Legends On Deck

Summer Baseball at The Lucky Corner

If you’ve ever been to Royal Oak, Michigan, it’s one of the most charming and lively communities in suburban Detroit.  Woodward Avenue (M-1) is known for it’s annual Dream Cruise, showcasing Detroit’s automobile history.  Situated between Woodward Ave. & 13 Mile Rd (and Coolidge Hwy) is Memorial Park.  For decades, it’s been a place for youth baseball.

For the last couple summers, The Lucky Corner has been the home of the Royal Oak Leprechauns of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.  My son and I were able to sneak down to The Lucky Corner to catch the team in action, during a recent trip to Michigan.  In 2021, I discovered the existence of the franchise on social media and have been following their progress ever since.

The Lucky Corner Comes to Life

The Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League is a summer wood bat league with franchises in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Those familiar with collegiate summer baseball leagues know that their rosters consist of players who are finished with their college seasons.  A vast majority of Leprechaun players come from areas around Detroit and colleges around Michigan.

The Leprechauns got a jump start as a franchise from Royal Oak native, DJ Lemahieu of the New York Yankees.  Lemahieu, a Birmingham Brother Rice graduate and LSU baseball star, provided considerable financial backing to renovate the field at Memorial Park.  They have an artificial turf infield, which helps with weather concerns.  The field also has a Leprechauns branded scoreboard.  The fan seating has been updated with individual chair, bleacher style seating decked out in green and gold.

Overlooking The Lucky Corner

Overlooking The Lucky Corner

The day we attended, the game was rained out the night before and they played a (seven inning) double header against the Michigan Monarchs.  The Leprechauns would easily win the first game, 10-1.  Following Game 1, we got an inside look at the press box, talked to some of the front office personnel and several players.

Detroit Made

Meet the Leprechauns (credit to C2 Visual Media)

Meet the Leprechauns (credit to C2 Visual Media)

Pitcher Griffin Kilander grew up in Livonia (MI) and graduated Livonia Stevenson HS.  He plays college ball at Wayne State and lives on campus in Detroit.  Kilander is a local kid who preferred to stay local; he loves the city of Detroit.  He took considerable time to answer all my questions about his background and his love for pitching.  Kilander is typically a starter for Wayne State, but he’s eager to get innings.  Sometimes that means coming out of the bullpen.  He threw two strong innings out of the bullpen that night and brought the heat.  He also told my son, who enjoys playing catcher, that as a pitcher you always need to take care of your catcher.  At 6’5″ and throwing with such velocity, it would be easy to see Kilander make a big splash in the years to come.

Carolina Connection

Jacob Yarberry (Infielder) and Eli Hopkins (Catcher) are teammates at Coker College in South Carolina.  Yarberry is a Royal Oak native and a graduate of Country Day High School.  He told me he found his way to Coker College by way of a scout from the Tampa Bay Rays.  Yarberry loves playing college baseball in South Carolina, which offers much earlier spring weather than his native Michigan.  He played a strong third base in the games we attended.  He was eager to talk about his experiences and thrilled to be playing summer ball for his hometown team.

Jacob Yarberry ready to flash the leather

Jacob Yarberry ready to flash the leather

If you don’t follow summer collegiate baseball, you may not know that players stay with host families.  This made it easy for guys like Yarberry and Kilander, who’s families live locally.  Eli Hopkins is being put up with Yarberry’s family for the season.  Hopkins grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina.  He mentioned that he was looking for some reprieve from the summer heat down South.  It seems his bat likes Michigan summers as well, as he’s hitting .435 with six RBIs over the course of their first seven games.

Behind the Scenes

As the Leprechauns played the games on the field, the staff kept the trains running on time.  A few of the key players I was fortunate enough to chat with were Public Relations and PA Announcer Mark Stowers, General Manager Mark Sackett and Director of Marketing and Media, Rocky Shattuck.  All three guys play critical roles in the operation.  Stowers is the voice of the club and he keeps the crowd entertained.  Rocky Shattuck is Stowers gameday companion and runs the digital side of the operation.  Rocky has also been my personal ambassador to the team, introducing us to players and staff.  His work on social media is what drew me to the team back in 2021.  Mark Sackett was everywhere throughout the course of the games.  Sackett was interacting with fans and checking in with staff to ensure the entire Leprechauns baseball operation was running smoothly.

Interns are an important part of the team’s success as well.  The Leprechauns have an array of interns managing various processes.  This includes concessions, merchandising, ticketing and on-field (between inning) entertainment. The Leprechauns interns are from a variety of colleges and are majoring in sports management, sports medicine, marketing, human resources and other related fields.  In summer collegiate baseball leagues, college players play games for teams supported by college students.

Building Local Baseball Culture

The Leprechauns have a unique opportunity to create a longstanding summer baseball culture in Royal Oak.  The local fan base is already in place.  Royal Oak benefits from a vibrant nightlife and the fans who attend these games are  bringing that fun to the ballpark.  It’s also a great place for local families to catch a game.  The Leprechauns have a Kids Club, for just $25 kids get admission to all the games, plus additional giveaways and involvement with the team.  My son enjoyed participating in the uniform race after the second inning and running the bases after the game.  And the parents can have fun with the opposing team’s “Beer Batter,” who can earn fans a dollar off beer if they strikeout.

The lively fans at The Lucky Corner

The lively fans at The Lucky Corner

A Bright Future at The Lucky Corner

All in all, the Leprechauns have a lot going for them.  Creative Director, Kurt Gorecki, has played a major role in bringing attention to the team as well.  He’s helped shape their iconic logo and take advantage of their unique appeal. Kurt designs their websites, creates professional graphics, adds broadcast techniques and helps shape their general brand cohesion.  The team also does a good job marketing merchandise; people buy it and wear it.  Their nickname, Leprechauns, is a name that rivals some of the best in baseball.   In just their second season in Royal Oak, the team has grabbed the attention of the local media and has planted roots in the community.  The Leprechauns are exactly what gives summer leagues an authentic, grassroots baseball appeal.  I am sure they have many seasons of success at The Lucky Corner ahead of them.

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