When I first started to do some research on the Loons, I came across this reminder: “The Vero Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League had been affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers since the club’s inception in 1980. After the 2006 season, the Dodgers ended the affiliation…” Vero Beach Dodgers Needless to say, that brought back, not a flood, but some fond memories of Vero Beach, the original and only Dodgertown. However, I soon recovered as I have developed a new fondness for the Dodgers’ present class A minor league team. My fondness is in part due to the fact that the Loons also play in the Eastern Time Zone, only one hour removed from my zone, the Atlantic Time Zone. I am able to listen to games at a reasonable time for me, as opposed to Dodger games commencing at 11:10 P.M. our time.
The team has a relatively long and varied history, starting in 1982. Their story now resides in three states, four ballparks and six Major League affiliations, having begun in 1982 when the Springfield Cardinals joined the Midwest League. In 2007, the team moved to Midland, Michigan with a new name, new affiliation and a brand new ballpark awaiting their arrival. The new name, Loons, seems fitting for an area around the Great Lakes. The Loons, now our Loons, became affiliated with the Dodgers for the first time in 2007.
The Loons took up residence in Dow Diamond, their new and present home. The stadium, which opened in 2007, is operated by the Michigan Baseball Foundation, which also owns the Loons. The Dow Chemical Company donated the site and purchased the naming rights to the stadium. Dow’s familiar logo is a red diamond. Baseball Digest named Dow Diamond the best new ballpark of 2007.
The stadium is an excellent venue for minor league baseball and the life blood of any team is the gift of passionate fans. The fans is Midland provide that priceless support for the Loons. In response, the team makes a strong effort to accommodate their fans and treat them in a special way. Signing autographs is a big part of the pre-game events. “The area around the Loons first base-side dugout is dubbed the Chemical Bank Autograph Area, which is a fancy way of saying it’s an area set up specifically for Loons to sign. This area is officially open in the 20 minutes leading up to each game, but players aren’t limited to sign only during these 20 minutes.”
“After the final game, all of the Loons’ players and coaching staff gathered at the exits in order to personally thank each and every fan in attendance for their support this season. They signed autographs, posed for photographs, and gave each person who wished, a few moments of their time, and did so with genuine generosity and graciousness. “
The Loons struggled in their first two seasons but broke out in the following three years:
2007 57-82 12th – manager Lance Parrish
2008 54-85 14th – manager Juan Bustabad
2009 81-59 3rd (t) – manager Juan Bustabad Lost in 2nd round
2010 90-49 1st – manager Juan Bustabad Lost in 2nd round
2011 72-67 6th – manager John Shoemaker
After the final three games in the Midwest League’s regular season, the Great Lakes Loons found themselves with a 33-37 second-half record (67-73 on the year), in sixth place in the Eastern Division, and ineligible for the playoffs. You wouldn’t know it by the way they ended the season. They won nine of their last 12 games and did so against some of the division’s top teams, including playoff-bound contenders Lansing and Lake County. Certainly roster changes were one handicap to better play on the field as the Loons’ roster lists over 50 players in 2012 due to promotions and injuries.
Players Of Note:
The Loons roster, not stocked with top prospects at the beginning of the season, was in a constant state of flux. Very few players suited up with the Loons for the full season or even a major part of it. A number of the better prospects were relief pitchers who were promoted to the Quakes: Eric Eadington, Juan Noriega, Michael Thomas, Yimi Garcia. This speaks to the depth of the Loons pitching in 2012. That is, the starting pitching was not very strong. Jarred Martin started the season very strongly, was rewarded with a promotion to the Quakes, and subsequently had injury problems. Duke von Schamann had the best record among the starters, pitching in only 12 games and then moving on to the Lookouts. The sample for Duke is small.
Scott Schebler (OF)
DeJon Watson mentioned Scott as a prospect to watch, liking his work ethic. He comes to play. When asked about players to whom we may not be paying attention, DeJon responded: “Another kid would be (Scott) Schebler, who’s in the Midwest League. The numbers aren’t sexy, but it’s a tough league to play in your first full season, the ball doesn’t carry.” Scott is an outfielder so definitely is behind the pack in the Dodger system. A 26th round pick in 2010 Scott played in 137 games for the Loons, setting a team record for games played. Next season will be a telling one for Scott, determining if his good overall (but not great) skills propel him to higher levels.
James Baldwin (OF)
Actually he is James Baldwin III. James had a most disappointing season. He was selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Pinecrest (N.C.) High School. He was ranked the Dodgers’ No. 10 prospect by MLB.com entering the 2012 season, and rated by Baseball America as the fastest base runner and best athlete in the Dodgers chain. Expectations were great. James started the season in the leadoff spot and ended it batting ninth. An exceptional fielder, his bat was missing in action. James posted a .209 batting average even with a late season surge, had an OBP of .293 and struck out 177 times. He did lead the league with 53 stolen bases. Just turning 21, next season is pivotal for James as he most likely returns to the Loons. Trayvon Robinson and Leon Landry both struggled with the Loons, so maybe James will turn things around in 2013.
O’Koyea Dickson (OF)
O’Koyea can hit. His role would seem to be that of a DH as his only position is first base, which he plays poorly. He did have 17 home runs and hit .272 with an OBP of .366. His park and the league have reputations for being tough on hitters. He hits the ball hard and his plate discipline is quite good. Last season there was a debate as to whether Joc Pederson or O’Koyea Dickson was the better hitter; that is no longer a debate but I expect O’Koyea to play with the Quakes next season and put up some good numbers. O’Koyea was a 12th round selection in 2011.
Darnell Sweeney (SS)
A 2012 draft pick, selected in the 13th round out of Central Florida, Darnell played 16 games with the Raptors and 51 games with the Loons. He hit well as a leadoff hitter, replacing James Baldwin in that slot in August. He appeared to thrive in that role. He was perhaps the best Loon at working counts, walking 24 times and striking out 41. Darnell had eight doubles, four triples and five homers in 195 at-bats for a .446 slugging percentage and .372 OBP. He stole 16 bases. He does not have the range or blinding speed of Dee Gordon, few do, but he is a better hitter than Dee and with considerably more power.