Snappers & Hermsen get the sweep… and then some

They say, “You can’t go home again.” Boy are ‘they’ wrong.

The pride of West Delaware (IA) HS, BJ Hermsen

BJ Hermsen returned home (or as close to home as he can get and be playing professional baseball) to Cedar Rapids and took the mound for the Beloit Snappers tonight in front of a near-sellout crowd. If you were inclined to rob a small town bank, picking one in Delaware County Iowa tonight would have been a good idea. Nobody was home. They were filling Memorial Stadium to watch Hermsen face the local Kernels on Perfect Game Field.

Snappers 3B Anderson Hidalgo

Some guys tend to press a bit in those situations (how long did it take before Morneau had a good game in Toronto?), but not Hermsen. All he did was shut down the Kernels completely through 7 and 2/3 innings of no-hit ball and finish with a complete game 1-hitter. The Kernels’ Justin Bass lined a solid single to right field with two out and nobody on base in the 8th inning, but that’s the only hit Hermsen gave up as he led the Snappers to a 3 game sweep of the Division leading Kernels. (Cedar Rapids’ magic number is 1, so the loss kept them from clinching the first half Division title.)

Daniel Santana, Snappers LF

He had help. There were no fewer than four extraordinary defensive plays behind him, a fact he was quick to point out in post-game interviews with local media after the game. In addition, Anderson Hidalgo supported Hermsen with three hits while Aaron Hicks and Daniel Santana added two hits each. Hermsen was also treated to the traditional “shaving cream in the face” treatment by team mates during one interview (see video below).

Snappers CF Aaron Hicks held on 1B by the Kernels' Casey Haerther

Memorial Stadium seats a bit over 5,000 fans and just under 4,700 paid their way in tonight. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was “Thirsty Thursday”, with beers $1.50 all evening (if this post is a bit incoherent, you now know why). I think it’s pretty safe to say the Snappers have never had support like that on the road before as it was probably pretty close to a 50-50 split in terms of fan support between the local Kernels and Hermsen and his Snappers.

The Kernels organization made a call to Beloit after Hermsen was promoted to the Snappers and specifically requested that, if possible, their rotation could be set up to allow for Hermsen to get a start in Cedar Rapids. To their credit, the Snappers obliged. I’d like to hope we’ll get another opportunity to see him pitch in Cedar Rapids when the Snappers return to town in August, but with the way players bounce up and down the organizational ladder, you just never know if that opportunity will present itself. But if this ends up being the only chance that BJ’s family and friends get to watch him pitch locally, at least he gave them a night to remember. – JC

Can the Snappers get the sweep that the Twins couldn’t?

Well we already know the Twins phoned it in on yet another sweep opportunity, but how about their Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers? The Snappers took the first two games of a 3-game series with MWL-West Division leaders, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. That sets up Thursday night’s opportunity to get out the brooms.

I sat through the 3.5 hour game Tuesday night, mostly because the Snappers seemed to fall asleep after putting up 6 runs in the second inning, allowing the Kernels to sneak back to within a run heading in to the final couple of innings. The Snappers added a couple of late runs, however, for an 8-5 win.

Michael Gonzales works out during Spring Training under the watchful eye of Tom Kelly

The Snappers’ big first baseman, Michael Gonzales, hit one of the longest, hardest, home runs I’ve seen in the 30+ years I’ve been going to minor league games here. The 6’6″ 245# Gonzales entered the game hitting only about .170 but he had 7 home runs and wasted no time racking up #8, hitting the first pitch he saw way beyond the RF wall. It would be an exaggeration to say the ball was still on the rise when it cleared the fence, but the ball WAS still nearly the height of the RF foul pole (40-45 feet up) as it cleared. The sound of the ball on the bat is just different with some guys when they connect. That was the case with Gonzales’ HR.

As a consolation prize, the Kernels clinched a MWL playoff spot when 3rd place Clinton lost their game Tuesday night.

Wednesday’s game was a noontime matinee game and I hoped to get to see 3-4 innings or so over my lunch hour. It was not to be. For the second consecutive game, the Snappers put a 6-spot on the board in the second inning. This time it was infielder Anderson Hidalgo and catcher Danny Rams who went yard for the Snappers. I was happy for Rams, in particular. He had a tough night Tuesday night, hitting in to a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play once and leaving runners in scoring position in at least a couple of other plate appearances (which makes you wonder a bit if the Twins are starting to TEACH that crap in the lower levels, doesn’t it?).

There was a bit of a scare early when CF Aaron Hicks fouled a ball off of his back foot. He stayed in the game but definitely favored that ankle. In the end, this time the Snappers kept the pedal to the metal and came away with an 11-2 win.

I’d like to have a few pictures to share, but I discovered something about photography the hard way, Tuesday night. Apparently, rechargeable AA batteries have to actually be recharged after they’ve been used up in order for them to pr0vide enough power for a camera to operate properly… or at all, for that matter. Ah well, live and learn, right?

Which brings us to tonight’s game. BJ Hermsen (an Iowa kid out of West Delaware HS) is pitching for the Snappers as they go for the sweep. Check back later for results and, hopefully, a few pictures from the game (both sets of batteries have been recharged).

No word yet on whether the Snappers will be following what has become the parent Twins’ standard procedure of resting many of their regulars in an excessively sportsmanlike attempt to avoid hurting the feelings of an opponent by sweeping them. – JC

Can you feel a Draft?

You may or may not be aware, but the MLB First-Year Player Draft is being held Monday – Wednesday this week.

I know, it’s hard to get too fired up over the draft. It’s not like the NFL, where fans have watched most of the top draft picks play several years of College football on Saturdays and can legitimately envision at least the players taken in the top few rounds wearing the uniform of their favorite team during the following season.

Sure, there are exceptional talents that find their way on to MLB rosters in their first full year after being drafted, but it is extremely rare and even rarer if your favorite team manages to avoid being so pitiful that they get awarded one of the top 2-3 spots in the draft. The Twins draft in the 21st position this year and it’s almost impossible to project who (a) might still be available and (b) who the Twins might have their eyes on for that pick. What you CAN bank on is that, whoever they pick, he won’t make his Target Field debut until at least 2012… and more likely closer to 2014 or 2015… if ever.

BJ Hermsen, Twins 6th round draft choice in 2008 (photo JimCrikket)

So why do we bother paying attention? Well, for me, the answer is, “Usually, I don’t. But this year is different.” Why? There are a couple of local kids down here in the Cedar Rapids area that are likely to be drafted in the first few rounds and it would be great to see either or both of them join Iowan BJ Hermsen (now pitching for the Twins Class A affiliate, Beloit) in the Twins organization.

I’m sure it’s no big deal to Minnesotans when a local kid gets drafted, even by the Twins. But the Iowa High School Athletic Union seems to do whatever it possibly can to assure that the best HS athletes in Iowa (a) don’t play baseball, and (b) if they do, they get no attention from professional scouts. You see, unlike schools in the other 49 states, Iowa schools play a summer baseball season, rather than in the spring. This means that Iowa schools are just now getting their seasons in to gear, while HS players all over the country have finished giving scouts a full season to look them over.

Jon Keller hopes to go in the top 5 rounds (photo CR Gazette)

Jon Keller, a pitcher who throws in the low 90s for Cedar Raids Xavier, has committed to play for the University of Nebraska, but if he gets picked in the top five rounds, he’ll be considering going professional.

Kellen Sweeney awaiting draft day call (photo CR Gazette)

Kellen Sweeney, an infielder at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, is projected to be a low second round or high third round pick. He has a spot at the University of San Diego to fall back on if he doesn’t get a contract he likes.

If the name Sweeney sounds familiar to Twins fans, it’s likely because Kellen’s older brother, Ryan, just finished facing the Twins over the weekend as the right fielder and #3 hitter for the Oakland A’s. Ryan was a second round choice of the White Sox in 2003.

Ryan Sweeney long before claiming RF for the A's (photo Perfect Game)

I saw a lot of Ryan Sweeney during his pre-HS days. He’s a couple of years younger than my own son and Ryan’s dad, Gary, was coaching his son’s amateur teams at the same time I was coaching my son’s teams. Gary liked to schedule games against teams made up of kids that were older than his team’s. In fact, Ryan and my son played on the same team in a fall league run by Perfect Game (one of the largest scouting services in the country and operated out of Cedar Rapids). I recall Ryan as being a good, but not great, pitcher and having excellent fundamentals, both at the plate and in the field.

A while after my son graduated from HS, he and I began doing some umpiring together. We’d work adult and youth amateur leagues around the area. I recall the first time we worked a double header involving Gary Sweeney’s club, which by that time was featuring the young Kellen Sweeney. I’m guessing Kellen was probably 12 or 13 years old. I remember thinking that Kellen looked much more advanced both offensively and defensively than what I recalled his brother Ryan being at the same age.

Kellen is coming off of Tommy John surgery this summer, but it doesn’t seem to be having a negative effect on his scouting evaluations. I’m far from an expert at evaluating talent and you never know whether a kid has the mental strength to go with the physical talent 9not to mention the luck) to make it to the Bigs. However, given that Ryan Sweeney is hitting over .300 for the A’s right now, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see Kellen in Ft. Myers with the Twins at their minor league facility next March.

These kids are about to experience the excitement of taking the first step toward realizing the dream of playing Major League Baseball. Do yourself a favor on the Twins off day and check out your local sports pages to find out what local diamond heroes in your area are hoping to be drafted and then keep checking on whether they’ve been selected by the Twins or another organization this week. Who knows… even if they get drafted by the BitchSox or Evil Empire, they could find their way to the Twins eventually!  – JC