The West Michigan Whitecaps beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2 in a fight-to-the-finish game Tuesday, but that was only the second-most interesting thing that happened at Fifth Third Ballpark that night.
The real story, of course, was the fact that baseball was being played there already, just three months after a fire devastated the ballpark. But Whitecaps co-owner Denny Baxter promised that the stadium would still host its scheduled home opener, and it did.
I’m not going to focus too much on the amazing rebuild of Fifth Third Ballpark in this post — so much has been written about it already, and I recommend you read at least some of the massive coverage The Grand Rapids Press has done. But I’ll say this: I was impressed with the way the Whitecaps celebrated with their fans. It ranged from fun (a Dixieland band, stilt walkers, postgame fireworks) to serious (a video retrospective of the situation, public acknowledgment of representatives from every fire department that assisted in stopping the blaze). The best part may have been the most basic — instead of having a kid yell “Play ball!” to kick things off, the crowd of 7,128 was asked to do the honor en masse.
Besides the rebuilt ballpark — which includes a new, much-bigger souvenir store — there were some other new things for fans to see and experience. New food items include the Auger Dogger (a deep-fried hot dog on a stick wrapped in spiral potato chips), which I ordered and enjoyed. The Whitecaps also revealed their newest (and third) mascot, Roxy. A female version of the team’s main mascot (Crash the River Rascal), she was introduced to the crowd as she rode in from the outfield on a horse-drawn carriage.
As for the game, it was a close affair won by the Whitecaps. Their infield committed four errors, but they also got clutch performances from their pitchers, who stranded 12 Timber Rattlers on the basepaths. Wisconsin went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
Whitecaps SP Jeff Thompson lasted only 3.1 innings, but he gave up only one unearned run on three hits and three walks. He struck out six batters. RHP Julio Felix, who relieved Thompson, struck out four batters and gave up zero runs in 2.2 IP.
Whitecaps 2B Javier Betancourt and Timber Rattlers LF Omar Garcia each had three hits. Whitecaps RF Ben Verlander (younger brother of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander) and Timber Rattlers RF Michael Ratterree (whom I saw homer at Miller Park during a spring training game late last month) each drove in two runs.