- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The West Michigan Whitecaps took the field Tuesday for their home opener, which was no small achievement only three months after a fire destroyed part of the minor league team’s ballpark.

The Whitecaps, who are a single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, honored firefighters at the game. Fans went home happy, as the Whitecaps beat the visiting Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2.

Crews worked hard to get Fifth Third Ballpark back in playable shape. The stadium, which is in Plainfield Township near Grand Rapids, now has a bigger souvenir shop, a new administrative building with a rooftop grill deck and an expanded clubhouse.

“I didn’t think they could do it,” fan Molly Pipp, of Grand Haven, told The Grand Rapids Press. “They worked so hard getting it done. It’s great to have everybody here to see it.”

Fire investigators say a trash container placed next to a space heater caused the fire. No one was hurt.

“This community immediately let us know how much this franchise, this organization, this facility meant to them,” said Whitecaps owner Denny Baxter. “Their outpouring of support in every way fashionable was motivating and it really was the push to get this thing done.”

The weather cooperated, as fans were treated to temperatures in the mid-50s.

“It’s a nice atmosphere and it’s sure nice to see green grass,” said fan Ben Strobridge, who picked up a pulled pork sandwich, onion rings and sweet potato fries at a concession stand. “I haven’t seen green grass since I was in Florida a month ago.”

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