PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time in 27 years, there was no professional baseball in West Michigan.
Like many other sports leagues, the Whitecaps season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During their previous 26 seasons, the Whitecaps won six Midwest League Championships.
With no baseball this year, News 8 takes a look back at the Caps’ first championship season in 1996.
The 1996 season marked just the third for the Whitecaps.
“(It) was just one of those fairy tale years. The team was good, the weather was good and the fans came out in droves,” said Scott Lane, the Whitecaps general manager in 1996.
The Whitecaps drew 547,401 fans that season, which is still a still franchise record. It was the third straight year West Michigan had broken the all-time Single A baseball attendance record.
“It just goes to show, if you have fun with it and if you have a great facility and you keep the fans first in your mind, you can do very well,” Whitecaps CEO Lew Chamberlin said in 1996.
The Whitecaps draw more than 10,000 for a single game four different times, including a franchise record of 10,766 on Aug. 31 of that year.
They clinched the second half title as well, finishing a then team record of 77-51 overall. They opened the playoffs in Lansing with a best of three set with the Lugnuts.
West Michigan hosted Wisconsin in the championship series.
After blowing a six-run lead in game two, the Caps headed across Lake Michigan aboard the U.S. Badger to Appleton, Wisconsin.
West Michigan then closed it out in game four.
“To finish it like this, to come here and win two games on the road, these guys, they never quit all year long. They kept battling. They grind things out. I’m just proud to be associated with all of them. They just did a hell of a job,” said Mike Quade, the Whitecaps manager in 1996.
The Whitecaps then quickly announced a chance in affiliation, joining home state Detroit Tigers whom they’ve been with ever since.
The Caps won five more titles, including four during their first 10 years with the Tigers.