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Introduction to the Whitecaps

The Whitecaps Professional Baseball Corporation's mission is to provide affordable family entertainment to the West Michigan community. By providing friendly faces, open minds, our time and energy, we welcome you as our guest and hope you return as a fan!

The West Michigan Whitecaps are a professional minor league baseball team. A member of the 16-team Midwest League and Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, the Whitecaps play 70 home and 70 road games each season. "Home" is Fifth Third Ballpark, a privately-owned stadium built in conjunction with the Whitecaps' arrival in 1994, located in Comstock Park, MI (seven miles north of Grand Rapids, MI).

The Whitecaps are co-owned by local businessmen Lew Chamberlin of Grand Rapids and Dennis Baxter of Muskegon. For more on the ownership and history of the team, see the History page.


Minor Leagues/Major Leagues

The Whitecaps are a member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, otherwise known as the Minor Leagues. Minor League teams are professional teams "affiliated" with major league teams.

The Minor Leagues and Major Leagues are bound together by a document entitled the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA), in which responsibilities are outlined. The Major League clubs are responsible for player, manager and coach assignments, as well as their compensation. The Minor League clubs provide stadium facilities, administrative staffs, uniforms, and travel expenses.

The Minor Leagues, founded in 1901, consist of 246 teams in 20 leagues in a developed feeder system for the Major Leagues. Each Major League team has one Class AAA team (closest to the majors), one Class AA team, two Class A teams, usually one Short-Season Class A team, one Advanced Rookie team and one or two developmental rookie league teams.

Here is the Tigers farm system:

Detroit Tigers

Class AAA Toledo Mudhens International League
Class AA Erie SeaWolves Eastern League
Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers Florida State League
Class A West Michigan Whitecaps Midwest League
Short-Season Class A Connecticut Tigers New York/Penn League
Rookie-Developmental GCL Tigers Gulf Coast League
Rookie-Developmental DSL Tigers Dominican Summer League

The developmental rookie leagues are similar to training camps in that they do not travel long distances or play in front of fans. These teams are owned by their major league affiliate, as are most teams in the Class A Florida State League (teams play in stadiums that double as Spring Training sites for the major leagues). Most other teams are owned independently of their major league affiliates, either by the city or county or by local businesspersons.

The Mexican League, although considered part of the Minor Leagues, is not directly affiliated with Major League teams. Equivalent to a Class AAA league, the Mexican League allows no more than five "imports" per team in the 16-team league.

Minor Leagues

Class AAA International League
  Pacific Coast League
  Mexican League
Class AA Eastern League
  Southern League
  Texas League
Class A California League
  Carolina League
  Florida State League
  Midwest League
  South Atlantic League
Class A-Short Season New York/Penn League
  Northwest League
Rookie-Advanced Appalachian League
  Pioneer League
Rookie-Developmental Arizona League
  Gulf Coast League
  Dominican Summer League
  Venezuelan Summer League

There are no set rules on the advancement of players or the length of time a player stays with a team, but it generally takes 4-6 years to reach the major leagues. Most players are scouted in high school and college by the Major League teams' scouting departments, then chosen in the Amateur Draft in June. Others, such as foreign players and those passed over in the draft, are signed as free agents.

Leagues have roster limits of between 23 and 30 players per team (The Midwest League allows 25 active players). Approximately 6,400 players are active in the Minor Leagues annually. Of the 750 Major League players, 99% have played in the Minors. All Major League umpires began their careers in the Minor Leagues.

Attendance in recent years for the 15 leagues that charge admission (not including developmental leagues) has averaged just under 39 million per year.

There are many professional leagues of independent (or unaffiliated) baseball, such as the Northern League or Texas-Louisiana League, but only leagues that are members of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues can call themselves Minor League teams and can have relationships with Major League teams.