While a trip to Detroit for a Tigers game at Comerica Park is an annual “must-do,” our state features several minor league teams that offer a unique experience, often much closer to home. What these teams may lack in budget and star power, they more than make up for in heart, creative food concoctions, and wacky promotions. With teams like the Great Lakes Loons (Midland), Lansing Lugnuts, and Traverse City Beach Bums, baseball is never far away. For those of us who call Grand Rapids home, the West Michigan Whitecaps provide our baseball fix throughout the summer.
The 2017 regular season runs from April 6 through September 4 with 70 home games, which means there are plenty of opportunities to make it out to at least one game. While there are many practical advantages to choosing a Whitecaps games instead of making the trek to Detroit, there are many other things that make a visit to Fifth Third Ballpark the ideal way to spend a summer afternoon or evening.
Fifth Third Ballpark
The West Michigan Whitecaps have called Comstock Park, just outside of Grand Rapids, home since 1994 when two local businessmen moved the team (previously the Madison Muskies) from Wisconsin to its current home at Fifth Third Ballpark (called Old Kent Ballpark until 2001). The stadium holds more than 9,000 fans and is a beautiful place to watch a game — you would never guess that a fire caused extensive damage to the ballpark just three years ago!
There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and tickets start at just eight dollars for a lawn seat, which is a great choice if you have restless fans in your party or you’re looking to snag a foul ball. There are also a select number of box seats, as well as the Safeco 4Topps Premium Seating, which includes a four-person table and a wait staff so you can avoid the concessions line.
Seeing the Future
The team became an affiliate of the Tigers in 1997, and for two decades now West Michigan is often the first stepping stone on a player’s path to the big leagues. Former West Michigan Whitecaps include notable names such as Brandon Inge, Cameron Maybin, and Alex Avila. The Whitecaps also serve as a frequent stop for injured Tigers beginning the rehabilitation process. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for announcements of rehab starts for injured players; seeing them in Fifth Third Ballpark is a real treat!
Along with the traditional ballpark fare of hotdogs, peanuts, and beer — usually at a lower price than the Major League parks — the Whitecaps offer many unique and delectable options. New menu items for the 2017 season include beer cheese poutine, edible bread cones stuffed with your choice of fillings, and deep fried Twinkies. Naturally, craft beer is also featured, and the Craft Clubhouse is where you can find over a dozen local microbrews to responsibly enjoy on those summer days.
Something that always makes the minor-league experience special is the fan involvement with games and promotions, and the Whitecaps games are no exception. Between most innings, fans are selected to participate in a variety of silly games including the infamous dizzy bat race and plenty of other Whitecaps originals. But the fun doesn’t stop there, as mascots often mingle with the crowd and giveaways are common. Fireworks displays are common throughout the summer, and on Sundays kids can run the bases after the games. You can also purchase discounted tickets on Mondays if you have a church bulletin. The list of promotions is way too long to type here, but they can all be found on the West Michigan Whitecaps website.
The Whitecaps do more than provide affordable family entertainment. The Whitecaps Community Foundation was started in 2012 and oversees all of the philanthropic work of the organization. With several programs and an annual charitable contribution of over $500,000, the Whitecaps are a force for good both on and off the field. Programs include a reading club, an initiative to get inner-city youth involved in baseball and softball, and the 50/50 raffles that take place at games.
Since moving “home” over 20 years ago, the West Michigan Whitecaps have provided a unique and affordable entertainment option to the greater Grand Rapids area and have also been a force for good in the community. Whether you are a baseball fan hoping to catch a foul ball or see the next great Tigers star before he makes his millions, or if you are more interested in eating bread cones filled with pork, drinking a 32-ounce craft beer, and just enjoying a beautiful Michigan summer evening, the Whitecaps have you covered.
What is your favorite thing about going to a West Michigan Whitecaps game? Let us know in the comments!