By: Jacob Bomeli
As the 2016 season for the Kalamazoo Growlers came to an end on August 14th, the Growlers were able to celebrate the best season in franchise history. Kalamazoo’s 33 wins this season bests the previous franchise by four games and had the team in the playoff hunt until the very end of the season.
Off the field, the organization had a record year as well. Total attendance increased to 80,828, up 7% from the previous year. Stadium renovations included the addition of 12 new Home Plate Club tables and upgrading the MarxModa Suite Seat area with food rails and a separate concession area. This year, fans that came to Homer Stryker Field also had an upgraded promotional experience featuring 4 specialty jerseys, 5 bobblehead giveaways, 6 fireworks shows, 6 special ballpark guests, 8 entertainment acts, and 9 unique giveaways.
The Growlers also made an impact in the community – 10,617 students from 34 schools participated in the Reading Program, Porter made over 50 appearances at community events and players volunteered 570 total hours. Nearly $5,000 was donated in tickets and merchandise to nonprofits in the Kalamazoo area, and $16,100 was raised at games through Make a Difference Monday, Eaton Toss a Truck, and jersey auction proceeds. Homer Stryker Field played host to ten community events, including the HRI Walk to End Homelessness, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and Cancer Families United Kickball Tournament.
On the field, Growlers got off to a great start this season by winning 11 of their first 16 games to begin the year. Temporary players Connor Kopach (Southern Illinois) and Dan Leckie (Lafayette) got thing going at the plate. Kopach was so impressive that manager Matt Lawson signed him to a full-time contract as a starting middle infielder for the entire season. He was able to solidify his spot at the top of the lineup by hitting .286 on the year and broke the Northwoods League record for steals in a season with 50.
Along with Kopach, fellow SIU Saluki Nick Hutchins and Central Michigan’s Dan Robinson were the backbones of the Growlers’ offense. Robinson had the hot bat early and seemed to get on-base every time he came to the plate. He ended with a .288 batting average this summer with 13 doubles and 31 RBIs. Hutchins gave the Growlers a middle of the lineup bat that they were able to rely on each and every day. He finished the season leading the team in BA (.325), hits (78), doubles (16), home runs (7), and RBIs (47).
The Growlers had 17 different pitchers make at least one start and 37 different players make at least one appearance on the mound; including four different position players. The staff was led by NWL All-Stars Devin Pellien (Nova Southeastern) and BJ Butler (Ball State). Butler, on an innings restriction from BSU, made six starts, which included two complete games, in the first half of the season. He went 3-2 in those starts while only seven earned runs in just over 44 innings. Butler’s 1.41 ERA led the team this season and he was able to strikeout 38 batters in his limited action. Pellien was the workhorse of the pitching staff as he made 13 appearances on the bump which included 11 starts. His 2.11 ERA was second best on the team to Butler and he was able to pick up six wins while only suffering one loss all summer. He led the Growlers in innings pitched (72.2), strikeouts (71), and his six victories were also best on the team.
Kalamazoo tied for the league lead with five members participating in the NWL All-Star Game. Butler, Hutchins, Kopach, Pellien, and Robinson were all selected at the halfway point of the season to represent the South Division. Butler, Hutchins, Kopach, and Pellien were also named to the NWL Postseason All-Star team at the end of the year. These four selections were also tied for the league lead with the La Crosse Loggers. The 2016 Major League Dreams Showcase also called upon five Growlers to be honored for their high level of play. Hutchins, Kopach, and Robinson all made another appearance on an All-Star roster, with Matt Lloyd (Iowa Western) and Grant Wolfram (Central Michigan) joining them in Madison to play in front of Major League scouts.
Statistical Leaders (Offense) – AVG: N. Hutchins (.325) || HR: N. Hutchins (7) || RBI: N. Hutchins (47) || SB: C. Kopach (50) || Hits: N. Hutchins (78) || Runs: C. Kopach (60) || Doubles: N. Hutchins (16) || Triples: C. Kopach (3) || BB: D. Robinson (54) || HBP: C. Kopach (12) || OBP: D. Robinson (.431) || SLG%: N. Hutchins, M. Lloyd (.496) || OPS: N. Hutchins (.879) ||
Statistical Leaders (Pitching) – Wins: D. Pellien (6) || IP: D. Pellien (72.2) || ERA: B. Butler (1.41) || SO: D. Pellien (71) || SV: A. Rodesky (5) || WHIP: B. Butler (0.74) || Complete Games: B. Butler (2) || BAA: A. Rodesky (.140) || K/9: A. Rodesky (13.15) ||
Statistical Leaders (Defense) – Put Outs: N. Hutchins (262) || Assists: C. Kopach (197) || Fielding %: K. Cooper (.987) || FLD% (Position): Catchers (.971) || FLD% (Team): (.942) ||
The Kalamazoo Growlers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 23-year-old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, 160 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.growlersbaseball.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Growlers as your favorite team.