Great Lakes Loons History
Great Lakes Loons History
by Malcolm MacMillan
- Team's history dates back to 1982 in Springfield
- Clayton Kershaw is most famous former Loon
The franchise that is known today as the Great Lakes Loons and resides in Midland, MI, has a lengthy history that has taken it through three states, four ballparks and six Major League affiliations.
The Loons story begins back in 1982, when the Springfield Cardinals joined the Midwest League. Based in Springfield, IL, the team was affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals and enjoyed success in the 1980s. The team won a pair of Midwest League titles (1986 and 1987) and developed future MLB talent including Dmitri Young and Todd Zeile. Despite its success, the team's attendance waned in the early 1990s and given that the team was playing in the outdated, 1928-built Lanphier Park, a move was in the cards after the 1993 season.
Fortunately, there was an opening in Madison, WI. Following the 1993 Midwest League season, the Madison Muskies packed up, left town and became the West Michigan Whitecaps. The empty Warner Park seemed like a logical fit for another Midwest League franchise, and the Springfield Cardinals moved in and were renamed the Madison Hatters. The team's new home wouldn't last long. The Hatters spent just the 1994 season in Madison before being beckoned by Battle Creek, MI, which boasted the relatively new C.O. Brown Stadium. Named the Michigan Battle Cats, the team switched affiliations to join the Boston Red Sox from 1995 to 1998, then the Houston Astros from 1999 to 2002. During its decade as the Battle Cats, the team won one Midwest League title, six division crowns and had alumni including Rafael Betancourt, John Buck, Roy Oswalt and Carl Pavano.
The New York Yankees stepped in to run the team in 2003 and 2004 and renamed the club the Battle Creek Yankees. The team made the playoffs in 2003; in 2004, a prospect named Melky Cabrera batted .333 for the club over a short stint.
Shortly after the 2004 season wrapped up, the New York parent club severed its ties with the franchise, meaning it would have its third affiliate in four seasons. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed a two-year agreement with the club and changed its name to the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays. The club remained at C.O. Brown Stadium and included future Tampa Bay starters Wade Davis and Andy Sonnanstine, but the stint in Battle Creek was soon about to end.
Before the 2006 season began, plans were in the works to move the franchise to Midland, and after the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays wrapped up their 2006 Midwest League campaign, the team pulled out of Battle Creek for good to make the cross-state jaunt.
In Midland, a new name, new affiliation and a brand new ballpark awaited the team. Dubbed the Loons and freshly inked to an affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team settled into Dow Diamond. After struggling in their inaugural two seasons, the Loons got down to business and posted plus-.500 records in the three years that followed.
2011 National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw spent part of the 2007 season with the Loons. He started 20 games, compiled a record of 7-5 with an ERA of 2.77 and struck out 134 batters in 97.1 innings. The following year, he spent time in AA before joining the Dodgers for good.