At the banquet were Tigers infield coach Raphael Belliard, first baseman Carlos Guillen, relief pitcher Zach Miner, back up catcher Vance Wilson, Tigers' rookie and prospect Jordan Tata, former Whitecap Duane Below, and 2007 first round draft choice Rick Porcello. Speakers for the evening were Whitecaps new manager Joe DePastino, TV play by play announcer Mario Impemba, general manager Dave Dombrowski, and first base coach Andy Van Slyke.
It was an enjoyable evening with fans being able to visit with the various players and coaches, and being able to take pictures of and with the special guests. After an enjoyable dinner, various auctions were held to raise money for the inner city youth to be able to participate in baseball leagues throughout the summer months. We then heard from several speakers.
Mario Impemba introduced each of the Tiger guests of the evening, after which the crowd was introduced to the new Whitecaps manager, Joe DePastino. Joe shared with the crowd his excitement about coming to West Michigan this summer and taking on the challenge of manager of the Whitecaps.
"I am not a small ball type coach" he announced with great conviction, "the guys will play the game, and they will learn to play the game." Joe told those in attendance that he is also not a coach that will yell at the team. He believes that they will learn from their mistakes and will call them aside quietly to let them know where they erred.
Dave Dombrowski took the microphone to a standing ovation from the crowd of 800 plus fans. "Managing a baseball team can be a high stress job," he said very seriously. "I am sure it is stressful to manage a major league team like the Yankees, but I stand up here with 5 championship trophies behind me, two of which were from 2006 and 2007. There is no higher stress job than the one Joe DePastino is taking on in managing the Whitecaps in 2008."
Dave talked about the recent trades and how even though we need to restock the farm, there are still many prospects in our system including Rick Porcello, Jordan Tata, Virgil Vasquez and others. He mentioned the new members of the Tigers and how Pudge Rodriguez had said jokingly "I am going to end up batting ninth" and yet Dave commented that he was glad that Pudge was recognizing that. "I am not saying where he will bat. I do not make the lineups. That is Jim Leyland's job."
It was with a touch of sadness that he mentioned Brandon Inge, knowing that Brandon is a favorite here in West Michigan. He restated what he had said on Saturday at Comerica Park, that he had talked to Brandon and that Brandon's first choice is to start at third base for a team. "I have to honor that," Dave said, "and try to find him a team. I have been and I will continue to do so, but it may come to the point where he will have to take the role of super-sub. Brandon has been a real asset to the team and the community, and I know we will be a better team with him on it."
The keynote speaker of the evening was first base coach Andy Van Slyke, who entertained the crowd with his sense of humor, and let the crowd see his love and passion for the game of baseball.
He described his days as a rookie with the Cardinals. "I played outfield, but they got a great idea to stick me on third base. I got married on May 22 and played third base on May 23. I didn't get any sleep the night before. It had nothing to do with consummating my marriage—I ended up catching a night flight to play with the Cardinals." He went on to describe how the game was tied 6-6 in the 6th inning, and he made his fourth error. The manager made a trip to the mound, and called Andy to join the meeting on the mound. The manager put his arm around Andy's shoulders and directed his comment to the pitcher. "Sorry, I have to take you out of the game because you can't seem to keep the ball away from the third baseman."
Andy began to describe some of the Tigers team members, and shared how much he appreciated having an owner like Mike Illich who is willing to let his general manager do his job freely. "The owner frees up the general manager, the general manager frees up the coaches and the coaches free up the team. Someone asked me tonight what my job is as first base coach and outfield coach. I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet."
He described the game of baseball using the terms faith, hope and love. "If I don't love my wife, I won't be a good husband. If we don't love the game of baseball, we won't make good baseball players and coaches." He described how the owner, GM, and coaches have to have faith in the team to do their job, and "it is our hope that the 2008 Tigers will bring joy to the Tiger fans' hearts this season."