Twins to Affiliate with Cedar Rapids

After weeks of speculation, we’ve confirmed that the Cedar Rapids Kernels have agreed to accept a proposal to enter in to a player development contract (PDC) with the Minnesota Twins for the next four years. Twins officials toured the Kernels facilities Monday afternoon and met with the CR Board of Directors later in the day. A news conference may be held Wednesday in Cedar Rapids for the formal announcement.

The Twins, who have been sending their Class A prospects to Beloit for the past eight years, had been rumored to be favoring a move to Cedar Rapids for several weeks. Given that the Twins brass showed up for a meeting almost immediately after the two sides were allowed, by MLB Rule, to even communicate with one another, those rumors turned out to be well-founded.

At the same time, the Kernels were looking for a fresh start with a Midwestern Major League affiliate after notifying the Angels that they would be ending their 20-year affiliation with that organization. Cedar Rapids is the closest Midwest League city to the Twin Cities and, while there’s a sizable Twins fan base in Eastern Iowa, there certainly is potential for the Twins to expand their media presence in the area.

Beyond geography, however, the two organizations are viewed as a good fit on a number of other levels. Both the Kernels and Twins emphasize the value of community involvement by their players. Twins fans are certainly familiar with the value that organization puts on having their players get involved any number of local charities and causes. The Kernels will prove to be a good training ground for their prospects in this regard, as evidenced by their Summer Reading Program. The Kernels also have a significant “host family” program, which allows players to save money by living with local families during their stay in Cedar Rapids.

The reason for the Twins ending their relationship with the Beloit Snappers is widely believed to center on issues involving the facilities there. Pohlman Field is one of the older ballparks still utilized by a full-season affiliated minor league team and efforts over the past decade or more to get funding for a new ballpark in or near Beloit seem to have lost any momentum they might once have had. After eight years, the Twins apparently did not see the situation improving any time soon.

Overhead view of Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids

The Kernels are community-owned, with a Board of Directors essentially operating as the organization’s owners. They have played their games at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium since it opened in 2002. It was built on the site of their “old” Veterans Memorial Stadium. Next summer will be the Kernels’ 12th season in the facility. There are a number of newer ballparks in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League, but among the Western Division locations, no city has a newer ballpark than Cedar Rapids. Peoria opened O’Brien Field in 2002, as well. (Though not new, the ballparks in Appleton WI and Davenport IA have both undergone major renovations in recent years.)

This will be the first affiliation between the Twins and Cedar Rapids. In the past, the Twins have sent their Class A prospects to Midwest League teams in Wisconsin Rapids WI, Kenosha WI (which moved to Ft. Wayne IN while affiliated with the Twins) and the Quad Cities (Davenport IA) prior to Beloit.

Cedar Rapids Baseball has a long history extending back to the 19th century when Hall of Fame manager John McGraw played for the local team. Since the establishment of today’s MLB/MiLB affiliation-based relationship, Cedar Rapids has hosted minor leaguers sent by the Astros, Cardinals, Giants, Reds and Angels. Going back further, CR also had agreements with the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers. Former Twins John Rosboro, Chili Davis and Les Straker once called Cedar Rapids home, as did current Twins infielder Alexi Casilla.

For more information about the Cedar Rapids’ minor league organization, click on the following links to posts here at Knuckleballs last month that covered CR Baseball’s history and an interview with Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson.

This is obviously a bit of a windfall for us here at Knuckleballs and that windfall will be shared with our readers next summer, when we should be able to provide a considerable amount of first-hand coverage of the Twins’ Class A team.

– JC