Fun, sun, suds and grub! Fans' guide to minor-league baseball

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

With 2018 widely expected to be a rebuilding season with the Tigers at Comerica Park, this just might prove to be the perfect summer to explore other options to get your baseball fix — and, on just a tank of gas or less from Metro Detroit, there are no shortage of options on that front.

Today, The Detroit News' Tony Paul breaks down all the possibilities.

Muddonna the Mud Hen is just one of several mascots fans can get a glimpse of at minor-league ballparks throughout the state this summer.


Stadium: Fifth Third Ballpark, 4500 West River Dr. NE, Comstock Park, 49321

Level: Single A

Affiliate: Tigers

League: Midwest League

Season: Through early September

Tickets:$8 (lawn) to $16 (premium box)

The skinny: This is the 25th anniversary for the Whitecaps, who are celebrating all season long, including an amazing giveaway of a 1994 Corvette. (ENTER HERE.) The team also will wear its original logo jerseys four times, on May 12, June 17, July 28 and Sept. 1. The Whitecaps also are going old-school with an organist, Anne Tuuk, set to perform at several games, mostly throughout the summer months.

Former Detroit Tigers All-Star catcher Lance Parrish is in his first season as manager of the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps.

Let's eat! The Whitecaps, more than any other minor-league team in Michigan, are known for trying out some, well, let's just say, creative food items. Among the expected hits this season: The Mt. Wing-suvius, which is buffalo chicken with mac 'n' cheese, in a stack of onion rings, topped with beer cheese and green onions. There's also the "Big Wheel," an homage to new manager Lance Parrish, which is a double cheeseburger topped with a brat. Because, why not?

The Mt. Wing-suvius is buffalo chicken with mac 'n' cheese, with onion rings, topped with beer cheese and green onions.

Great causes:Michigan-Michigan State Rivalry Night will be Aug. 16, and will serve as a joint fundraiser — for the Chad Tough Foundation and the Mike Sadler Foundation.

Familiar faces: The Whitecaps will host former Tigers on select Wednesdays throughout the season, including Cecil Fielder (June 6), Dave Rozema (July 11), Willie Horton (July 25), Placido Polanco (Aug. 15) and Mickey Stanley (Aug. 22).

Value city: Every Thursday, the Whitecaps have $2 20-ounce beers, $2 hot dogs and $2 Pepsi products. Also, July 2, July 31 and Aug. 21 are the dime hot-dog nights.Top prospects to watch: Hitter — C Joey Morgan, third-round pick, 2017. Pitchers — RH Matt Manning, first-round pick, 2016; RH Dane Myers, sixth-round pick, 2017.

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Stadium: Cooley Law School Stadium, 505 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing, 48912

Level: Single A

Affiliate: Blue Jays

League: Midwest League

Season: Through early September

Tickets:$8 (lawn) to $36 (Pepsi Porch; all-you-can-eat-and-drink)

Stars come out: The Midwest League All-Star Game, featuring some of the mos -promising prospects in the game, is coming to Lansing this season, on Tuesday, June 19, complete with a pregame block party, a Home Run Derby, a helmet giveaway for the first 1,000 fans, plus postgame fireworks.

Celebrating Sadler: On May 3, the Lugnuts will pay tribute to fallen Michigan State kicker Mike Sadler, with the first 1,000 fans receiving a green-and-white No. 3 Sadler jersey. The Lugnuts will be selling Atwater Brewery's Hey Diddle Diddle, the craft beer dedicated in his name, with all beer sales and silent-auction proceeds benefiting the Mike Sadler Foundation.

On May 3, the Lugnuts will give away this Mike Sadler jersey to the first 1,000 fans through the gates.

Thor's night: Noah Syndergaard is now a stud pitcher with the New York Mets, but once upon a time, he was a short-haired, up-and-comer in Lansing. On May 19, the Lugnuts will pay tribute to the man they call "Thor" with a Syndergaard "Game of Thrones" Bobblehead for the first 1,000 fans. Syndergaard had a cameo as a Lannister soldier on the popular HBO series last summer.

The Lansing Lugnuts will give away this Noah Syndergaard Bobblehead on May 19.

Who's your daddy? Vladimir Guerrerro Jr., the son of the new Hall-of-Famer, was a big-time star during his brief stay in Lansing a year ago. This year, on June 17, Father's Day, the first 1,000 fans will receive a Vlad Jr. Blue Jays/Lugnuts jersey.

Value city: The Lugnuts host a Thirsty Thursday, complete with $2 beers and $2 wins, and half-off craft beers. Tuesdays, meanwhile, are dollar days, with $1 hot dogs, Miller High Life, fountain drinks, ice-cream sandwiches and popcorn.

Top prospects to watch: Hitter — 1B Kacy Clemens, eighth-round pick, 2017. Pitcher — RH Donnie Sellers, 11th-round pick, 2017.

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Stadium: Dow Diamond, 825 E. Main St., Midland, 48640

Level: Single A

Affiliate: Dodgers

League: Midwest League

Season: Through early September

Tickets:$7 (lawn) to $10 (reserved box)

What's new? Last November, the Loons completed the installation of a $3 million videoboard, which is among the most impressive in minor-league baseball — standing 31 feet tall and is 80 feet wide. It's more than 2,500 square feet, which is the equivalent of 235 60-inch televisions. The Loons also are planning a new "retro-themed" apparel store, as well as upgrades to the Lou E's Lookout playground area.

The Great Lakes Loons have installed a 2,500-square-foot videboard beyond the outfield wall at Dow Diamond.

Big names of yesteryear: Some of the Dodgers biggest stars got their start in little old Midland, and the Loons will celebrate them with a series of Bobblehead giveaways this season, including Corey Seager (June 9), Kenley Jansen (July 7) and Clayton Kershaw (Aug. 4).

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw made 20 starts for the Great Lakes Loons in 2007, and went 6-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 97.1 innings.

Rainbow warriors: In 2017, the Loons became the first minor-league baseball team in Michigan to officially hold an LGBTQ Pride Night. It was a big hit, and the Loons will host the second annual Pride Night on June 29, with a special ticket package that includes a reserve seat and a Loons Pride Night T-shirt.

Rivalry revelry: Aug. 17 is House Divided Night, as the Loons will give away 500 Michigan-themed Loons hats and 500 Michigan State-themed Loons hats.

Value city: Lots of options here. Wednesdays are Hump Day Happy Hour, with $2 select domestic drafts until one hour after first pitch. Thursday's are Family Feast Night, with $1 hot dogs, 16-ounce soft drinks, ice-cream sandwiches and potato chips. And Sundays, kids 12 and younger receive a free kids meal, including a hot dog, soft drink and potato chips.

Top prospects to watch: Hitter — OF Starling Heredia, international free agent, 2015. Pitcher — LH Marshall Kasowski, 13th-round pick, 2017.

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Stadium: Fifth Third Field, 406 Washington St., Toledo, 43604

Level: Triple A

Affiliate: Tigers

League: International League

Season: Through early September

Tickets: $16 (field) to $18 (club)

Fifth Third Field in Toledo is among the finest minor-league ballparks in the country.

Cream of the crop: There are some gem ballparks on this list, to be certain, but none is better than Fifth Third Field — which is among the best locales in all of minor-league baseball, really. It's got that Camden Yards vibe to it, and the vibrant surrounding neighborhood makes attending a Mud Hens game a true event. There's actually a downside to that, of course. Tickets can actually be relatively tough to come by, especially in the summer months, and there aren't many so-called minor-league bargains to be had, at the box office or at the concession stands.

Top promos: There are two intriguing Bobblehead giveaways — Jim Leyland (May 25) and Kirby Puckett (June 8). It's a little-known fact Puckett, the late Twins Hall-of-Famer, actually played 21 games for the Mud Hens in 1984, back when Toledo was a Minnesota affiliate. (Even the Mud Hens had to ask fans recently what number he wore while in Toledo.) On Aug. 24, the Mud Hens will hand out Jose "Lima Time" Bobbleheads, in memory of the late Tigers pitcher with a larger-than-life personality.

Muddy the Mud Hen is popular among kids in Toledo.

Stuff of legends: Legendary Mud Hen Mike Hessman, the minor-league home-run king, will be honored in a pregame ceremony Aug. 16, for his induction into the International League Hall of Fame. Hessman is now the hitting coach at Double-A Erie.

Uniform watch: The Mud Hens have been among the most innovative in terms of specialty uniforms. Ones to watch this year: Star Wars (May 26) and Harry Potter (June 30).

Value city: Select Tuesdays and Wednesdays are Senior Days, with tickets discounted to $9, plus bagged lunches (with a hot dog, chips and a soda) available for $5. Shaded seating will be reserved for seniors. Sundays, meanwhile, are Kids Days — which feature an inflatable theme park, with children allowed to run the bases after the game.

Top prospects to watch: Hitter — OF Christin Stewart, first-round pick, 2015; 3B Dawel Lugo, international free agent, 2012. Pitcher — RH A.J. Ladwig, 11th-round pick, 2014.

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Stadium: UPMC Park, 110 East 10th St., Erie, Pa., 16501

Level: Double A

Affiliate: Tigers

League: Eastern League

Season: Through early September

Tickets:$10 (upper box) to $16 (dugout box)

The skinny: OK, this is the longest road trip on this list (assuming you're reading from Michigan), but if you've never been, it's worth the trek — especially these days, as many of the Tigers' top-shelf prospects are expected to be showcased here over the summer. Even some of the 2017 top picks could make Erie cameos this season.

The Erie SeaWolves will give away Bobbleheads of Justin Verlander and Christin Stewart.

Top giveaways: Everybody loves Bobbleheads, and Erie has a couple of gems this year, including a Justin Verlander World Series championship Bobblehead (May 18) and a Christin Stewart home-run king Bobblehead (May 26).

Food thoughts: Pennsylvanians aren't shy about their love of pierogis, or their obsession with cheesesteaks. No surprise, then, that those are two of the most notewortlhy additions to the SeaWolves' menu for 2018, with the Pierogi Burger (cheddar pierogi, bacon, sour cream) and mac 'n' cheesesteak. Also, back by popular demand is the Mojo & AC Rocket Dog, last year's winner of the Bush's Best Home Run Recipes contest. It's a jumbo dog, topped with smoked pulled pork, mac 'n' cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce.

The Erie SeaWolves' "Rocket Dog" is an award-winning frank.

Jersey giants: Erie is making significant changes to its threads, with its red jerseys now reading "SeaWolves" instead of "Erie," its yellow jerseys featuring new "Erie" lettering, and the introduction of an alternate jersey featuring "Howlers." Those jerseys, Erie boasts, will make it the first team in professional baseball to wear its informal nickname on the jersey.

Value city: Mondays are Buck Night (or Buck Day, as the case may be), with fans able to chow down on hot dogs and popcorn at a dollar apiece, as well as 12-ounce sodas and select domestic draft beers. There also are Two-Buck Tuesdays, with select beers in the Bud Light Beer Garden $2 through the sixth inning; the first 250 kids on these days also receive a free meal.

Top prospects to watch: Hitter — OF Jake Robson, eighth-round pick, 2016. Pitcher — RH Beau Burrows, first-round pick, 2015.

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Stadium: Jimmy Johns Field, 7171 Auburn Road, Utica, 48317

Level: Independent

Teams: Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns, Westside Wooly Mammoths

League: United Shores Professional Baseball League

Season: May 11 through early September

Tickets: $6 (lawn) to $35 (front row club)

What's new? The league — a stunning success, in the shadows of Comerica Park — keeps on growing, now in its third year. The league has added a dance crew for 2018, as well as a speed-pitch machine where pitching hopefuls can test their skills (or lack thereof, as the case may be). The USPBL also will sell $5 tickets for its Craft Beer Garden, which includes entry after 9 p.m., plus a 24-ounce souvenir cup.

The United Shore Professional Baseball League is adding a pitch-speed machine to its fan experience this season.

On the TV: The USPBL announced recently that 10 games this season will air on ESPN3, with Oakland University's Neal Ruhl on the call. Among the games to be broadcast will be the season opener, May 11, and the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, on July 7, plus all playoff games from Sept. 7-9.

Fun fact: Jimmy Johns Field sells more volume of Tito's Handmade Vodka than Comerica Park during the baseball season.

Moving on up: Twenty USPBL players have signed contracts with major-league organizations.

More:USPBL's Andy Appleby eyes more family fun, expansion

Notable dates: May 11 — Opening day, with a ring ceremony and banner raising for the defending-champion Beavers, a magnet schedule giveaway, a skydiver presenting the game ball, and a postgame fireworks show. June 21 — Jimmy Buffet Night, with special themed jerseys. July 25 — On Woolly Wonka Night, the mascot will hand on chocolate bars, with five golden-ticket winners getting to compete for the grand prize. Aug. 16 — Beatlemania, with special themed jerseys.

Value city: On Thirsty Thursdays, fans can get $2 Bud and Bud Lights (12 ounces). College students get $2 off their tickets on Thursdays, plus receive a free Koozie.

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Stadium: Wuerfel Park, 333 Stadium Dr., Traverse City, 49685

Level: Independent

League: Frontier League

Season: Mid-May through early September

Tickets: $6 (lawn) to $15 (general admission, Short's Biergarten)

Notable dates: On June 28, July 26, Aug. 9 and Aug. 16, Beach Bums players and coaches will conduct a two-hour mini-camp for kids ages 6-12. The cost is $50 per child, and includes two game tickets. For details, call (231) 943-0100.

Value city: Thrifty Thursdays mean half-price tickets for seniors (60-and-older), and $5 meal deals for all, including a hot dog, chips and soft drink. On Saturdays, active and retired military personnel and first responders receive half-price tickets.

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Stadium: C.O. Brown Stadium, 1392 Capital Ave. NE, Battle Creek, 49017

Level: College

League: Northwoods League

Season: May 29 through mid-August

Tickets: $7 (reserved bleachers) to $27 (champions club)

Notable dates: Promotional schedule not yet available.

Value city: The $27 champions-club ticket includes all the food you can stomach and all the soda you can gulp, plus three vouchers good for either beer, desserts or kids' game-day experiences. Each ticket is guaranteed a giveaway item, as well. The five-game season-ticket package, at $13 a game, also includes all you can eat (until the fourth inning), plus a giveaway item at each game.

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Stadium: Homer Stryker Field, 21 Mills St., Kalamazoo, 49048

Level: College

League: Northwoods League

Season: May 29 through mid-August

Tickets: $9 (bleachers) to $30 (suites)

Notable dates: June 9 — Pupperazzi Night, with jerseys made up completely of images of fans' dogs. June 15 — LGBTQ Pride Night. June 23 — Appearance by Western Michigan football coach Tim Lester. June 24 — Appearance by Dave Smith, the Human Cannonball. July 24 — Northwoods League All-Star Game, including Home Run Derby.

Value city: Tuesdays are half-off Bell's craft brews, and Thursdays are half-off Miller Lite drafts. Also, the Growlers offer a five-game pack at $14 per game that includes a ticket, plus all-you-can-eat through the fifth inning, plus a free gift for each game.

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