By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Clippers fell just short of winning a championship last season, in their first year in the Michigan Summer Collegiate Baseball League.
The good news is that eight players from that Clippers squad have committed to play again, meaning the 2015 season could be pretty exciting.
The Clippers, comprised of college baseball players from Michigan and several other states, will open their season at Muskegon’s historic Marsh Field with a three-game series against the Motor City Pride on May 29-30.
They will play a 34-game schedule, extending through July 25, with 14 home dates and 17 road games. The team has three doubleheaders on its home schedule, including May 30, the second day of the season.
The Clippers will compete against five other teams in the league – the Holland Millers, River City Rapids, Motor City Pride, Michigan Monarchs and Bloomfield Sting.
Local Sports Journal will have in-depth coverage of all Clippers games this season.
The Clippers are coming off a remarkable inaugural season in 2014.
It started on the field, where the team posted a 23-7 record and came within a whisker of the league title.
“I was impressed,” said Clippers owner Pete Gawkowski. “They got out there and played as a team. They were good.”
“I think that was the best baseball played at Marsh Field in the last 30 years,” added Jim Grevel, the Clippers’ director of player development. “Those guys were good. We had some pro scouts here.”
The Clippers have been building a roster for the 2015 season, with 18 players committed thus far.
Returnees from last year include four players from the Grand Valley State University baseball team, which is currently battling for a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship – outfielder Jamie Potts, outfielder/pitcher Matt Williams, outfielder Jason Ribecky and pitcher Aaron Jensen.
Other returning players are infielder Patrick Giddings (Aquinas College), pitcher Kyle Lawson (Muskegon Community College), second baseman Conner Seymour (Davenport University) and pitcher Nick Eely (Aquinas College).
Potts and Seymour were two of the three Clippers MVPs last year.
The Clippers have also gained commitments from several players from out-of-state colleges, including Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Ashland University in Ohio.
The team will again be managed by veteran skipper Walt Gawkowski. The assistant coaches are Brian Wright and Keith Williams.
The Clippers also had a very good first season at the gate, averaging roughly 250 fans per home game. That may not seem significant compared to higher profile sports teams, but it was great for a new team in a new league, marketing the talents of relatively unknown college players.
Marsh Field comfortably seats about 700, according to Gawkowski.
“I sat there the first night, staring at the parking lot, and the fans came and had a good time,” Gawkowski said.
People came because the Clippers made a commitment to putting on a fun show for fans.
Besides fielding a good team, the Clippers offered full food and beverage concessions, including beer sales; team gear and merchandise sales; special promotion nights; on-field events before games or between innings; and recorded music delivered over a decent sound system.
Very affordable ticket prices were also a plus – $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and $3 for kids 12 and up. Those under 12 got in free.
All of that will be the same in 2015, according to Gawkowski.
“It sort of has that feel of a West Michigan Whitecaps game, particularly for those people who don’t pay close attention to the games,” Gawkowski said. “It’s sort of like a beer tent with a baseball game going on, and it’s something fun for people do to in the summer. We do a lot of things to keep people engaged.”