On a Friday morning in June, West Michigan Whitecaps pitcher Trent Szkutnik was up early packing lunches for Meals on Wheels recipients. Szkutnik, along with fellow players Spenser Watkins and Zac Houston, delivered the meals to senior citizens in Grandville.
“We got up early and packed some meals and we passed them out and got to meet a lot of great people. That was an awesome experience,” Szkutnik said. He explained Meals on Wheels delivers meals to people over 60 who have trouble getting in and out of their homes.
Szkutnik said experiences like this are one of the great things about playing baseball in West Michigan.
Szkutnik is in his fourth year playing with the Whitecaps. He hails from Temperance, Michigan and spends the off-season in Ann Arbor. He said he appreciates the West Michigan community and the opportunities the Whitecaps provide players to interact with fans throughout the season.
He also said special promotions and activities during the games create a great environment for the team and help the Whitecaps draw some of the biggest crowds in the league.
“Getting everyone involved in the game, not just the players, that is what really makes a difference here,” Szkutnik said. “It’s a better atmosphere here than probably anywhere else in the league that I’ve played at. The things they do, all the promotions, everyone comes out.”
Josh Lester, who plays third base for the Whitecaps, agrees. Lester is in his third season with the Whitecaps. He is a Georgia native who spends his offseason in Columbia, Missouri, where he attends college.
“I think we’ve had 8,500 (attendees) in a night,” Lester said. He said most minor league teams don’t come close to that number, even during a weekend.
“I love watching the between innings stuff, especially the dizzy bat race at the end,” Lester said. “We get some pretty good people who come out and do that. It’s a good laugh.”
The big crowds are drawn to Fifth Third Ballpark in part by a slew of giveaways, theme nights and entertainment opportunities that extend beyond the game, and Lester and Szkutnik said those types of things are good for Minor League Baseball, and especially for the Whitecaps.
“There are a ton of things for fans to do and I personally think that is a great thing. It brings more people to the ballpark and gets more people involved with the game of baseball,” Szkutnik said. “We catch ourselves watching the promotions and watching the fun. It’s awesome how we can change that side of the game, but the game itself can stay the same.”
Szkutnik and Lester agree their favorite theme night at Fifth Third Ballpark is Dog Day, when attendees are invited to bring their four legged friends to the game. “Who doesn’t want to go out with their dog and watch some baseball?” Lester asked.
All that fan enthusiasm is helping the Whitecaps have a terrific year. The team got off to a great start this season and Lester and Szkutnik hope the momentum continues.
“We’ve had the best record in minor league baseball,” Szkutnik said. “We have a great team and chemistry. Our coaching staff is unbelievable.”
“This is by far my best year,” Lester said. “I think it has to do with our coaches and the team.”
Lester and Szkutnik agree playing ball for the Whitecaps is different from anywhere else.
“I think watching us as a team, and having been around a few different teams, we look like we have fun,” Szkutnik said. “You see this group of 25 guys having a great time playing the game.”
So if you haven’t caught a game this season, Lester and Szkutnik said head out to Fifth Third Ballpark and enjoy some baseball and all the added festivities.