Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 38

Episode 38 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

This week Cody and Eric dive into the poor pitching management of Ron Gardenhire, Joe Mauer‘s hit-streak amid a season filled with strike-outs, and then we discuss the possibility of seeing Kyle Gibson in a Twins uniform and the outside shot of a 6-man rotation in Minnesota.

We name our Twins hitters and pitchers of the week, and then go Down on the Pond and talk about Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernals first basemen Dalton Hicks.

We finish up the podcast talking about beers from Europe and making a trip Around the League (including a fabulous Korean bat flip).

Only an hour of fun this week, but we’ll be back next week with a special patriotic Talk to Contact in honor of Memorial Day.

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

– ERolfPleiss

Kernels Affiliate Press Conference Wed at 1:30pm

The Cedar Rapids Kernels have announced a press conference is scheduled for 1:30 pm Wednesday to announce their new Major League affiliation. I think it may be the Minnesota Twins, what do you think?

Joe Christensen at the Strib thinks so, too.

So does Charley Walters at the PiPress. Although he does have one tiny fact wrong… Beloit opens 2013 in Cedar Rapids on April 4, not the other way around. If you’re curious, you can find the Kernels 2013 schedule by clicking here.

Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids (Photo: Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

I’m sure others will concur now that the Kernels have announced the press conference, which is open to the public (in case any of you don’t have anything else going on Wednesday afternoon).

Scuttlebutt around this here inter-web machine had the Twins brass scheduled to meet with the Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport on Tuesday, but I have neither seen nor heard any confirmation that such meeting took place.

In addition, reports indicate no formal written agreement is yet in place between the Kernels and Twins. If that doesn’t happen over the next few hours, though, the press conference could be pretty short.

I’m sure all of your favorite local news outlets will have coverage of the press conference tomorrow. Here at Knuckleballs, we’ll hopefully be able to just sit back and enjoy the news.

– JC

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

Butterflies With Hiccups – Iowa Style

I’m taking advantage of a bit of extra free time I have this afternoon to do another post of random news items (if you use a very generous definition of the word “news”), most of it with an Iowa connection today.

I played hooky this afternoon and watched the Twins and White Sox. True, I had to deal with the Comcast broadcast out of Chicago due to the MLB blackout rules and that means listening to Hawk Harrelson, but that’s what the mute button is for, right? I hear he left the broadcast booth in the 7th inning of the Twins 18-9 blowout of the Sox on Tuesday night and I have to admit I wish I had witnessed that.

As this MLB season winds down, I’m rooting for two things: First, as many of you know, I’m a bit of an Orioles fan, so I still have a team in contention. I still think the Birds are doing it with smoke and mirrors, but I really don’t care how they get the job done, I just want them to beat the Yankees over in the AL East and get in to the playoffs. (Admit it, you wouldn’t mind seeing JJ Hardy and Lew Ford in the playoffs, either.) Second, I’m hoping that the White Sox end up on the outside of the playoffs looking in AND that they finish just close enough that their losses to the Twins this year account for their failure to qualify.

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Miguel Sano

Speaking of playoffs, I’m driving over to Clinton IA this evening to catch game one of the best-of-three playoff series between the Twins’ Midwest League (Class A) affiliate Beloit Snappers and the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle’s affiliate). Clinton finished the MWL regular season on a 10-game winning streak (the last three of which came against my Cedar Rapids Kernels). I saw all three of the Clinton-CR games this past weekend and I think Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and their Beloit teammates have their work cut out for them. Either way, at least I’ll get to check off another MWL ballpark with my visit to Beloit tonight.

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There’s nothing really new on the Twins’ affiliation front for 2013. Now that the minor league regular season is over, teams that are interested in exploring new affiliation options (both MLB teams and minor league teams) can notify the MLB Commissioner’s Office or the president of minor league baseball of such. The teams are not allowed to state publicly that they’ve submitted that notification, however.

The powers-that-be will provide a list of potential affiliates to those teams by September 15. Then, and only then, are the various MLB and MiLB clubs able to start negotiating possible new partnerships with one another.

There was a new article posted online at the website of one of the local CR TV stations (KCRG) this week, but it really didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. KCRG is owned by the same company (SourceMedia) as the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the report was written by the Gazette writer, Jeff Johnson, that covers the Kernels beat. Johnson has written about the affiliation issue a couple of times already this season and I think he has a pretty solid sense of what’s about to happen.

I’m optimistic, at this point, that I’ll be watching future Twins play baseball at Perfect Game Field here in Cedar Rapids for the next few summers, but the Kernels Directors (essentially, the team’s “owners”) still have a few questions they should be asking the Twins (such as, “Are you planning on buying a MWL team and moving it to St. Paul in a couple of years?”) before anyone is going to sign a deal. As soon as I hear more, I’ll post something, but I don’t expect to hear a lot before the end of September.

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Since this is an Iowa-centered post on a baseball-centered blog, I thought I would mention this little piece of news, as well.

How many of you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams”? Everyone? I thought so.

How many of you have visited the site near Dyersville, in Eastern Iowa, where the movie was filmed? Did you even know the site has been a mini-tourist attraction, complete with cornfield-bordered baseball field, pretty much ever since the movie was released? No? Well now there’s going to be even more of a reason for you to visit, especially if you have kids who play baseball or softball.

Go the Distance Baseball LLC plans to build a $38 million youth baseball/softball complex at the Field of Dreams site. The complex will include 24 ballfields of varying sizes (over and above the original field, which apparently won’t be altered).  The company received approval of a $16.5 million sales tax rebate from the Iowa Legislature & Governor last spring and now have a $5.1 million property tax rebate from the Dyersville City Council, as well.

New Field of Dreams complex (from their Facebook page)

Here’s the artist’s rendering of the site:

Sounds like Ray Kinsella is hearing more voices, doesn’t it? He and his tractor are going to be kept awfully busy plowing under all those other fields. Almost makes me want to get back in to coaching youth baseball. Almost.

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This is rivalry week down here in Iowa. It’s the week of the annual Iowa – Iowa State football game, which I know is of very little interest to much of anyone outside our state’s borders. But it’s a big deal here. It’s in Iowa City this year, which means that’s where I’ll be spending most of my Saturday.

I’m a Hawkeye season ticket holder, but I’m not “anti-ISU” like a lot of people are. I went to high school over in central Iowa, about 40 miles from Iowa State’s campus in Ames. My parents were even ISU season ticket holders for a few years (back in the days when Johnny Majors coached the Cyclones), so I saw a game or two back then. I enjoy taking jabs at my ISU-fan friends and co-workers, but I really don’t mind them having some success on the football field from time to time.

But not this Saturday.

The trophy case in the Iowa football complex that is built to hold the various traveling trophies that the Hawkeyes play for is empty at the moment, with all three of them currently in the possession of various rivals. It’s time the Cy-Hawk Trophy resumes its rightful place in Iowa City.

It may feel a bit lonely for a while, but come September 29, after the Gophers have been sent packing, Floyd of Rosedale will be there to keep it company.

– JC

Twins 2013 Class A Affiliation Gets Muddied

These days, it’s not often that I go more than a couple of days without getting asked whether I think the Twins will be the Major League affiliate of my home town Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2013. When I’m not answering that question, I’m the one asking it of pretty much anyone I can think of who might have some insight.

At the beginning of August, I was telling people I thought it was about a 50-50 proposition. The Twins and Cedar Rapids make a lot of sense for a number of reasons on both sides. Then again, The Kernels have been affiliated with the Angels for 20 years and that’s a long relationship to walk away from. The Angels have been reported as having indicated a desire to keep the relationship going.

Between early August and a week ago, my hopes for a watching Twins prospects playing for my home town team kept going upward. In fact, just a week or so ago, I was 90% certain that the Twins would be sending their prospects through Cedar Rapids for the next several years.

I kept hearing that it was all but a lock. But I was remaining just cautiously optimistic because you just never know about these things. Weird stuff happens.

Sure enough, in the past week, weird stuff has happened. Stuff that is not good news for a potential Twins/Kernels relationship.

First, you need to understand a little bit about the baseball loyalties in the greater Cedar Rapids area. We sit less than a 5 hour drive from six MLB ballparks. The Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals and Royals are all about the same distance from CR, but the local loyalties are not at all equal.

First, among the group, are the Cubs and it’s really not all that close. Behind the Cubs, come the Cardinals, White Sox and Twins. Which order they fall in would be open to debate, but there’s a pretty strong base of fans for each organization in this area. Next, would easily be the Brewers and an argument could be made that they should be considered near-equals with the three teams above them. Finally, far at the bottom, would be the Royals. To find Royals caps and jerseys around town, you really have to be looking for them.

The Kernels clearly seem to have decided to look in to the possibility of aligning with one of the six MLB teams that are nearby geographically and, if so, have likely already informed the Angels of such. That would be the honorable thing to do, allowing a partner you’ve had a good relationship with to begin thinking about what their options might be on September 16, when teams can start negotiating with potential new affiliates.

A month ago, in looking at the six geographic fits for a new CR affiliate, you would immediately eliminate the White Sox, whose current affiliation with Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League is not up for renewal until 2014 and there’s no indication they won’t remain there in the future. Likewise, the Brewers are signed with with the Wisconsin (Appleton) Timber Rattlers through 2016. The Cardinals and Quad Cities were believed to be happy with one another and an extension was expected. Similarly, Kane County (Geneva IL) was believed to have a solid relationship with the Royals. There were some who weren’t sure the Cubs and Peoria were all that solid, but most people seemed to think they would end up renewing for two more years anyway.

That left the Twins, among the six closest MLB teams, for Cedar Rapids to partner with. It’s a natural fit, beyond just geography. The Kernels are very big on community involvement by their players, with programs in place with local schools, etc. The Twins are also well known for emphasizing community work among their players. It seemed like a match that could last a very long time, which is what the Kernels certainly should be looking for.

Then last week, it all blew up.

On Wednesday, August 22, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Gordon Wittenmyer reported that the Cubs were, “in the process of working out a player development agreement with the Kane County Cougars.”

That little ditty certainly must have set off alarm bells in a number of Midwest League offices and MLB team offices, not to mention the office of the Commissioner of Baseball.

First of all, under MLB Rule 56, teams aren’t allowed to even hint at a new affiliation with any team except the one they are currently working with until September 16. No negotiating, no public comments, nothing. If, indeed the Cubs and Cougars have been “negotiating,” that could cost the Cubs $500,000 and the Cougars $100,000 in fines. In any event, that article apparently caught the Cubs’ current affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, by surprise, as well as Kane County’s current affiliate, the Royals. Both of whom supposedly were expecting to renew their agreements with their current partners.

(Here, I must add, however, that if you’ve had all year to renew an agreement that you want to renew, but your business partner hasn’t done so… I think you probably shouldn’t be too surprised to find out he’s exploring other options.)

Here in Cedar Rapids, where a significant number of the BOD are rumored to be Cubs fans, the news signaled that, whether or not they end up in Kane County, the Cubs may very well be in play. If so, you’d think a large faction of the Board may be likely to want to explore a Cubs/Kernels affiliation.

Personally, I don’t think the Cubs would consider moving their MWL affiliate further away from Chicago. But even if we assume the Cubs do eventually move to the Chicago suburbs of Kane County, that would leave the Royals as another potential geographic fit for the Kernels, in addition to the Twins.

Still, the Board would be foolish to sign on with the Royals over the Twins, given the significantly larger local Twins fan base, right? Yes, except…

Did you happen to catch the news that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman dropped during a radio appearance a few days ago? He indicated that he expected news of approval of a new minor league stadium in St. Paul within the next two weeks. But he didn’t stop there. In addition to being the home of the independent (no MLB affiliations) Northwoods League’s CORRECTION: American Association’s St. Paul Saints, Coleman announced the stadium, which could be ready in 2 years, would meet MLB standards for Class A affiliates and he believed it could be used for both the Saints AND a potential Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.

St. Paul would fall a ways outside the existing MWL footprint and since existing MWL teams are guaranteed affiliations for as long as they maintain appropriate facilities and can stay financially viable, there are any number of reasons why a St. Paul MWL team might never happen. But it’s not impossible, so you’d better believe Mayor Coleman’s comments must have gotten the attention of people involved with the Kernels.

As demonstrated by their 20 year history with the Angels, Cedar Rapids is not likely to be interested in being any kind of two, or even four, year “stopgap” for the Twins before seeing them bolt for St. Paul. They should want another long-term relationship with an affiliate and, if so, you can be certain the Twins will be asked about their views on a potential move to St. Paul during their presentation in Cedar Rapids.

So how is this shaping up?

I still see the Cubs as a longshot in Cedar Rapids. They seem intent on moving closer to Chicago, not further away. Might they make a presentation to CR to deflect attention from their premature negotiations with Kane County? Sure. But if you’re a CR Board member I think you have to ask yourself if it’s a good fit. First, can you trust the Cubs not to go behind your back in a couple of years like they did with Peoria? Second, there are rumors that the Cubs require the local affiliate to pay their prospects for “community appearances.” That won’t fly in Cedar Rapids. Still… there may be people who would (foolishly, in my opinion) take the Cubs on any terms, even for just a couple of years.

I see the Twins as back to being a 50-50 proposition and maybe not that high. They are by far the best fit for Cedar Rapids, but if the Twins really are thinking that they would eventually like to place their MWL affiliate in St. Paul (and that may not be a bad decision on their part), I believe they are the kind of organization that would at least be honest with the Kernels in their presentation and admit that’s a reasonable possibility. If that is the case, I think that could chill interest on the part of the Kernels.

If the Cubs do move to Kane County, as it seems they’re intent on doing, and the Twins are not looking for a long-term partner, the Royals become the best bet for Cedar Rapids.

But if the Twins don’t land in Cedar Rapids, then where WOULD they set up shop in 2013?

If they think they’ve figured out a way to clear all the hurdles to get their team to St. Paul in two years, their best decision might be to stay in Beloit for a two-year extension. Otherwise, it sounds like Peoria might be the Twins only option, assuming they want to stay in the MWL’s Western Division. (I should note the Quad Cities and the Cardinals have not yet renewed, so QC could be in the mix, but the Twins relationship there did not end well eight years ago and new QC ownership may not be enough to interest the Twins in going back down that path.)

For months, any time officials of any minor league or Major League team have been asked about possible new affiliates, they’ve refused to go on the record with any predictions (except the Cubs and/or Cougars, apparently). After all the speculation, it looks like we’re all just going to have to wait another month to see where all the chips fall.

However, I’m REALLY bad at waiting, so you shouldn’t be surprised if this is not the last time I post on this topic.

– JC

A Long Weekend With the Snappers & Kernels

It seemed to me like the first game of this Snappers/Kernels series on Saturday night was a long one… and it was. The game took three hours and twenty minutes to play and since the Snappers pretty much dominated the entire game, on their way to a 13-2 rout of their hosts, there really wasn’t enough excitement to make the game feel like it was moving along.

Fortunately, I was in the “all you can eat and drink” picnic area, so I managed to stay well fed and well lubricated.

UPDATE: I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Horrorpants and his brother-in-law, who were down from the Twin Cities to check out the Snappers. You should go check out his Twins Daily blog post and his pictures from the night by clicking here.

Nate Roberts went 3-6 on Saturday night and three different Snappers (JD Williams, Tyler Grimes and Drew Leachman) hit home runs. Amazingly, Beloit scored 13 runs while their number 3 and 4 hitters, Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas, combined to go 0 for 10 on the night. Cole Johnson gave up 2 runs in his 5 innings of work. Corey Williams threw 3 shutout innings and DJ Baxendale finished off the night with a scoreless inning, as well.

Twins uber-prospect Miguel Sano was not in the lineup Saturday night, but he seemed healthy during pregame workouts, so there seemed little cause for concern. Sure enough, Sano returned to his spot at third base for the game Sunday afternoon.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Sano and Eddie Rosario in the field during the series to gauge how much they’ve progressed defensively. Through the first two games, however, Rosario hasn’t taken the field. He DH’d  on Saturday night and was not in the lineup Sunday.

I’ll say this about Sano, however. He made several plays in the field on Sunday that I don’t believe he would have been capable of making when I saw him here in Cedar Rapids back in April. He may never be another Brooks Robinson at third base, but he has improved this season. If he works hard and continues to improve every season, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him sticking at the hot corner by the time he’s playing ball at Target Field.

Sano was certainly an offensive star of the game on Sunday. He had four hits in six at-bats, including two doubles and his 27th home run. Vargas and Stephen Wickens both homered in the game, as well.

The game itself was one of the better games I’ve seen in person this season… and I arrived too late to see the first highlight of the afternoon. I was late getting to the ballpark and arrived during the top of the second inning. Moments before I arrived, Vargas got the Snappers on the board with a solo home run that cleared the top of the Kernels’ video board in right center field. I haven’t seen that done in the 11 years the Kernels have been playing in this version of Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The Snappers put up three runs off of Kernels starter Cam Bedrosian and continued to nick a string of relief pitchers. Snappers pitcher Jason Wheeler gave up four runs in his six innings of work before Mason Melotakis came on to throw 1.2 hitless innings. Melotakis was consistently hitting 94 mph according to the scoreboard speed sign. That sign has a reputation for being a bit over 1 mph slower than scouts’ speedguns. Zach Jones came on to relieve Melotakis and three a couple mph harder. Unfortunately for the Snappers, he lacked Melotakis’ control and ended up giving up three runs and sending the game in to extra innings.

Taylor Rogers went 2.1 innings without giving up a run to the Kernels as neither team could push a run across the plate in the 10th, 11th or 12th inning. In the 13th, Wickens lifted a fly ball to the outfield with Nate Roberts on third base. That’s when things got interesting. The throw was on target and beat Roberts to the plate, where Kernels catcher Zach Wright was blocking Roberts’ path… but the ball came out of Wright’s glove… but Roberts went over the top of Wright and never touched the plate… but it took a moment for Wright to get the ball back. Wright and Roberts did a little dance together as Wright attempted to tag Roberts and Roberts attempted to get a toe on the plate. In the end, umpire Dustin Klinghagen declared Roberts safe and the Snappers had the lead.

The weirdness that inning did not stop there. With JD Williams at 3B, the Kernels pitched around Sano, walking him to bring up Kennys Vargas. On a full count, Sano broke for 2B, Vargas struck out and Wright threw to second, attempting to throw Sano out. Williams broke for home, the throw to 2B was cut off and thrown home, nailing Williams at the plate, for one of the more peculiar “strike em out, throw em out” double play I’ve ever seen.

In the 13th inning Tim Atherton  walked Wright to start the inning and then threw two wild pitches, moving Wright to 3B. One out later, Drew Martinez singled in the tying run and stole second base. From there, he scored on an Alex Yarbrough walk-off single, giving the Kernels the 9-8 win.

The game, which started a half hour late due to rain, took 4:19 to play.

Quite a game… quite a weekend. And there are two more games left in this series.

With that, I leave you with a few pictures from my weekend at the ballpark.

Some of the Snappers indulge a game of “pepper” prior to Saturday night’s game.

Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium from the left field picnic area

Pitcher Jason Wheeler and third baseman Miguel Sano

Kernels pitcher Cam Bedrosian, son of former MLB pitcher Steve Bedrosian

Jason Wheeler

Snappers first baseman Drew Leachman

On Sunday, Eddie Rosario got a day off, but did coach first base.

Snappers relief pitcher Mason Melotakis

JD Williams in left field

Shortstop Stephen Wickens flashes a sign to his middle infield partner

Zach Jones was hitting 96 mph

Leadoff hitter Nate Roberts

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez

Relief pitcher Taylor Rogers

Miguel Sano looks more comfortable at 3B to me.

Kennys Vargas went very, very deep in the 2nd inning.

The scoreboard tells the story at the end. Oh… and Vargas’ home run cleared the “Perfect Game Field” sign at the top of the scoreboard, which is set several feet behind the 390 ft wall.

I also had a few conversations this weekend with various, “sources close to the Kernels,” as they say in the trade, about the upcoming discussions between the Kernels and various potential MLB affiliates. But we’ll talk about all of that in another post, another time. :)

– JC

Minor Leagues: It’s Nothing Minor Behind the Scenes

Regular readers of our site are probably aware that I’m a Twins fan exiled in Iowa. While I spent 10 years of my youth growing up in Minnesota, I’ve lived almost all of my life since then in Iowa and I currently call Cedar Rapids “home.” In fact, I’ve lived here in Cedar Rapids for pretty much the past 35 years.

This is Part 2 of my 2-part series focused on the Cedar Rapids Kernels (the Angels’ Class A Midwest League affiliate). In yesterday’s Part 1, I covered a bit of the local team’s history and mentioned many of the future Major Leaguers I’ve watched on the field as they suited up for Cedar Rapids, as well as many others that called the old Veterans Stadium their summer home during the storied history of the organization.

In Part 2, we’re focusing on the present and, more specifically, what goes on behind the scenes of a minor league organization.

Many of us think we may know something about how a Major League team is run, even if all we know is what we saw from Brad Pitt’s portrayal of A’s GM Billy Beane in the movie “Moneyball”. But if any of us think running a minor league team is remotely similar, we couldn’t be more wrong.

Cedar Rapids Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson recently agreed to answer some of my questions about his organization and I found his answers to be enlightening.

Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs: You probably don’t realize it, Doug, but you’ve got what a lot of people (myself included) might consider a “dream job.” You get to spend your day working at a ballpark! I’m sure it looks a lot different to you from the inside, so maybe you could start by telling us a little bit about what all the General Manager of a minor league baseball team does. How do you spend your “typical day”?

Doug Nelson: My typical game day starts at 7:30 am checking and returning messages and reviewing customer survey results and financial reports from the previous night’s game. I meet with staff to discuss the results and to make sure we are ready for that night’s game. The balance of the morning and early afternoon is spent meeting with sponsors, speaking at community events or planning non-baseball extra events at the stadium.       

Kernels GM Doug Nelson (standing) chats with fans during a recent game

By mid-afternoon,  I switch into game mode. I check in with both teams’ managers and the umpires to see if they need anything and to inform them of any special promotions going on during the game. Two hours before game time, we conduct an entertainment meeting to review the game’s pregame activities and the inning break promotions.   

Once gates open,  I monitor the box office, souvenir store, concession stands and our ushers to insure everything is running smoothly. I spend a majority of the game thanking our sponsors and fans for their support and taking care of any issues. At the end of the game, I make sure our fans have safely left the ballpark, discuss any challenges that occurred during the game with the front office staff and by 11:00 to midnight I leave for home.

Knuckleballs: How does it differ when the Kernels are on the road?

Nelson: When the team is on the road, we are busy hosting non-Kernels events at the stadium. These events include: college and high school baseball games, concerts, MMA events, non-profit fundraiser walks and events, business meetings, catering events (weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, etc.) and corporate picnics. Each year we host over 100 non-Kernels events at the stadium. 

Knuckleballs: What about during the off-season or during spring training?

Nelson: During the off-season, the entire front office staff become sales reps. This is the time that we sell 90% of our sponsorships and ticket packages for the upcoming season.   We also spend a considerable amount of time planning promotions, daily specials and booking entertainment acts. We also operate the concessions at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and the Iowa Equestrian Center, which are the busiest during our off-season (from October through March).

Midwest Dueling Pianos perform during a recent Kernels game

Knuckleballs: Tell us a bit about yourself and your staff. What’s your background and what do you see as the GM’s primary role with the Kernels?

Nelson: I’m a CPA and have a BBA and MBA from the University of Iowa. My background is in accounting/finance and administration. Since the LA Angels make all of the baseball personnel decisions, my job is really about running an entertainment venue and concentrating my efforts on insuring our fans have a great experience while attending Kernels games.

Knuckleballs: How many people do you have working for you in the organization and what kind of responsibilities do they have?

Nelson: We  have 11 full time staff,  2 full time seasonal, 6 interns and over 300 part-time staff.

The full time and seasonal staff members include:

Doug Nelson, General Manager
Scott Wilson, Assistant General Manager
Andrea Murphy, Director of Tickets and Group Sales
Andrew Pantini, I/T and Communications Manager
Debra Maier, Director of Food and Beverage
Brandon Clemens, Entertainment and Community Relations Manager
Brett Heikkila, Head Chef
Jessica Fergesen, Director of Corporate Sales and Marketing
Morgan Hawk, Radio Play-By-Play Broadcaster and Sales
Charlie Patrick, Director of Finance
Marcia Moran, Receptionist
Seth Dohrn, Stadium Operations Manager (seasonal)
Jesse Roeder, Sports Turf Manager (seasonal)

Knuckleballs: How does one go about getting a job working for you and the Kernels? Do you look for particular backgrounds/degrees?

Nelson: For part-time positions, an employment application can be downloaded from our web site www.kernels.com  Applicants interested in full time and intern positions should send a resume and cover letter to the Kernels at doug@kernels.com.

I do not concentrate on any one type of background or degree. What is more important is that the individual has successfully completed an internship in baseball. The decision to work in this sport is as much a life style decision as a career decision. During the season, the staff will routinely work 70 – 80 hour weeks. Before an individual accepts a full time position, they and their families must accept this reality of our business.

Kernels Spirit Squad members “shoot” T-shirts in to the crowd between innings

Knuckleballs: Major League teams have a variety of revenue streams, with media deals becoming a bigger factor all the time. I assume a minor league team like the Kernels still must live and die with attendance and revenue from concessions that are also determined by the number of people who show up for games. Clearly, that means you need to be able to draw fans, regardless of the team’s Win-Loss record. How do you make sure fans still want to come to the ballpark even when the team is struggling on the field?

Nelson: A majority of our revenues do come from our baseball operations. Although the team’s record does impact attendance, weather, exciting promotions and providing excellent customer service have a greater impact on attendance. We do rely on other sources of income to supplement our baseball operations. This includes running the concession for the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and the Iowa Equestrian Center as well as for the Kernels. As I mentioned before, we host over 100 non-Kernels events at the stadium each year, which helps generate additional income for the ball club.

Knuckleballs: This time of year, a MLB General Manager must be on his phone pretty much every minute of the day talking to other GMs about trades, etc. You don’t need to do that, but do you interact much with the other Midwest League General Managers or those of other Angels affiliates?

Nelson: A minor league GM position is completely different from a MLB GM. Since I have no say regarding player movement, my time is spent managing the venue and game promotions. With that said, I talk to my fellow MWL GMs on a regular basis sharing ideas.   

Left Field picnic area of Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium

Knuckleballs: The stadium in Cedar Rapids is now just a bit over a decade old. It seems to be holding up fairly well, but logic would tell us that it’s probably due for some upgrades and maybe even some significant repairs. How does that process work? Is that the kind of thing you have to go to the local governmental body (city council, in Cedar Rapids’ case) to get funding for or does the team need to use their own funds for that kind of thing?

Nelson: It’s hard to believe, but this is the eleventh season for the ballpark. Overall the stadium is in great shape, however we are working on putting together a plan to fund capital repairs over the next ten years. The Kernels are the sole tenant of the stadium, the City owns the facility and the Veterans Commission owns the property the stadium is built on. As a three party partnership, we have created a long-term plan to insure the stadium is maintained and continues to meet our needs for many years to come.  

Knuckleballs: I believe you’re finishing up your second year as the Kernels’ GM. I’d be interested in knowing what you’ve found to be your favorite part of the job. Also, has anything really surprised you… maybe something you had NO idea you’d be dealing with when you took the job?

Nelson: My favorite part of the job is talking baseball with our fans and sponsors during the game. I always enjoy getting to know the players, coaches and umpires. The biggest surprise to me was how cooperative everyone is in minor league baseball. Minor League Baseball Clubs do not view themselves as competitors, but as colleagues.  As such, I can call any team up and get help on any topic.

Knuckleballs: Thank you, Doug. I appreciate you taking time out of that busy schedule to answer my questions!

I don’t know about anyone else, but that “70-80 hours” thing pretty much put to rest the “dream job” idea I started this interview with! I can say, however, that Doug and his staff do a great job with the Kernels and their hard work is evident every time I’m at the ballpark!

– JC

Minor Leagues: Seeing Stars Before They’re Stars

Regular readers of our site are probably aware that I’m a Twins fan exiled in Iowa. While I spent 10 years of my youth growing up in Minnesota, I’ve lived almost all of my life since then in Iowa and I currently call Cedar Rapids “home.” In fact, I’ve lived here in Cedar Rapids for pretty much the past 35 years.

When it comes to my baseball fandom, I’m also more than just a Twins fan (and no, I’m not referring to the soft spot I retain for the Baltimore Orioles). I’m also a fan of our local Cedar Rapids minor league ballclub, the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series focused on the Kernels. In this post, I’ll review the organization’s history. In Part 2, I’ll share an interview of Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson, who gives us a glimpse behind the scenes in to the inner workings of a minor league ballclub.

Photo: Kernels.com

The Cedar Rapids Baseball Club has a long, rich history dating back as far as 1890. They’ve been the Bunnies, the Rabbits, the Raiders (and Red Raiders) and the Rockets. They’ve also taken the name of their MLB affiliates, including the Indians, Braves, Cardinals, Astros, Giants and Reds. Currently, the Kernels are affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

John McGraw played professionally here in 1891. Lou Boudreau did likewise in 1938. In fact, if you visit Perfect Game Field at Veterans Stadium in Cedar Rapids, you’ll see “stars” in the concrete of the concourse and “section” signs, both honoring a long list of Big Leaguers that spent time on the ballfield playing for Cedar Rapids. In addition to Boudreau and McGraw, you’ll find Allie Reynolds, Rocky Colavito, John Rosboro, Pedro Borbon, Jerry Reuss, Ted Simmons and Bob Forsch, among many others. You can visit the club’s Hall of Fame, within the souvenir shop at the stadium. There’s also a terrific display of historical old uniforms, press clippings and equipment on the suite level.

The “old” Veterans Memorial Stadium, replaced in 2002 (Photo: ballparkreviews.com)

I’m old, but I haven’t been around long enough to have seen any of those players during their days here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my share of Major Leaguers on the green grass of Cedar Rapids.

I’ve been attending minor league games here for over 30 years. The first summer I lived in Cedar Rapids, I watched an 18 year old Chili Davis play for the Cedar Rapids Giants. By 1980, they were the Cedar Rapids Reds and a 20 year old Les Straker was on the mound. (Seven years later, Straker would be in the rotation of the 1987 World Champion Minnesota Twins). The Reds organization was actually pretty good to Cedar Rapids. They considered Cedar Rapids their “Advanced Class A” affiliate, so the team was competitive more often than not.

The 1982 Reds were led by Jeff Jones, who hit 42 home runs and batted over .300. Jones jumped all the way to Cincinnati by Opening Day 1983. You may not remember Jones, but you probably are familiar with a couple of his team mates on that ’82 Cedar Rapids team, Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill. Reggie Jefferson spent the following year in Cedar Rapids. Rob Dibble entertained the locals in 1985 and Trevor Hoffman honed his talents while racking up 12 saves for Cedar Rapids in 1991.

Erick Aybar (Photo: Sproutingnews.com)

The team became the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 1993 and hooked up with the Angels the same year. Since then, we’ve seen a 19 year old Bengie Molina in 1994 and part of 1995. John Lackey put up a 2.08 ERA in his five starts as a 21 year old Kernel in 2000. The 2001 Kernels had six members that have gone on to MLB careers of some manner, including Mike Napoli, Bobby Jenks and Joel Peralta. Napoli and Peralta returned to Cedar Rapids in 2002 and were joined by ten other future Big Leaguers, including Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman. 19 year old Erick Aybar hit .308 for the Kernels in 2003, but Alberto Callaspo’s .327 led that team.

In 2004, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood were joined for a late season call-up by 19 year old Alexi Casilla. Casilla started 2005 with the Kernels as well, but spent time that year in Class A, AA and AAA within the Angels organization. He would eventually be traded to the Twins for relief pitcher J. C. Romero.

Mark Trumbo (Photo: Sproutingnews.com)

In 2006, Mark Trumbo hit 13 home runs at age 19 for a team led on the mound by another 19 year old, Nick Adenhart, who went 10-2 with a 1.95 ERA. (A memorial sign, honoring the memory of the late Adenhart remains on the outfield wall of the Kernels’ ballpark.) Trumbo returned to Cedar Rapids in 2007 and brought current Angels Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos with him (at least they’re current Angels as I write this… both are being mentioned often in trade rumors lately).

Toward the end of 2009, the Angels promoted a young 17 year old outfielder to the Kernels where he appeared in just five games, but it wouldn’t be until the following year that Mike Trout would really open the eyes of fans in Cedar Rapids with his .362/.454/.526 split in 81 games as an 18 year old.

Just as an aside, fans of minor league teams don’t always have to wait until a young player makes it to the Big Leagues before seeing their names come up on ESPN. For example, the Angels acquired Zack Greinke from the Brewers on Friday in return for three prospects (Jean Segura, John Hellwig and Ariel Pena) and all of them were team mates of Mike Trout’s on the 2010 Kernels. Maybe Greinke will lead the Angels to the World Series this fall or maybe he won’t, but Segura, Hellwig and Pena are all very good ballplayers and at some point I believe the Brewers will be very glad they made that deal.

As you can tell, I’ve seen a few pretty fair ballplayers over the years, but none of them were as impressive, to me, during their days in Cedar Rapids as Trout was.

I may never see talent like that on the field in a Cedar Rapids uniform again… then again, I might. That’s one of the joys of attending the games. Sure, we want the Kernels to win. It’s great to make the playoffs and you certainly enjoy the games more when the locals are at least competitive.

But there’s something that’s just fun about watching young players who are often still just starting out on their professional baseball careers, beginning what every one of them dreams of being a process that will lead them to The Show. They’re playing for the dream (it certainly isn’t for the money they’re getting paid as minor leaguers).

The Kernels’ Player Development Contract with the Angels is up for renewal after this season. There’s some discussion locally about whether the Kernels should renew that agreement or look to partner with a different Major League organization. Obviously, I’d certainly love to see perhaps Max Kepler and Byron Buxton in Kernels uniforms in the near future, but regardless of how the PDC decision goes, I’ll continue to enjoy spending a lot of time at the ballpark watching some very good baseball next summer and, hopefully, for many more summers beyond that.

If you’ve got a minor league team near you, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about because you probably spend as much time at the ballpark as I do, if not more. If there’s a club near you and you aren’t getting out there, what are you waiting for?

– JC

Minor Leagues: Let the Affiliation Dance Begin

I’ve been much better this season about limiting my posts to 1200-1300 words. This one, however, is a return to the days of much longer tomes. I apologize in advance to those of you with shorter attention spans. – JC

Some who follow the Twins minor league affiliates were at least somewhat surprised this past week when the Twins announced they had renewed their Player Development Contract (PDC) with AA affiliate New Britain CT. The Rock Cats will remain the home of the Twins’ AA players for at least the next two years. PDCs are entered in to for an even number of years, so two years is the shortest contract the two organizations could have agreed upon. I guess you could say the extension isn’t exactly indicative of the two sides making a mutual long term commitment.

The Rock Cats have had a pretty good year, at least compared to their parent organization. Through Saturday, they had a 56-44 record that the Twins themselves should be jealous of and were just 2.5 games behind the Eastern Division leading Trenton Thunder. They also had a 4.5 game lead over the third place Reading Phillies. That’s important to the Rock Cats because the top two teams in each division qualify for the Eastern League playoffs.

Of course, from the perspective of the parent organization (and most of their fans), winning games and making minor league playoffs is of secondary concern. The primary purpose of the minor leagues is to develop talent that can eventually be of use at the Major League level. But if you don’t think winning games plays a role when it comes to renewing PDCs, you clearly do not live in a community with a minor league ballclub. To the owners and management of those minor league teams, who rely almost exclusively on putting butts in the seats in order to make financial ends meet, winning does matter.

To that end, fielding a competitive team in a PDC renewal year is certainly not a bad idea if you want to maintain your relationship with a community. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that New Britain has gone from perhaps the most likely Twins affiliate to explore other options to being the first affiliate to sign on for another two-year term within the time it took to put a team on the field capable of being 12 games over .500 as they near the final month of their season.

But the Cats are not the only Twins affiliate with an expiring PDC after this season. The Twins’ agreements are also up with their AAA affiliate in Rochester NY, their Class A-Advanced affiliate in Ft. Myers FL and their Class A affiliate in Beloit WI. It’s pretty safe to say that the Ft. Myers Miracle will be remaining affiliated with the Twins, since they’re a “complex affiliate” that calls the Twins’ Spring Training complex their home, but the other two situations are not nearly as locked down.

The Rochester situation is interesting. The Red Wings and their fans take a lot of pride in their team and they don’t suffer poor results well. And suffer they have, lately. Both in 2010 and 2011, the Wings were downright awful. They were so bad in 2010 that a vocal part of their fan base were upset that the decision makers signed on for another two years with the Twins. Red Wings management were rewarded for their loyalty with a second consecutive 90+ loss season in 2011. Given the lower number of games played in the minor leagues, that’s pretty comparable to two consecutive 99+ loss seasons at the Big League level. (Sound familiar to anyone?)

The Red Wings got off to another poor start in 2012, so you can imagine how local sentiment for dumping the Twins has grown. A recent hot streak had the Red Wings up to a .500 record at 50-50 through Saturday, but they were still in fifth place, 5.5 games behind the North Division leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (who, coincidentally, have been playing many of their “home” games at Rochester’s Frontier Field while their own home stadium undergoes major renovations this summer). They were also five games out of the International League’s Wild Card spot. That may not seem like a lot, but that still left five teams they would have to pass to make the IL playoffs as the Wild Card.

Nonetheless, the Twins have made an effort to field a more competitive team in Rochester this year and they brought in a new manager, Gene Glynn, who’s more popular with the locals. Is it enough to keep the Twins and Red Wings tied together for at least two more years? Maybe. There simply is not usually a lot of movement of affiliations at the AAA level and both parties have to be a little careful about rushing to end the arrangement. Either (or both) could end up finding themselves in even worse situations.

Beloit is a bit of a different situation. Beloit would do cartwheels to retain their PDC affiliation with the Twins. The Snappers are not off to a very good start in the second half of their Midwest League season, but they finished second in the Western Division in the first half, which assures them a spot in the MWL playoffs. (MWL seasons are divided in to two halves, with the division winners and runners-up in each half qualifying for the playoffs.) But on-field success isn’t the main reason Beloit’s anxious to re-up with the Twins.

Beloit, while being the home of MWL executive offices, has what are widely considered the worst facilities in the league. Their stadium has been in need of replacement for years and the organization has simply not been able to get public support to do what’s necessary. Two years ago, plans were pitched for a new facility but, like prior attempts, they were never approved. Some reports now indicate the club may have better luck with a proposal to renovate. Their stadium issues would likely make attracting a new MLB affiliate challenging, so say the least.

But would poor facilities be enough motivation for the Twins to walk away from their eight-year relationship with Beloit? In a word, yes. In fact, the lack of progress on an appropriate stadium were reported to be the reason the Milwaukee Brewers opted to move their MWL affiliation out of Beloit after the 2004 season. Major League teams do, in fact, care about the facilities that their young prospects call home. They want to make sure the fields are maintained in a first rate manner and that clubhouses and training facilities are at least adequate, if not well above that standard.

Unlike the situation with AAA organizations, it’s far more common for Class A organizations to switch affiliations. In fact, reports I’ve seen indicate 12 of the 16 Midwest League teams have expiring PDCs after the 2012 season and Twins senior director of minor league operations Jim Rantz told the Pioneer Press that he expects 8-9 of those teams to actually make changes. I’ll be surprised if the Twins aren’t one of those teams looking for another MWL home.

I’ve made no secret of my wish that the Twins hook up with my local team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, but there’s no assurance the Kernels will enter the pool of teams open to exploring a new PDC parner. The Kernels have been an Angels affiliate for 20 years and although it’s not unusual for AA and AAA relationships to run that long and even much longer, the Kernels and Angels have the longest running relationship in the Midwest League. While the Kernels haven’t had a bunch of Championship titles to show for the relationship, the Angels have been pretty good about sending most of their top prospects through Cedar Rapids for at least half a season.

Kernels GM Doug Nelson (right) chats with Angels GM Jerry Dipoto at a recent Kernels game

Still, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, there’s a growing sentiment among the fan base in Cedar Rapids (and, rumor has it, among some of the club’s governing Board of Directors, which serves as essentially the “owners” of the Kernels) that it’s time for a change. There’s a sense that it would be nice to have an affiliation with one of the midwestern MLB ballclubs, so local fans could better follow the prospects that come through town all the way to the Big Club. Of course, the fact that the Kernels finished 7th out of the eight-team Western Division of the MWL in the first half of the season and have dropped in to the cellar in the second half might have something to do with the fan sentiment, too.

It would make sense from the Twins’ perspective, as well, in the following ways:

  • Cedar Rapids is the closest MWL community to the Twins Cities. No, players do not routinely get called up from Class A to the Twins, so that’s not an issue. But it’s not at all unusual for MWL teams to be used for rehab assignments by their nearby Big League affiliates and front office types do routinely make trips. (In fact, there have been almost annual Terry Ryan sightings in Cedar Rapids, both during his time as a “senior adviser” and as Twins GM.) Though CR isn’t THAT much closer to Target Field than Beloit, if you’ve ever had cause to try to fly between those locations, there’s a significant difference.
  • Veterans Memorial Stadium is just over a decade old. It could no doubt use some remodeling, but it’s a far cry better than what Twins prospects currently call home in Beloit. Not only that, but Perfect Game (the national amateur scouting service) training facilities are about a block away from the stadium and my understanding is that Kernels players have access to PG’s facilities, perhaps as part of the naming rights deal the organizations have (the formal name of the ballpark is “Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium”).
  • All of Iowa is considered part of the Twins home market, yet FSN isn’t carried by the primary cable providers in Eastern Iowa. Nor is there even a radio station in the area that carries Twins broadcasts. The reason is that, while there’s a solid, loyal base of Twins fans in the area, that base is not as large as it could be… or as it should be. A Twins affiliation with the Kernels would almost certainly change this situation as Kernels fans become Twins fans. The Twins would, over time, see far more group sales from this area as fans travel up to see former Kernels at Target Field.

It makes sense for both organizations. So why don’t the Twins and Kernels just sit down and come to an agreement? Well, as is often the case when you’re talking about professional baseball rules, it’s really just not quite that easy.

Under the rules of MLB and Minor League Baseball (MiLB), existing affiliated teams can negotiate extensions any time they’re mutually inclined to do so, just as the Twins and Rock Cats did recently. But if either party to an existing PDC wants to explore other options, they must wait until a specified window of time to declare their desire to explore other options. New PDC agreements can then be negotiated and entered in to beginning September 16 (any private or public statements about possible interest in another affiliate prior to that date earns hefty fines for the clubs deemed guilty of such “tampering”). Clubs have just two weeks to find a new dance partner, however, because agreements need to be executed by September 30. After that date, any MLB or MiLB clubs without an agreement will be matched up and assigned an affiliation by agreement between the MLB Commisioner and the MiLB President. (Honestly, how many of you would want Bud Selig to be deciding who your affiliate would be?)

Nobody wants that to happen, but it’s not all that rare, either. While the Twins would likely have no problem finding a soft landing spot for their Class A affiliation, the AAA situation could be more dicey. Then again, the relatively small number of MLB teams likely to look for a new AAA partner could make the Red Wings’ management group think twice about whether they can really improve their situation or whether they might end up with an even worse result than sticking with the Twins for another couple of years. After all, in theory, some of those Rock Cats that are having a successful season in New Britain this year should find their way to Rochester next season, right?

So the question is whether the good folks who run the Red Wings are willing to take that chance.

Twins GM Terry Ryan during a recent visit to Cedar Rapids

In the end, I’ll guess that Rochester and the Twins extend their agreement for another two years. I’ll also go with my heart, rather than my head, and predict a Twins move to Cedar Rapids for their Class A affiliation. I readily admit that there’s at best a 50-50 chance that the Kernels will end their relationship with the Angles (Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was in CR last week to make a pitch to continue their affiliation) and it’s no sure-thing that the Twins would step in even if the Kernels and Angels divorce. That makes it far less than 50-50 that my wishes come true, but right now I’ll take those odds.

– JC

Everyone Needs a Break

Considering the lack of any games of real importance going on in Major League Baseball at the moment, there sure seems to be a lot of “stuff” flying around the perimeter of the game, agitating the media which, in turn, agitates the masses (or is it the other way around? I’m honestly not sure).

I’ve tried to get fired up about some of it or at least interested enough to give a damn about any of it, but it’s just not happening. But I’ve been embarrassingly absent as a contributing member of this group of bloggers lately, so I’m determined to say SOMETHING about at least a few of the items that have passed for “news” in and around the Twins and the rest of MLB the past few days.

R.A. Dickey’s snub

Dickey deserved to be the starting pitcher for the National League in the All Star Game. He knows it. So does Tony LaRussa. So does Buster Posey, the catcher that the voters erroneously voted to start behind the plate for the NL.  He deserves to start more than Matt Cain does. Even Matt Cain knows it and apparently said so out loud. In fact Dickey deserves to start more than Posey does, but that’s immaterial, I guess.

He’s not starting for one reason and one reason only. He throws an 80 mph knuckleball. Posey has seen it as a hitter, I would imagine, and since he’s apparently never caught even a 60 mph amateur version of a knuckleball, he’s none too anxious to learn how to catch Dickey’s for the first time in front of 40,000 fans and at least a handful of people who tune in to watch the ASG on TV.

As a former knuckleballer myself (though I doubt mine ever even reached the 60 mph level), I should be outraged at the injustice of this discrimination against Dickey. But I’m just not. Hopefully, he got to spend some time yesterday working in the bullpen with one of the NL’s catchers so neither party gets embarrassed out there when Dickey inevitably enters the game.

I’m really happy for the guy because he’s a great story, but I just can’t get worked up about the fact that he’s not starting the game.

Reggie’s dis of Bert, Puck and other Hall Members

I really stopped caring what Reggie Jackson said about anything the day he became a Yankee, but if there was one of these items that did get under my skin a bit, it was Jackson spouting off about how certain recent Hall of Famers didn’t deserve the honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown. The first Tweets I saw indicated he specifically referred to Bert Blyleven and Kirby Puckett. The next Tweet I saw pointed out that Reggie’s results when facing Bert in their careers were… well let’s just say that Reggie didn’t get to Cooperstown based on how he hit against Blyleven.

Bert Blyleven

Eventually I saw that Bert himself Tweeted that Jackson had called to apologize, relying on the old, “my comments were taken out of context,” line of BS. But whatever, at least the guy apologized. He apparently did likewise to others that he lumped in to the “unworthy” category. Again, however, I just couldn’t get too worked up over this. After all, as much as I loved both Puckett and Blyleven as players, I have to admit that their on-field HOF credentials were both marginal, so while Jackson should probably keep that kind of opinion to himself, he’s entitled to it and it’s not an altogether unreasonable opinion. I don’t think the BBWAA gets it right all the time, either, and I’m actually a “big Hall” guy.

I did care enough, however, to seek out the actual SI article that the quotes came from. I came away thinking that it’s really too bad he said the stuff he said about the HOF, because the rest of the article is very good. Ironically, the underlying theme of the article is how Reggie has changed and no longer prone to making outlandish comments and feeding an oversized ego.  Then he has to go and say that he’s going to get up in front of the HOF dinner next year and tell the other members that they all need to do something about keeping guys like Puckett, Blyleven, and others, out of their club in the future. It’s a shame.

Now we read that he’s been invited to stay away from Yankee Stadium for daring to say that A-Rod’s accomplishments are tainted because he admitted to using PEDs. Again, should he have given that quote, considering he’s still collecting a “special assistant” check from the Yankees? No. But he’s not exactly alone on an island with that opinion.

Anyway, it all just seems like more drama than it really should be.

Royals fans dis Cano

Speaking of things that are made bigger than they should be, apparently thin skinned Yankee fans took a major exception to the way the Kansas City crowd treated Robinson Cano during the Home Run Derby Monday night. Fans booed Cano loudly when he was introduced, mostly because after originally publicly stating that putting Royal Billy Butler on the Derby team would be the right thing to do, he changed his mind and didn’t select him after all. Of course, I think just the fact that he’s a Yankee makes him worthy of a pretty loud boo, but maybe Kansas Citians need more than that.

Anyway, not only did they boo him beforehand, but lustily cheered every “out” Cano made when the defending Derby champ came to the plate for his cuts in the first round. They got lots of opportunities to cheer, too, because Cano got completely shut out. No home runs in 10 cuts. With his dad pitching to him.

Anyway, Yankee fans apparently lit up Twitter with comments bashing KC fans’ treatment of Cano. I guess it’s easy to see why they’d be upset, though. After all Yankee fans are generally so well known for how politely they treat players of other teams, right? I guess the rest of us are all just supposed to acknowledge that anyone associated with the F’ing Yankees is entitled to be shown due respect.

Yeah, this is another not-so-big deal to me. Get over it and move on.

Prince Fielder wins the HR Derby

Yeah, I enjoyed watching the Derby. Prince Fielder can hit a baseball a LONG way. I also love the remodel job done on the stadium in Kansas City and it remains very high up on my list of favorite ballparks, so I enjoyed seeing it host the event. But neither the Derby nor the winner matter to me at all.

Mauer the lone Twins representative at the ASG

I’ve covered this before. Mauer deserves to be at the ASG, in fact the voters screwed up voting Ranger Mike Napoli as the starting catcher. I’d have liked to see Josh Willingham go, but there are just a lot of All Star worthy outfielders and very few catchers. And when you’re on a team that appears headed to its second consecutive 90+ loss season, you probably will just get one representative. Joe was the correct choice and anyone who doesn’t think so, while entitled to their opinion, is simply wrong.

By the way, Napoli is one of THREE former Cedar Rapids Kernels on the AL All Star Game roster. Napoli joins two other former Kernels (both now with the parent Angels) Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout. Trumbo represented well in the Derby Monday night and Trout is… well… if you don’t know who Mike Trout is, then you clearly care less about Major League Baseball than I care about the Home Run Derby.

Home Field Advantage

It’s been a decade now since the infamous tie game that led Bud Selig to decide that the ASG should matter more and declared that the winning league’s representative in the World Series would have home field advantage.

Bud Selig

I swear I have heard this thing bashed on every sports talk show for a week. I feel like I should care, but I don’t. It’s not a perfect solution to the trend of these games becoming poorly played and poorly managed exhibitions, but after the sham of a Pro-Bowl the NFL put on a few months ago, MLB needs to make sure the game counts for something if they want players to give any kind of effort whatsoever… or even bother to show up.

And at least it gives me another excuse to post my favorite Bud Selig picture of all time.

That’s it… enjoy the All Star Game if you care to watch it. If not, hold on tight and we’ll begin the second “half” of this exciting Minnesota Twins season in a few days!

–          JC