Kernels Video: Harrison Walkoff Single Beats Cougars

For the second consecutive night, the Cedar Rapids Kernels won a game in dramatic fashion when third baseman Travis Harrison hit a walkoff single down the left field line in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat the Cubs affiliate in the Midwest League, the Kane County Cougars.

The video below captures Harrison’s apparent attempt to hit manager Jake Mauer with a foul ball just before driving in the winning run. Failing to do so, he settled for a single down the left field line to score Jorge Polanco with the game winning run. Polanco had walked to start the inning and advanced to second base via a sacrifice bunt by cleanup hitter Dalton Hicks.
 

Kernels Video: Buxton Walkoff Grand Slam

This is becoming almost commonplace.

Thursday night, Twins prospect Byron Buxton came to the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the bases loaded, and his Kernels team trailing the Burlington Bees 6-3.

Again, pardon the photography. I had to take this video from the second row of the Kernels pressbox, behind the Mediacom “MC22″ broadcasters who were televising the game. The bonus, I guess, is that you can hear their call of what happens next.

Please note, unlike when Travis Harrison launched a walkoff grand slam a couple of weeks ago, the Kernels bench did not chase Buxton around the basepaths, but waited for him to reach home plate before mobbing him. It’s nice to know that particular lesson has been learned!

After the game, Buxton got the traditional shaving cream to the face during a television interview.

You might expect that a superstar-in-the-making like Buxton would rush straight from the TV interview to the clubhouse to join his team mates in their celebration. But not Buxton. He signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans for several minutes before making his way up the tunnel to the clubhouse.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Kernels Videos: Polanco, Hicks, Grimes

I spent Wednesday evening watching a doubleheader between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Burlington Bees (the Angels MWL affiliate). The two clubs split the two games with the Kernels winning the first game 6-5 and the Bees taking the nightcap 6-4.

In the first game, the Kernels came from behind and scored four runs in the third inning to take the lead. They fell behind again, but tied the game back up in the fifth inning with a Jorge Polanco triple, followed by a Dalton Hicks double. Here, if you will pardon the shaky video photography, are Polanco’s triple and Hicks’ RBI double.

Two of the newest members of the Kernels combined to contribute the ultimate game winning run as new catcher Michael Quesada beat out an infield single and pinch runner Jeremias Pineda stole second, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch. Josue Montanez, who just returned to the Cedar Rapids from Extended Spring Training, pitched the final two innings to earn the win for the Kernels.

In the second game, Kernels fans had very little to get excited about. However, Tyler Grimes did give fans an opportunity to cheer with this two-run home run, driving in Travis Harrison ahead of him.

The Bees and Kernels finish up their four-game series Thursday night and host the Kane County Cougars (the Cubs MWL affiliate) for four games Friday through Monday.

Clash of Top Two Picks May Have to Wait

Wednesday, May 8, was supposed to be a big night for fans that follow the top minor league prospects in professional baseball. Quad Cities shortstop Carlos Correa, selected with the No. 1 pick overall by the Astros in last June’s amateur draft, was set to go head-to-head against Kernels’ center fielder Byron Buxton, chosen as the No. 2 pick overall in the same draft by the Twins.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

According to MiLB.com, it was the first time two position players of high school age were drafted in the first two spots in over 20 years. As a result, it is almost inevitable that Correa and Buxton will be compared closely to one another throughout their careers.

But thanks to a pitch that hit Correa in the hand a week ago and put him on the River Bandits Disabled List, their first match up on the same field will have to wait. The question is, for how long?

Correa was placed on the Bandits’ 7-day Disabled List on Friday, May 3, which would make him eligible to be reactivated for this Friday’s series finale with the Kernels. However, there’s been no indication from the team that they intend to do so.

After this series, the Kernels and River Bandits are scheduled to face one another next on June 5 in Cedar Rapids. Then again, if Buxton continues to perform at current levels, there is legitimate reason to question whether he will still be wearing a Kernels uniform at that point.

Carlos Correa (Photo: ESPN.go.com)

Carlos Correa (Photo: ESPN.go.com)

If Correa and Buxton don’t face one another this season, it’s unlikely they’ll match up again in a regular season game until they wear Big League uniforms for the Astros and Twins. The two organizations have no high-A, AA or AAA affiliates playing in the same league.

How rare would an early meeting of No. 1 and No. 2 picks from the same draft be? Only three times have the top two picks in the draft made their full-season debuts in the same league in the same season. It hasn’t happened in the Midwest League since the No. 1 pick in the 1983 draft, Tim Belcher*, opened the following season with the Madison Muskies and No. 2 pick Kurt Stillwell was in a Cedar Rapids Reds uniform.

It’s not difficult to understand, then, why many fans have looked forward to seeing Correa and Buxton on the same field this season.

Though we may not see Buxton and Correa share a ball field this week, we can take a look at how their first years of full-season professional baseball have compared so far.

There’s no doubt that Buxton is off to the better start. While there is already considerable speculation concerning how soon the Kernels’ center fielder might be promoted to the next level in the Twins’ minor league organization, there has been little, if any, such speculation where Correa is concerned.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Five weeks in to the season, Buxton has played in all but one of the Kernels’ 29 games and has the second highest batting average in the Midwest League at .373. Correa was having some trouble staying on the field for the River Bandits even before his current stint on the Disabled List. He has already missed 11 of Quad Cities’ 29 games and is hitting just .221 on the year.

Buxton leads the MWL with a .488 on-base percentage and also leads the league with a .647 slugging percentage. Combined, that puts his OPS (on-base plus slugging) at a league-high 1.135. Of Buxton’s 38 hits, 15 (or almost 40 per cent) have been for extra bases. He has seven doubles, three triples and five home runs. Buxton has walked more times (24) than he has struck out (21) and has stolen 13 bases in 17 attempts.

Correa has reached base at a .384 clip and is slugging just .397, for a .781 OPS. He has three doubles and three home runs. Correa has drawn just 15 walks while striking out 23 times. He has one stolen base and has been caught stealing once.

Five very early weeks in the professional careers of these two prospects mean very little, of course, in terms of predicting their ultimate success or failure as Major League ballplayers. If both men stay with their current organizations long term, fans should eventually have plenty of opportunities for side by side comparisons at the Major League level, now that Correa’s Astros are in the American League.

Regardless of whether Correa is activated in time to face Buxton and the Kernels this week, fans in Cedar Rapids should get their first opportunity to see the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft on June 5 when the River Bandits make their first appearance of the season at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Whether Byron Buxton will still be around to greet him remains to be seen.

- JC

*As long time Twins fans know, Tim Belcher had been selected No. 1 by Minnesota in the 1983 draft and did not sign. He then was drafted No. 1 by the Yankees in the subsequent January 1984 Secondary Draft and ended up with the Athletics organization as a Free Agent Compensation selection a month later.

Q&A With Kernels’ JD Williams

Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder JaDamion (J.D.) Williams is in his fourth season with the Minnesota Twins organization. He was drafted by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2010 amateur draft.

JD WIlliams with some pregame stretching

JD WIlliams with some pregame stretching

After a very productive 2011 season at Rookie League level Elizabethton, where he hit .324, Williams hit only .237 for the Beloit Snappers a year ago and accumulated an on-base percentage of .311.

In his second year in the Midwest League, Williams is off to a much better start for the Kernels.

Hitting out of the ninth spot in Manager Jake Mauer’s batting order, Williams spent most of the first three weeks of the season with a batting average approaching .300. While he’s dropped to .250 through Tuesday’s game, he’s sporting an impressive .446 on-base percentage. He’s also hit four doubles and three home runs, leading to a  slugging percentage sufficient to put his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) up to .946. Those numbers may not be sustainable, but they reflect a new approach to hitting this season.

Williams sat down for an interview over the weekend to discuss his first few weeks in Cedar Rapids and his role, thus far, with the Kernels.

Knuckleballs: This is your second season in the Midwest League. Is there anything specifically different about how you feel going in to this year as opposed to starting last year in Beloit?

J.D. Williams: Just the fact that I’ve had a year here in this league and I’ve learned a lot more. I’m more of a mature player, mature of a hitter and fielder. Learning from different guys. Our hitting coach Tommy Watkins, this is my second year working with him. Guys such as (Twins minor league hitting coordinator) Bill Springman, those guys just teaching me not necessarily the athletic side of the game but baseball mentality. Just learning to be a baseball player, not just running around.

Knuckleballs: Was it disappointing to find out you were going to be coming back to the Midwest League or was that something you were pretty much prepared for happening this year?

JDW: I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but like they say, as long as you got a jersey on, somebody likes you. I didn’t do what I wanted to do here (in the Midwest League) last year, so it doesn’t bother me that I’m back here. I’m playing a lot better this year, so it is what it is.

Williams1Knuckleballs: Did the Twins give you anything specific to work on? Did they say, “this is what we really want you to work on going in to the season. That’s what you’re going to have to do to advance.”?

JDW: Basically, they wanted me to cut down on my strikeouts; put the ball in play a lot more because I can run but you cant steal first base, like they say. I think I’m doing a lot better at that this year. I’m walking a lot more, not just going up there swinging at every pitch I see, opposed to like I was doing last year.

WilliamsBuxton

JD Williams waits his turn for batting practice as Byron Buxton gets his swings

Knuckleballs: They probably don’t exactly encourage you to run a lot with Byron Buxton coming up behind you, though.

JDW: (Laughs) He talks to me a lot. He tells me he’s going to give me a few pitches to run. We’ve got our little sign for when I’m gonna run and whatnot. So we work on that a lot, try to get each other a couple of bases.

Knuckleballs: Growing up, did you have a favorite player, someone you wanted to be like?

JDW: Growing up I liked to watch Brandon Phillips. That was back when I was an infielder and I’m an outfielder now. Of course, I like Denard Span and those guys. Michael Bourne, Juan Pierre, those guys that can run, get on base, steal a couple of bases. I want to be just like those guys.

Knuckleballs: Is there anything about coming to Cedar Rapids that you’ve found different than what you expected it to be?

JDW: Yeah, I love the atmosphere here, the stadium, the people. It’s a lot bigger than Beloit, obviously. Just a lot louder atmosphere. It’s fun playing here. Much more fun team this year, the guys, everything is different this year.

Knuckleballs: You’re making a statement at the bottom of the order. There’s a cliché about the number nine guy being a second leadoff hitter, but that’s not just a cliché with the way you’re getting on base.

JDW: That’s what Jake told me at the beginning of the season. He told me I was probably going to bat ninth and I told him that didn’t bother me at all. If Buxton’s doing a great job at the top of the order, I’ll score a bunch of runs batting in front of Buxton so I’m not gonna argue with that at all. Basically, like I said, we’re just having fun, man. I enjoy hitting in the nine hole in front of those guys.

Knuckleballs: Is there anything that Twins fans and Kernels fans don’t know about you that you’d like the fans to know about you?

JDW: I’m not sure what they know about me yet (laughs), probably not a lot, yet. I’m going to try to change that in the future though, you know? Let these guys know who I am. Not many people know who I am.

Williams and his Kernels team mates are off to a very good start, leading the Midwest League’s Western Division by three games over Quad Cities and riding a nine game winning streak, through Tuesday. If they keep it up, Kernels fans will be getting to know him much better.

Crazy Ending Results in Kernels Grand Slam “Single”

The Cedar Rapids Kernels beat the Great Lakes Loons Saturday night in dramatic, extra-inning fashion.

Adam Brett Walker hit a game-tying three-run home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the game in to extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, the Kernels loaded the bases and Manager Jake Mauer sent Travis Harrison to the plate to pinch hit. If you’ll pardon the quality of the video from my phone, I’ll share what happened next:

Niko Goodrum, the runner on third base, trotted in to score the winning run, but did you notice the two runners immediate ahead of Harrison? Dalton Hicks and Adam Brett Walker appear to peel off their paths after rounding third base and run toward the infield to join the celebration. Eventually, it appears they may have returned to the baseline and found their ways to home plate ahead of Harrison.

In the end, however, the umpires ruled that while Goodrum scored the winning run, Harrison and the other two runners abandoned their efforts to advance. The result is that Harrison was credited with a walk-off RBI single and the Kernels won 8-7.

- JC

Kernels: Hot Starts in Cold Weather

I don’t know who to see about this, but the Twins and Kernels should NOT be allowed to have off-days on the same day! That’s what happened yesterday. So, without anything really “new” to write about either team, I’m posting the following article on the Kernels’ hot start. Under an agreement with MetroSportsReport.com, my alter ego, SD Buhr, writes a weekly “Kernels Update” for TwinsDaily.com. The following is a slightly updated version of what was posted yesterday on both sites and is republished here with permission of MSR. – JC

By SD Buhr

There is no shortage of great story lines through the first three weeks of the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ inaugural season as the Minnesota Twins Class A affiliate in the Midwest League.

To begin with, the Kernels (12-5) sit atop the MWL Western Division standings, with a one-game lead over the Quad City River Bandits (Astros). Cedar Rapids has had success both at home (5-2) and on the road (7-3).

The biggest story of the first three weeks of the MWL season has undoubtedly been the weather. The Kernels have played only 17 games at this point and that’s more than seven of the other 15 MWL teams have played. Yesterday (Wednesday, April 24) was supposed to be the first scheduled off-day of the Kernels’ season. With all of the weather-related postponements and cancellations, it was instead the seventh day Kernels players will have not played baseball since Opening Day.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Understandably, the early attention on the field has been focused on center fielder Byron Buxton, the Twins’ #1 draft pick a year ago. Buxton got off to an amazing start with the bat, but it was inevitable that he would cool off. He has just three hits in his last 15 At-Bats over the Kernels most recent four games. That’s dropped his Batting Average all the way down to… .404. He’s reached base at a .514 rate and has two doubles, two triples and two home runs to assemble a 1.128 On-Base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS). He also has seven stolen bases. If this is the worst “slump” Buxton has to go through, he’s going to have a fun season.

But Buxton isn’t the only Kernels hitter putting up impressive numbers.

First baseman Dalton Hicks has put together a pretty good start of his own, as well. His .310 Batting Average is backed up by seven doubles and a team-leading three home runs.

Drew Leachman went hitless in five At-Bats on on Opening Night and spent the next couple of weeks on the Disabled List after banging up his shoulder in that first game. Leachman has nine hits in 21 At-Bats for a .429 average since being reactivated, with a double, a triple and four RBI in five games. (Leachman received some congratulatory tweets from teammates late Tuesday night and early Wednesday indicating he may have gotten called up to Fort Myers. As of Wednesday afternoon, a source with the Kernels indicated they had not received any official word from the Twins on the move.)

In addition to Buxton, Hicks and Leachman, there are five additional Kernels hitting at .270 or better:

Niko Goodrum is hitting at a .288 clip with five doubles and a .383 On-Base Percentage (OBP).

Jorge Polanco has four doubles and a home run, along with 11 RBI, to go with his .281 Batting Average.

Adam Walker also has a .281 average and 11 RBI to go with his two doubles, one triple and two home runs.

Travis Harrison shares the team lead in doubles with Hicks at seven and has a pair of home runs, as well. He’s hitting .271 on the season.

J. D. Williams is hitting .270, but he’s parlayed three doubles and a pair of home runs, along with 11 walks, in to a .429 OBP and an OPS of .942. That’s some pretty good work, especially coming from the guy who’s held down the #9 spot in the batting order most of the young season.

Perhaps the biggest Kernels news this week was the debut of Jose Berrios, one of the top starting pitching prospects in the Twins organization. Berrios threw five innings on Monday night against the Burlington Bees. He struck out five Bees hitters, but also gave up seven hits and walked a pair.

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios

If Berrios, who will still be just 18 years old for another month, was a bit over-excited for his first start, it would be understandable. He had trouble getting his fastball down in the strike zone the first couple of innings, but finished strong enough to be credited with the Win in the Kernels’ 8-4 win over Burlington.

Berrios’ fastball reportedly hit 96 mph early in the game, but one scout’s radar gun consistently recorded it at 91-93 mph during his last two innings of work. However, it’s possible that his breaking ball was more impressive. It had a late, sharp, break that buckled more than one set of Bees’ knees.

In the end, Berrios may turn out to be the biggest pitching story this season for the Kernels, but a number of his fellow pitchers are setting a pretty high standard for him to meet.

Tyler Duffey hasn’t been able to repeat the seven-perfect-innings performance of his first start of the season, but he’s continued to pitch well. Through 19.2 innings of work covering three starts, he’s put up a 2.29 ERA, striking out 17 while walking only three hitters. He’s also put up a 0.661 WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched).

Mason Melotakis has put up a 2.84 ERA in his three starts, racking up 11 strikeouts in just 12. 2 innings of work and Hudson Boyd, while struggling with control at times, has also managed to miss bats. Boyd has struck out a dozen hitters in 14 innings during his three starts.

David Hurlbut appears to be the pitcher bumped from the rotation to the bullpen to make room for Berrios (though that could change with the promotion of Taylor Rogers to Fort Myers this week). Hurlbut has put up a 3.00 ERA and a 0.933 WHIP in 15 innings of work during four appearances (two of them starts).

The weather situation has left Brett Lee, who started the season penciled in as the Kernels sixth starting pitcher in a six-man rotation, with just one start in the first three weeks of the season. He’s made two other appearances in relief roles. Regardless of how he’s entered the game, however, Lee has kept his opponents from scoring. He’s sporting a perfect 0.00 ERA over eight innings of work, while striking out seven hitters without surrendering a walk.

Steven Gruver has posted a 0.64 ERA in his four appearances, three of which came out of the bullpen, while the other came as an emergency starter. That start was necessitated by weather forcing the Kernels to play seven games in a period of just four days. Gruver has struck out 16 hitters and walked just two in 14 innings.

Gruver, along with Tyler Jones, Tim Atherton, Manuel Soliman and Chris Mazza, have anchored a very effective Kernels bullpen. Gruver, Jones, Atherton and Mazza have all struck out more than a hitter per inning of work.

Manager Jake Mauer’s group of Kernels are off to a very good start, made even more impressive by the conditions in which they’ve had to play and the effect the weather has had on their schedule. It should be really interesting to see how things come together when the weather turns warm and the fans start to fill up the ballpark.

The Kernels open up a six game homestand tonight with a 6:35 game against the Dodgers’ MWL affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons.

A Tour of Jim Crikket’s Cedar Rapids

Acquiescing to an outpouring of demand, I’ve put together a little bit of information about my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Of course, I understand that the only reason so many of our readers seem to want that information has nothing at all to do with it being my hometown, but rather because our fair city is now the home of the Minnesota Twins’ Class A minor league affiliate, the Kernels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI guess as long as I’m being honest, the whole “outpouring of demand” thing might have been a slight exaggeration. But one of our Twitter followers, @CSwamptown, did ask for it last week and by God we’re so thrilled to find out we actually have Twitter followers that we’re going to try to be responsive to that kind of request!

Cedar Rapids is the second largest city, by population, in Iowa. Almost 130,000 people call Cedar Rapids home and when you add in the other nearby cities and towns in Linn County, the total pops up above 210,000 people.

Cedar Rapids is home to multiple campuses full of Rockwell Collins and Transamerica Insurance Company workers, as well as significant General Mills and Quaker Oats plants. Coe College (my alma mater), Mount Mercy College and Kirkwood Community College all are located in town and the University of Iowa’s campus in Iowa City is just 20 miles or so south of Cedar Rapids (Go Hawkeyes!).

But you’re coming here for baseball, so you probably don’t care about any of that. That being the case, let’s get started with this little tour of Jim Crikket’s Cedar Rapids.

Getting Around

Cedar Rapids is laid out roughly in quadrants. Every address will include its quadrant (NW, SW, SE, NE). Know this, however… the quadrant boundaries are established by the Cedar River (north/south) and First Avenue (east/west). Both the river and the main street wind more than a little bit as they work their ways through town, so take the whole NW, SW, SE and NE thing more as general guidelines than rules.

Don’t Speed. Seriously. Don’t do it. At least don’t go much more than 5 mph over posted speed limits, especially on I-380 through town. Cedar Rapids uses cameras placed strategically behind many of the overhead signage on the highway to take your picture (specifically a picture of your license plate) as you drive through and at a number of intersections in town. If you speed or run a light, you’ll be getting a “thank you letter” from local law enforcement shortly after you get home with instructions on how to make one more final financial contribution to our local economy.

Sleeping

I’ll start with a confession: If you ask me for hotel recommendations, you’re really asking the wrong guy. I live here. I’ve lived here since 1977 for all but a handful of months in 1979 (and that’s a story you really don’t want to hear, so let’s just pretend it never happened). Since I live here, I’ve had very little cause to stay in a hotel. I have no idea which hotels have soft beds or are pet friendly.

However, as frequent readers here know, I’m not one to let a little thing like lack of knowledge about a topic keep me from expressing thoughts on said topic.

There are two “clusters” of  hotels for the budget conscious in Cedar Rapids. One on the north side of town (between Blairs Ferry Rd and Collins Rd, about half a mile east of I-380) and one on the south side (at the 33rd Ave SW Exit off of I-380). On one end or the other, you’ll find pretty much every hotel chain you can think of represented.

I’m guessing the hotels on the north side might be quieter, since they’re located in more of an office park area (very near the large Rockwell Collins campus). The south grouping is much more clumped together and interspersed with various restaurants (especially of the fast-food variety). There aren’t many restaurants in easy walking distance from the hotels on the north side.  You’re not going to be walking to Kernels games either way, but the hotels on the south side are a bit closer to the ballpark.

If you’re not as concerned with cost, there’s a nice Marriott on Collins Rd on the north side. There’s also a new convention center nearing completion downtown and there’s a high rise (at least high by Cedar Rapids standards) hotel attached to it. The hotel has been in the process of being renovated for the past couple of years and has not yet reopened, but when it is, it will be a DoubleTree Hotel. Last I knew, the plans were for it to open at the end of May.

Eating and Drinking

It’s not hard to find a place to eat in Cedar Rapids. We have all of the same chain restaurants you’ll find everywhere else (no Famous Dave’s, though, Twins Citians… sorry). If you’re like me, though, you might prefer to check out the local “independent” restaurants and bars. So if you want to go to Buffalo Wild Wings, Granite City, Red Lobster, Applebees or any other fine national chain restaurant, they aren’t hard to find here. But if you want to try a place you won’t find back home, consider one of these:

BushwoodLogoBushwood Sports Bar & Grill (350 Edgewood Road NW… a couple of miles west of the ballpark): This is my family’s regular Friday night hangout. The food’s good and there’s a pretty broad menu for a sports bar. There are more TVs than you can possibly watch and the service is excellent. Then again, maybe they just really provide great service to my family because we’ve spent so much money there the past few years that we really should own a share of the business by now. But I’m pretty sure the waitresses will be nice to you, too.

Third Base Brewery (500 Blairs Ferry Rd NE… maybe a mile east of the “north cluster” of hotels): To be honest, I’ve rarely been here, but they brew their own beer on site so it can’t be too bad, right? I have nothing against the place, it simply is located on the east side of town and I live on the west side.

La CantinaLa Cantina (corner of First Ave SE and Second Street SE, Downtown): This has become my family’s “go to” Mexican restaurant. We really like the food, but I’m not so sure that the fact we made our first visit there on a “two-for-one margaritas” night might have influenced us favorably and permanently. If you stop there and they’re really busy, but you really have your heart set on Mexican food, just walk around the corner on First Avenue and go to Gringo’s. It’s good, too.

Leonardo’s Restaurant & Pizza (2228 16th Ave SW): While my family and I really like the pizza at Bushwood, I have to admit that my favorite pizza in town is the sausage pizza at Leonardo’s. That’s been the case pretty much since I moved here because “Leo’s” has been in Cedar Rapids longer than I have. Located maybe a mile west of the ballpark and the adjacent high school football stadium and hockey arena, this is a popular place for locals after sports events.

RedsAleHouseRed’s Ale House (405 N. Dubuque Street, North Liberty IA): Red’s isn’t really in Cedar Rapids, but I felt compelled to include it anyway. If you’re feeling adventurous enough to drive 10-15 minutes south on I-380 to North Liberty and you have a penchant for craft beers, Red’s is a must. Their motto is “no crap on tap,” so if your idea of a great beer is a Bud Light draft, go elsewhere. But if having a choice among a couple hundred craft beers sounds appealing to you, Red’s is your kind of place.

The Breakfast House Café (820 6th Street SW): If you’re like my family, you’re probably staying at a budget hotel with a free continental breakfast. But in the event your idea of breakfast is more than donuts and coffee, check out the Breakfast House Café. It’s your basic little breakfast diner kind of place and it’s been around for over 30 years, so they’re doing something right. In fact, they do a lot of things right.

(Photo: Cindy Hadish)

(Photo: Cindy Hadish)

NewBo City Market (corner of 12th Ave and 3rd Street SE in New Bohemia district): The NewBo City Market isn’t a restaurant, but if you’re in town over a weekend, it’s worth checking out and you can certainly find food there, among many other things. The folks who run the place describe it on their website as, “a dynamic public space where local entrepreneurs create an environment of fresh, wonderful food, products and experiences.” Sound interesting? It is.

Baseball

Lest we forget, the reason you’re coming to town is for baseball, right?

Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium is where the Kernels call home. It’s located about two blocks south of First Avenue SW, on Rockford Rd SW. (Drive west from downtown and look for the lights.) The current Veterans Stadium was built in 2002, replacing the old “Vets Stadium” that had been home to Cedar Rapids minor league teams for over 50 years. The old stadium sat where the parking lot now sits between the new Vets and Kingston Stadium, which is home to the local public high school football, track and soccer teams (not to mention their marching bands).

The ballpark’s concourse faces inward toward the diamond, allowing fans to keep abreast of the action on the field while they visit concession stands. There’s a variety of seating choices for groups of pretty much any size, whether in picnic areas down the left field line, an outdoor mezzanine above the bowl behind the Kernels’ first base dugout, or one of the indoor suites (that also include outdoor seating in front of the suite).

The friendly folks in the Kernels’ front office will be more than happy to find you the perfect spot for you and/or your group. They’re particularly proud (and rightfully so) of the new high-def video scoreboard that looms over right-center field.

The Kernels have more “Special Events” than we can possibly list, along with almost a dozen “giveaway” nights (I’m especially looking forward to Mr Shucks/TC Bear Bobblehead night on June 7). There will also be eight “special jersey” nights this season. The jerseys the Kernels wear on those nights are auctioned off for charity in a silent auction during the game and winning bidders get to go down on the field afterward and quite literally take the jersey off of the back of a player and get him to autograph it for you.

The Kernels organization’s tagline is “Party at the Park!” and they do everything in their power to make sure that’s exactly what you’ll do when you make a trip to Cedar Rapids to see the Twins’ future on display.

I hope you’ll find the time to check out the Kernels in action this summer. If you need information beyond what I’ve covered here, just click the “Contact Us” link on our site’s banner at the top and drop me an email with your question.

-  JC

Kernels Opening Series a Success

The Cedar Rapids Kernels won three of four games over the Beloit Snappers in their first series of the 2013 season and there was no shortage of drama in the process.

The Kernels won their season opener 8-6, then recovered from a 2-1 ninth inning deficit to claim a walk-off 3-2 win in game 2 of the series. The Snappers managed to hold their 2-1 lead to completion in claiming the third game of the series. In the finale, three Kernels pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter at the visiting Snappers.

Outfielder Byron Buxton gave the locals a good look at what all the fuss is about as he hit .563 for the series, including plenty of power.

The game stories are widely available on the web, but this morning, I thought I’d share a few (OK, much more than a few) of the pictures I took over the course of the past week, since the Kernels arrived in Cedar Rapids.

Kernels coaches meet the media" Tommy Watkins (hitting coach), Jake Mauer (manager), Gary Lucas (pitching coach)

Kernels coaches meet the media: Tommy Watkins (hitting coach), Jake Mauer (manager), Gary Lucas (pitching coach)

The Kernels are introduced to local fans on Meet the Kernels night

The Kernels are introduced to local fans on Meet the Kernels night

Kernels players enjoying the introductions

Kernels players enjoying the introductions

Hudson Boyd

Hudson Boyd

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

Travis Harrison

Travis Harrison

Romy Jimenez

Romy Jimenez

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey

Niko Goodrum

Niko Goodrum

Travis Harrison

Travis Harrison

Manager Jake Mauer and 3B Travis Harrison working together pregame

Manager Jake Mauer and 3B Travis Harrison working together pregame

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

Kernels pitchers getting in pregame bullpen sessions

Kernels pitchers getting in pregame bullpen sessions

Pitching coach Gary Lucas works with Josue Montanez

Pitching coach Gary Lucas works with Josue Montanez

Manager Jake Mauer and Dalton Hicks

Manager Jake Mauer and Dalton Hicks

Josmil Pimentel

Candido Pimentel

Candido Pimentel

Candido Pimentel

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

JD WIlliams (diving away from a near HBP)

JD WIlliams (diving away from a near HBP)

JCD Williams

JD Williams

Kernels Celebrate a No-Hitter

Kernels Celebrate a No-Hitter

Kernels sign postgame autographs

Kernels sign postgame autographs

h

See ya next week!

See ya next week!

If you didn’t see your favorite Kernels in these pictures, not to worry… we’ll be posting a lot more pictures over the course of the season.

- JC

A Cautionary Tale in Cedar Rapids

Kernels fans and Twins fans, alike, can’t help but be excited about the number of highly rated prospects included in the initial Cedar Rapids roster this season.

Of the 25 active members of the Kernels’ Opening Day roster, 14 of them received signing bonuses in excess of $100,000 when they signed their names to their first contract with the Twins organization. Altogether, those 14 players signed on for over $12 million in signing bonus money. Three current players received $1 million or more to sign. 

With all of that high-ceiling talent, it’s certainly understandable for fans to be excited, not only for the likely fortunes of the Kernels this season, but for the future of the parent Minnesota Twins a couple of years from now. Fans will get a look at one of those million-dollar players, Hudson Boyd, when he takes the mound Friday night in his first start of the season for the Kernels. He reportedly got $1 million from the Twins.

Boyd’s counterpart, Beloit Snappers starting pitcher Michael Ynoa, provides a couterbalance for fans, however. His story serves as a reminder that, in the end, large signing bonuses and a player’s desire and work ethic provide no guarantee of a mercurial rise through the organization and a trip to the Big Leagues.

Ynoa was signed, as a 16-year-old, with the Oakland Athletics organization for a then-club record $4.25 million in 2008 out of the Dominican Republic. He was widely regarded as one of the top Latin-American prospects that year.

Snappers pitcher Michael Ynoa (photo: Chris Lockard/Scout.com)

Snappers pitcher Michael Ynoa (photo: Chris Lockard/Scout.com)

Since inking his deal, Ynoa has thrown a total of just under 40 innings for A’s affiliates. To say he’s had injury issues is a considerable understatement.

He missed his first year with the A’s organization with a strained elbow. He made three starts in 2010 before being shut down and undergoing Tommy John surgery, which essentially cost him his 2011 season. He threw about 30 innings in 2012. His start to the 2013 Spring Training was delayed by a case of Chicken Pox.

The Athletics organization certainly has not given up on right-hander. He reportedly continues to throw hard, but his inactivity has resulted in some understandable control issues. The team added him to their 40-man roster this past offseason, rather than risk losing him in Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 draft, in which players with several years of minor league experience can be drafted by other organizations if they are not yet on their team’s 40-man roster.

Ynoa’s status as a top-level Major League prospect has been eliminated by his health issues. But the A’s appear to believe he can still eventually contribute at the Major League level if he can start harnessing his velocity and find some control. Of course, staying healthy would help, too.

In the mean time, Ynoa serves as a cautionary tale for those fans that might look in to the Kernels dugout and assume that all of that high-ceiling talent already have their tickets to Target Field punched. Even with their impressive talent, getting to put on a Major League uniform will require skill, dedication… and a fair amount of luck.

- JC