Crosstown Showdown: The annual exhibition, MSU vs. Lansing Lugnuts
The MSU baseball team is 24 games into its regular season, but its opponents on Wednesday, however, have yet to play a regular season game.
On Wednesday, the Spartans will be playing the Lansing Lugnuts in the annual Crosstown Showdown exhibition game at Cooley Law School Stadium in downtown Lansing. The Lugnuts are the Class A minor league affiliate for the Toronto Blue Jays. First pitch for the Crosstown Showdown is set for 7:05 p.m.
Keeping up with the Spartans
Currently, the Spartans are boasting a 19-5 overall record, including a 3-0 record in the Big Ten after sweeping Rutgers in a three-game weekend series in March. MSU is tied with University of Michigan for first in the conference, and ranks among the Big Ten in many statistical categories.
MSU will enter the scrimmage on Wednesday with a .311 team batting average, which ranks second best in the Big Ten behind Minnesota. The Spartans also rank in the top five in slugging percentage with .436, enough for a fourth place ranking, a 3.82 on base percentage, which is also good for a fourth place ranking, and 31 stolen bases for a fifth place ranking.
And despite giving up four runs to Eastern Michigan in a loss on Tuesday afternoon, the Spartan pitching staff is leading the conference with a 2.36 team ERA. MSU pitchers are holding opponents to a .217 batting average and have racked up 214 strikeouts.
One of the biggest standout players for MSU this season is junior transfer infielder Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman is hitting .430 on the season, which leads all of the Big Ten. His .656 slugging percentage and .509 on base percentage lead the team and rank third in the conference. Zimmerman is currently riding a 17-game hitting streak, the longest on the team since Ryan Krill had a 19-game hit streak last season for the Spartans.
On the mound for MSU junior left-hander Cam Vieaux has been the undisputed ace of the ball club. In seven starts this season, Vieaux has a 4-1 record with a 1.60 ERA, good for fifth in the Big Ten, 45 strikeouts, good for third in the Big Ten, and only nine walks on the season.
About the Lugnuts
Since the Lugnuts are a minor league affiliate, their roster for this season is completely different than their roster from last season, and is always subject to change. Of the men on their active roster, the Lugnuts only have 11 returning players.
The Lugnuts came to Lansing in 1996 after spending time in Lafayette, Ind., Waterloo, Iowa and Springfield, Ill. When the Lugnuts first moved to Lansing they were affiliated with the Kansas City Royals and produced Carlos Beltran and Jeremy Giambi. From 1999-2004, the Lugnuts were affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. Since the 2005 season, the Lugnuts have been the farm system for the Blue Jays.
As an affiliate for the Blue Jays, the Lugnuts have produced a plethora of players whom have made it to the big leagues, including guys like Yan Gomes, Kevin Pillar, Noah Syndergaard and Daniel Norris.
The Crosstown Showdown has been a yearly exhibition dating back since the 2007 season. In their nine prior meetings, the Spartans are 2-7 against the Lugnuts, with a 12-2 victory against the Lugnuts in 2009 and a 2-1 victory in the 2011 season.
Just another day of business
Since the Crosstown Showdown is a mid-season scrimmage for the Spartans, head coach Jake Boss Jr. reminded players it is a time to have fun, try new things and learn from the professionals.
“The theme for the game is to have fun and play hard,” Boss said. "We want our guys to pay attention to what the Lugnuts are doing pre-game in the dugout, during the game in between innings, all the little things and the mannerisms that these pros have. We have a number of guys that are going to go on and play pro baseball and it’s a good learning experience. It’s fun to play in front of a lot of people and a pro team but at the same time we can use it as a learning tool to help prepare guys for the future.”
The Spartans are loaded with underclassman talent, too — 23 total freshmen and sophomores in all. And for the players, the outcome of the game isn’t as important as the experience the game provides.
“It’s really cool to be a part of,” sophomore right-hander Andrew Gonzalez said. “We get to swing a little bit of wood — and they have a really nice stadium down there. I think most of us here want to play at the next level anyways so seeing what they’re doing and how it works up there is really fun, we really like it.”
Veteran players for the Spartans know the most important thing to take away from the game is to keep mental strength and focus to treat it like any other game.
“I don’t really know anything about them, I just know they’re a minor league affiliate for some team,” Zimmerman said. “So I’m just going to go in there with my same approach and try and have a good game. … It’s not really (intimidating), I’m just going to go in there and play my game.”