The West Michigan Whitecaps took on the Dayton Dragons Friday night on “What do you want to be when you grow up?” night at Fifth Third Ballpark.
Grand Rapids Community College was well represented at the game with the GRCC Mobile Manufacturing Lab out in the parking lot. They showcased a virtual welder, 3-D printer, mini mill and a mini lathe as well. Members of the Enrollment Center were also on hand to talk to people interested in GRCC’s workforce training programs. It was topped off by President Bill Pink having the honor to be one of a handful of people to throw out the first pitch before the game.
“It’s an exciting night because we have a lot of our GRCC family out here tonight just rooting on the whole night,” Pink said. “We have the manufacturing trailer out, we’ve got some of our admissions people out. It’s the idea of making sure our community understands that there are jobs here in West Michigan that are open, that are ready, that are available for people to have, and there’s training involved as well…GRCC plays a big part in that training all over West Michigan and so it’s an opportunity for us to be out here tonight and to showcase what we do so that we can connect people to jobs.”
Pink admitted that he had to warm up his arm because it had been a while since he had thrown a baseball.
“Usually, my (ball) that I throw around is a bit bigger and orange and you throw it in a hoop rather than to a guy with a mitt,” Pink said. “I wouldn’t say (I’m) very nervous. Just actually anxious to get out there and get going with it.”
Pink recalled a former GRCC president who threw out the first pitch at a Whitecaps game and didn’t quite make it to home plate. He made it known that as long as he gets it there, he’ll be happy and would even be ok if he overthrew it rather than bouncing it in. With the pressure on, Pink delivered a strike and was happy he did so.
“I was happy to get it over the plate,” Pink said right after delivering the first pitch. “They put a guy before me that’s going to be in the hall of fame when he’s 23-years-old. He was an impressive kid. But it was fun. It was good to be good partners with the Whitecaps. This was fun tonight.”
As for the game, Tom de Blok took the mound for the Whitecaps for the first time this season. He started the game off strong with a three-up-three-down first inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Whitecaps center fielder, Jose Azocar hit a one out triple, but the Whitecaps failed to bring him in after back-to-back called third strikes to end the inning.
Stuart Fairchild, center fielder for the Dragons, hit a towering home run to left field off the top of the scoreboard to lead off the second inning. After a pair of Dragon singles, shortstop, Jose Garcia hit a grounder that got through the first and second basemen to bring in a run making the score 2-0 before the Whitecaps could escape the inning with a strikeout.
After getting roughed up in the second inning, de Blok came back to form in the third inning and didn’t allow any runs on only one hit. In the bottom half of the inning, Whitecaps left fielder, Ulrich Bojarski hit a leadoff double. Following a grounder to first that advanced Bojarski to third, Cole Peterson roped a singled to left field to bring in Bojarski for the Whitecaps’ first run of the game. After another hit and a walk, third baseman Colby Bortles grounded to third with the bases loaded. The Dragon’s third baseman, Alejo Lopez, made a nice back handed stab followed by a long throw to get Bortles out at first, but Peterson came in on the play to tie the game 2-2. With a chance to take the lead, the Whitecaps couldn’t take advantage of the runners in scoring position and left two stranded.
In the top of the fourth inning, Dragon’s catcher, Mark Kolozsvary hit a lead off homerun to take the lead back 3-2. After scoreless fifth and sixth innings, Whitecaps manager, Lance Parrish, called on Brandyn Sittinger out of the bullpen to relieve de Blok for the top of the seventh inning. For the game, de Blok went six innings giving up three earned runs on nine Dragon hits.
“He kept us in the game,” Parrish said in a postgame interview. “Do I think he was as good as he could be? No. But I like the way he throws the ball, I like the way the ball comes out of his hand. He mixed it up. I’m sure he wishes he could take that pitch back that that guy hit a homerun off of, but that’s going to happen. But you know he went six innings and gave up three runs. To me, that’s a quality start. That kept us in the game and gave us a shot.”
Parrish wasn’t the only one to take notice of de Blok’s strong outing. Peterson commented on his play in his post game comments.
“He threw well,” Peterson said. “He left a pitch or two over the plate and they took advantage of it but other than that, he threw really well.”
The Dragons followed suit in the bottom of the seventh calling on Austin Orewiler to replace Andrew Jordan on the mound. Relievers for both teams came in and pitched a scoreless seventh inning.
Going into the eighth inning, Sittinger remained on the mound and after a leadoff single by the Dragons, worked a 5-4-3 double play before striking out Kolozsvary to get out of the inning unscathed.
Orewiler came back out for Dayton in the bottom of the eighth still clinging to a 3-2 lead. With two outs in the inning, Bortles hit his third homer of the year to tie the game at three.
Sittinger came back out to start the ninth inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Reshard Munroe who later stole second and advanced to third on a ground out to first base. With one out in the top of the ninth and a runner on third, Parish once again made the call to the bullpen and brought out Will Vest to try and keep the game tied going into the bottom ninth. Unfortunately for Vest and the Whitecaps, the Dragons left fielder, Randy Ventura hit a bloop single to shallow left field over the infielders who were playing in. The RBI scored Munroe and put the Dragons back on top 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
John Ghyzel came in to close the game for the Dragons. Leading off the bottom of the ninth for the Whitecaps was designated hitter Cole Bauml. Ghyzel made quick work of him striking him out to record the first out the inning. After a walk was issued to Joey Morgan, Bojarski hit a single to left field forcing the Dayton pitching coach to make a visit to the mound to talk things over. Following the mound visit, Whitecaps second baseman, Alexis Garcia grounded to the Dragons shortstop who got the force out at third. With their backs against the wall, Peterson stepped up to bat with two outs and runners on first and second with the chance to be the hero.
Peterson roped the pitch to center field. As the ball was descending to the field, Dayton’s center fielder, Fairchild had a decision to make. Was he going to play the ball on a hop or try and make the diving catch to end the game? Fairchild chose to dive and it ended up being a costly decision for the Dragons as the ball got past him allowing Bojarski and Garcia to come around and score giving the Whitecaps a 5-4 walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.
“When I got to the plate, I was just looking for a pitch out over the plate,” Peterson said. “When I hit it I was like, ‘I think it’s going to drop, hopefully.’ I saw him coming and he started to dive and in my head I was like, ‘Oh no. He’s going to dive and catch it.’ And when it hit the ground, I was like, ‘alright we’re tied.’ And then I saw it role by him, and I got to second and just watched (Garcia) score and it was awesome.”
Parrish talked about what he saw on the walk-off hit and what was going through his mind when the ball was in the air.
“Exactly what happened!” Parrish said about what he was hoping would happen when the ball was still in the air. “(Peterson) can hit, you know, and he’s come through on a number of occasions. Great plays in the field and clutch hits for us, and I was just hoping he’d find a hole somewhere – if anything just to tie the game up. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about winning the game right there. It would’ve take something extraordinary which is exactly what happened. So you know, I take my hat off to him. He seems to always rise to the occasion.”
With this win, the Whitecaps move to 34-34 on the season. They will host Dayton for two more games this weekend with a 7:05 p.m. start Saturday night, and a 2 p.m. start on Sunday for Father’s Day. To find tickets for upcoming West Michigan home games, click here.