West Michigan Whitecaps
- Location: Comstock Park, MI
- League: Midwest League 1994-2019; High-A Central 2021-
- Affiliation: Oakland A's 1994-1996; Detroit Tigers 1997-present
- Ballpark: Fifth Third Ballpark
The West Michigan Whitecaps began play in the Midwest League in 1994 when the Madison Muskies moved to the Grand Rapids area. Prior to the introduction of the Whitecaps, there had not been a professional baseball team in Grand Rapids since 1954, when the Grand Rapids Chicks of the AAGPBL disbanded. Originally the Single A franchise for the Oakland Athletics, the Whitecaps quickly found a home in West Michigan. The Whitecaps name simultaneously makes reference to the importance Lake Michigan to the economy and culture of West Michigan, and harkens back to the appearance based team nicknames of baseball's earlier days, as well as rekindling the tradition of the Michigan City White Caps who played in the MWL in the 1950's. The West Michigan Whitecaps have play their home games at Fifth Third Ballpark (previously known as Old Kent Park), a 10,500 seat stadium in Comstock Park, MI, just outside the city limits of Grand Rapids.
In 1980, a columnist for the Grand Rapids Press wrote an article inquiring why Grand Rapids could not have a minor league team. At that time the Detroit Tigers AAA affiliate was the Evansville Triplets who were located in Evansville, IN, just over half the size of Grand Rapids. This article sparked interest in creating a Grand Rapids team. In 1984, a group of West Michigan-based businessmen began pursuing a Minor League team for the city. In 1986, negotiations to bring a team to local Wyoming, MI fell through, and the Grand Rapids area remained without a franchise. West Michigan Baseball Development, INC. was formed in 1987 in an effort to more aggressively pursue a West Michigan Franchise. The following two years saw a surge in progress. West Michigan Baseball Development began negotiations to build a 12,000 seat stadium in Wyoming and the company procured the Wausau Timbers of the Midwest League in partnership with a Chicago-based group. The Timbers were moved to a newly built 3,600 seat facility in Geneva, IL where they became the Kane County Cougars. The Geneva facility was meant to be a temporary home for the team as negotiations and construction were completed in the Grand Rapids area. However, the Cougars quickly became one of the top franchises in Minor League Baseball and the ownership abandoned their plans of moving the franchise to Michigan. In 1992, West Michigan Baseball Development began negotiations with the Madison Muskies. The following February it was announced that the Muskies would move into Old Kent Park a new construction in Comstock Park. The Whitecaps played their first home game on April 12, 1994, defeating the Burlington Bees 5-2. That year the West Michigan Whitecaps broke the 1949 Denver Bears' Single A single season attendance record of 463,039 with an attendance of 475,212, and made their way into the Midwest League playoffs. The Whitecaps continued to break the Single A attendance record for years to come.
In 1996, the Whitecaps won their first Midwest League title. The following year, Dave Borkowski threw the team's first no-hitter, a 6-0 victory over the Kane County Cougars. The Whitecaps finished that season with a record of 92-39, the best in all of Organized Baseball, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. 1997 was the first year of the Whitecaps' affiliation with the Detroit Tigers. The following year, the Caps defeated the Rockford Cubbies to win their second MWL title. In 1999, the Tigers made their first appearance in West Michigan since 1953 in an exhibition game against their Single A affiliate. The Caps lost 5-2 in front of a record crowd of 11,006 fans. That year the Caps failed to make the post-season for the first time in team history, but were named Baseball America's Class A Team of the Decade.
On June 10, 2000, Tommy Marx threw the Caps' second no-hitter, defeating Kane County, 8-0. Four days later Calvin Chipperfield threw the third, also defeating the Cougars, 2-0. The West Michigan Whitecaps again won the Midwest League tile in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Championships and Honors
- 1994: Broke Single A single season attendance record
- 1995: Broke Single A single season attendance record
- 1996: Broke Single A single season attendance record
- 1996: Midwest League Champions
- 1997: Best record in professional baseball
- 1997: Baseball America's Minor League Team of the Year
- 1998: Midwest League Champions
- 1999: Baseball America's Class A Team of the Decade
- 1999: Baseball America's Third Best Minor League Team of the Decade
- 1999: GM Scott Lane named Baseball America's General Manager of the Decade
- 2004: Midwest League Champions
- 2006: Midwest League Champions
- 2006: Cameron Maybin named Minor League Prospect of the Year
- 2006: Cameron Maybin named Tigers Minor League Player of the Year
- 2006: Burke Badenhop named Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year
- 2006: Matt Walbeck named Baseball America's Low Class A Manager of the Year
- 2006: Jim Jarecki named Midwest League Executive of the Year
- 2007: Midwest League Champions
- 2007: Duane Below named Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year
- 2007: Tom Brookens named Midwest League Manager of the Year