More Thoughts on the Twins/Kernels Affiliation

The Cedar Rapids Kernels held a press conference Wednesday to introduce their new Major League affiliate, the Minnesota Twins. It was actually more of a public introduction to which the press was invited, but that was certainly the right approach by the Kernels. Affiliation changes are big deals in the local communities and when your organization hasn’t had a change in 20 years, it’s an even bigger deal.

(Image: Kernels.com)

I would have liked to attend, dressed head to toe in Twins gear like many of the crowd gathered in the Kernels’ conference room, but my schedule didn’t really allow for it yesterday. My conflicting meeting did end early enough for me to tune in to the live streaming feed being broadcast online by one of the local media outlets, so I did get to see some of the comments from the Twins’ Bill Smith and then most of the questions being fielded from media and the public by Smith and Jim Rantz.

For a good sense of how the press conference went and the enthusiasm expressed by pretty much all in attendance, from the Kernels, the Twins and the public, check out Jeff Johnson’s report  at the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s website. There’s a video clip, as well. Jeff covers the Kernels beat for the Gazette (as well as the local Junior Hockey League team, the RoughRiders), so some of you might want to start following Jeff via the usual social media outlets.

I admit that I have reasons for being happy about this affiliation that go beyond the obvious advantages for the Kernels and 99% of the baseball fans in the area. Yes, the Twins farm system is stronger than the Angels right now and probably will be so for quite a while. The Twins build their MLB team from within, while the Angels have become one of the richest teams in baseball and will likely continue to build by buying free agents and supplement them with the occasional super-prospect they uncover, such as Mike Trout.

If you run a minor league team, you’re better off with a MLB affiliate committed to drafting and developing talent. of course, we could debate how well the Twins have been doing that the past few years, but let’s do that another time. The fact is, that’s their model. So make no mistake, this is a huge “win” for the Kernels and we congratulate their Board and GM Doug Nelson for getting this deal done.

The Twins have a good fan base in the area and this deal clearly makes those of us who are members of that base happy. That should translate in to a few more butts in the seats at the local ballpark, but not nearly as many more as having a competitive team on the field would account for. From that standpoint, the Twins’ timing couldn’t be better. It would be almost impossible for them to send a team to Cedar Rapids next season that would lose more games than the team the Angels sent this season. Their 53-86 record was by far the worst in the Midwest League.

There’s been a lot said and written about how much better next year’s team is likely to be and the Twins brass certainly has brought up the success that their Appy League team in Elizabethton had in 2012 as evidence that expectations should be high in Cedar Rapids next year. That’s fair and I, too, believe the team has the potential to be very good.

But before we order MWL championship rings quite yet, Kernels fans (and Twins fans, too) need to keep one often-overlooked fact in mind. There’s a reason Elizabethton wins a lot and that players who move from E’town to Class A sometimes don’t look as good as hoped right away.

Those players are skipping a level of competition in the process.

No, they aren’t skipping a level within the Twins organization, but there is a whole level of minor league ball that the Twins have elected not to have an affiliate in and that’s “Class A-short season.” Many of the players that Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and their friends were up against this year will be sticking around extended spring training for their respective clubs and then playing in the NY-Penn League or Northwest League next summer, while many of the Elizabethton players are skipping straight to Cedar Rapids in April.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the Twins’ approach, but I’d point out that it does fly in the face a bit of the perception among many fans that the Twins don’t push their players through the system quickly. That case might be made for some guys after they reach the full-season minor league level, but not so much before that. Of course, we also know that guys do stick around E’town for more than one season at times, too, but that still means those players have faced somewhat lesser competition levels by the time they reach the MWL.

Just sayin’ there’s more to the issue than what we see on the surface sometimes and while I’m anxious and excited to see the team the Twins put on the field in Cedar Rapids next season, I’m not expecting them to go undefeated or anything.

But, as I said, I have other reasons for liking this match-up between Minnesota and my home town team and they are admittedly very selfish reasons.

First, obviously, it gives me more stuff to write about here at Knuckleballs. Don’t worry, this will not become an “all Kernels, all the time” blog. It has been, is, and will continue to be primarily a Twins blog. But we’ve always reserved the right to write about whatever we darn well please, Twins-related or not. That’s why you’ve had to put up with me writing about the Kernels before… and the Hawkeyes… and Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” But, yeah, I’ll clearly have a much better excuse to write more about the Kernels next season now that they’re part of the Twins family. How much more remains to be seen, but I’ll certainly mention them from time to time (that’s me… the king of understatements).

But, speaking of my Alice’s Restaurant rant from a ways back, here’s my REAL selfish reason for wanting this relationship: I have come to believe that this affiliation is my last-best hope of ever seeing Twins baseball on cable television in Cedar Rapids. In fact, if I HAD been at the press conference Wednesday, I probably would have asked the Twins crew if there was any chance this deal might nudge Fox Sports North and Mediacom together to the point where FSN would at least be an option on the local cable system.

So, imagine my pleasure when someone in the crowd asked pretty much that exact question.

Of course, I was less impressed with the Twins response, but hey… I’m not giving up hope. Rome wasn’t built in a day and signing an affiliation agreement won’t make Eastern Iowa a full-fledged member of “Twins Territory” overnight. I’m a patient man. (Stop that laughing, right now!)

While the Twins people did give the same standard, “that’s out of our control,” response to the television question that their President, Dave St. Peter gave to me last winter, they did mention a few other ways that they plan to work on as initial steps to make us all feel like part of the Twins family.

For instance, it sounds like Cedar Rapids may well get a stop on the Twins Caravan in January. That’ll be nice. I’ve never made the effort to drive a couple hours north to Mason City or whatever border community the Twins have ventured in to previously, but they do sound like fun events. I would expect a very big crowd in CR for that if/when it comes to pass.

By the way, I believe Kernels staff will also be set up at Twinsfest in January, so if you attend, make sure you stop by and say hi. Doug and his folks are a great group of hard-working people that I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know. (Tell them I said that, will ya? I could use the brownie points.)

The Twins reps also alluded to making efforts to find a local radio affiliate to carry Twins games on the radio. They mentioned also that they’re excited about the fact that all of the Kernels games are carried on the radio and that Twins fans everywhere will be able to catch those games online. In addition, those of you who are blessed to be in an area that does carry FSN, it sounds like you may actually get to watch a few Kernels games on FSN next summer.

Honestly… I think that’s great. Good for all of you. But you have to admit that it’s ironic (or, to my mind, moronic) that you folks in Minneapolis may well have more opportunities to see Kernels games on your televisions than I’ll have to watch Twins games here in Cedar Rapids, because of the MLB blackout of the Twins on MLB.tv, etc. But that’s all I’ll say about that… today.

For now, I’ll just say it feels good to be at least one step closer to having my home town become a real part of Twins Territory. Thank you and congratulations again to the Kernels organization, as well as the Twins.

I’m ready for spring training to begin.

- JC

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3 – 11:05 am Central Time

Panic!  Last ditch effort to get this up before first pitch.  Pretend like there is some insightful commentary up here.

 Minnesota Twins

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 Cleveland Indians
 Span, CF  Rottino, RF
 Revere, RF  Kipnis, 2B
 Mauer, 1B  Santana, C, DH
 Willingham, LF  Brantley, CF
 Doumit, C  Kotchman, 1B
 Plouffe, 3B  Lillibridge, SS
 Herrmann, DH  Hannahan, 3B
 Escobar, 2B  Neal, LF
 Florimon, SS  Marson, C
 _Vasquez, P  _Kluber, P

 

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gah.

That was frustrating just because I think we really had a chance to actually GET this sweep in Cleveland… and then Swarzak just didn’t have it in the 10th… again. And they had him intentionally walk Santana and Brantley to LOAD THE BASES with one out.. seriously? well, you see how that turned out.

But before that it was basically a fairly even match-up back and forth with some interesting moves and some sloppy play on both sides. It’s really not a surprise we’re now tied for last place in the division. When Cowboy Joe West can’t help laughing his butt off on the field, you know that you didn’t play defense at 2B very well… *snort*

Highlights for me were the spectacular catch by Denard Span – another web gem style clip – and the hilarious home run by Plouffe in which he was on his way back to the dugout before he realized that he needed to actually go RUN the BASES because the hit had gone OVER THE WALL. So funny. – CB