game would see all three representatives from the Loons participate in the contest for East manager Shaun Larkin, however none were in the starting lineup.

Grant Holmes was the first to appear as he entered the game to start the 5th inning on the mound. Oscar Mercado was set down on strikes by Holmes and Colin Bray lined out to East shortstop Gleyber Torres. That would be it for him.

Next to enter the ballgame would be Michael Ahmed as a defensive replacement at third base to start the 6th. He finished the night 1-for-2 at the plate including a run-scoring single in the 9th.

The final debut came from J.D. Underwood in the 7th inning when he entered to face one batter, Yairo Munoz. The right-hander proceeded to record the strikeout to end the inning.

For everyone who couldn’t make the trip, there were a few different ways you could have caught the action.

A great trip all around for the Great Lakes Loons players and staff, along with a 5-0 win for the East to cap things off!

 

Mmm…craft beer!

Breweries are taking center stage this summer at Dow Diamond! If you’re a fan of craft beer, or have wanted to try something new, there’s going to be plenty of chances for you to do just that!

EXTRAVAGANZA

It all starts with the Loons Beer Tasting Extravaganza Friday, June 5th. You can sample beers from Michigan’s own Latitude 42 Brewing Company and Griffin Claw Brewing Company.

Located in Portage, Mich., Latitude 42 sport numerous award-winning brews and offer the ever-popular “Mug Club” which, after joining, get customers a t-shirt, logo pint glass, bumper sticker, empty growler and specialty deals only offered to members. Screenshot“We make beer because no one should have to drink swill.”

“When the best brewers in the world have problems, they call us.”

“I’m a brewer at heart.”

Not too shabby from the ole marketing department at Griffin Claw. Dan Rogers is the mastermind behind it all and he started brewing beer in 1992 out in Las Vegas. He’s been honing his craft ever since and has won 19 total medals (gold, silver, bronze) in competitions.

#griffinclaw #beersontap

A photo posted by GRIFFIN CLAW BREWING COMPANY (@griffinclaw) on May 14, 2015 at 2:27pm PDT

 

On June 5th, you’ll be able to enjoy game day munchies (chips, dip, fries, etc.) and (12) 4 oz. craft beer samples. Contact the Loons ticket office (989-837-2255) to reserve your spot!

FIRKIN FRIDAY

Firkin Fridays

We’ll also have Firkin Friday’s on June 26th, July 24th and August 21st! Nothing beats an ice cold beer on a hot summer day, especially a strong and flavorful Michigan brewed craft beer. What better way to appreciate a locally crafted beer then straight from a firkin?

Arcadia Ales – June 26th

Latitude 42 – July 24th

Saugatuck Brewing – August 21st

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Arcadia Brewing Company was established in 1996 as a microbrewery specializing in handcrafted British-style ales. In addition to brewing using authentic British equipment, Arcadia uses malted barley straight from England, hops from the Pacific Northwest and Ringwood yeast.

 

Founded in 2005, Saugatuck Brewing Company has been providing quality craft beer to folks in Southwest Michigan, as well as the entire state for nearly a decade. With live music, the “Pint Club” and the ability to brew your own bear, SBC has become a fixture in the craft beer scene.

You’ll be able to enjoy samples from the firkin and the same beers brewed traditionally to truly appreciate the unique difference. To participate, simply purchase a box or lawn ticket and be sure to arrive at the stadium in time for the tapping at 6 p.m. as samples are very limited.

I WANT MORE

For more information on all the breweries that will be featured this summer, check all of their social media channels listed below.

Latitude 42 Brewing Company: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Griffin Claw : Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Arcadia Ales: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Saugatuck Brewing: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Hitting Coach Jay Gibbons Mic’d Up

NBC 25 (WEYI) in Flint, Mich., had Great Lakes Loons hitting coach Jay Gibbons mic’d up on May 14 during a School Kids Day game against the Dayton Dragons at Dow Diamond. Check out what goes on in the Loons dugout below!

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