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Tigers visit Whitecaps' fire-damaged ballpark

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The Tigers schedule a trip to this part of the state every year on their Winter Caravan to support the West Michigan Whitecaps, their affiliate in their Class A Midwest League, and their charitable efforts. This time, however, the support has a new significance.

Thursday's visit was the first by the Tigers since a fire ravaged parts of the Whitecaps' stadium, Fifth Third Ballpark, earlier this month. Minor League operations director Dan Lunetta and player development director Dave Owen arrived ahead of the Tigers' bus Thursday morning to tour the park with Whitecaps officials and survey the damage.

"It makes me sad, to begin with, just because of our relationship with [CEO] Lew [Chamberlin] and [vice president] Jim [Jarecki] and the whole group," Owen said. "It's just like something's happened to the family. I'm just thankful that everything's going to be OK and we'll get it back and up and running."

Owen and Lunetta reported what they saw to Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who arrived later on the caravan bus. Dombrowski had seen the news reports over the holidays and has kept in touch with Whitecaps officials.

"If there's ever a community, a group of owners, that will handle something like this as well as it possibly can, it's this group," Dombrowski said. "They're very resilient. They have positive attitudes. They have great community support. And they have our support, whatever we can do to help them."

The cleanup is already underway, Owen said. The goal is to have the ballpark ready to host games when the Midwest League season opens. The Whitecaps' home opener is April 8.

"Everything they've told us is that they're going to do everything they can," Owen said. "Obviously, you can't predict anything because you never know what the weather's going to do, but we will have baseball, and we're looking forward to it."

There's added significance to their schedule this season. The Whitecaps are slated to host this year's Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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