Snappers Pay a Visit to CR

One of the great things about baseball is that at every game you go to, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see or experience something for the first time. My trip to Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids Saturday night was a prime example.

BJ Hermsen

The Twins’ low Class A affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are making their first of two trips to Cedar Rapids this weekend to take on the Kernels (affiliates of the Angels). Both teams are over .500 so far this season, so the series has some potential. Added to that, the Snappers’ starting pitcher Saturday was BJ Hermsen, a “local boy” from Masonville, Iowa (about an hour from CR).

The game started out routine enough… the Snappers scored first with an unearned run in the second inning, before Hermsen got touched for a two-run HR by Kernels’ 3B Jeremy Cruz in the bottom half of the inning.

Michael Gonzales, the Beloit 1B, put his team back ahead in the 3rd inning with a two-run HR of his own. Gonzales launched a line drive over the 400 foot sign in dead center field. It was an impressive HR, but not even close to the most impressive HR I’ve seen Gonzales hit here in CR. I saw him jerk one down the RF line last summer that I think might still be in orbit.

The 3-2 lead lasted just until the 4th inning when things got a bit interesting, on a number of fronts. Hermsen started struggling a bit, giving up four consecutive base hits and a long SAC fly, all of which resulted in three Kernel runs. But Hermsen survived the inning and actually pitched two more innings, facing the minimum of six hitters in those innings.

But the damage had been done and by the 5th inning, the Snappers had Martire Garcia loosening up in the bullpen. From our seats in the first row, just to the outfield side of the Snappers’ dugout, my son and I had a good view of Garcia as he warmed up, just to our left. The bullpens here are in the field of play (like the old Metrodome bullpens), and we laughed a bit about how parents were taking some chances letting their kids lean against the wall right next to where Garcia was warming up, because he was, shall we say, not finding the catchers mitt consistently.

Well, the next thing I know, with my attention turned back to the hitter, I feel something smack me in my left arm. Yes, one of those wild warm up pitches jumped the wall and hit me in the arm. See? There’s always something new at every game… I had never had that happen before!

But the baseball gods had my back. Garcia entered the game to start the bottom of the 7th inning and had barely thrown a pitch when the lights went dark… all of them. Another “first” for me at the ballpark!

It takes a while for lights to come back on, apparently, and that meant about a half hour “break in the action”. When play resumed, Garcia promptly walked the first hitter he faced. In fact, he walked two of the first three hitters he faced… which certainly didn’t surprise me.

Andy Leer

But Garcia struck out the fourth hitter of the inning and with Kernels at 2nd and 3rd base, the Snappers’ lone outstanding defensive highlight of the evening bailed Garcia out. Third baseman Andrew Leer may have had a tough night at the plate (never getting the ball out of the infield in four ABs), but he did a terrific Brooks Robinson impression on a hot smash down the line by the Kernels’ Cruz. Leer dove straight to his right to snag the shot, then jumped up and made a terrific one-hop throw to 1B, which Gonzales picked up perfectly to retire Cruz.

The Snappers ended up dropping the game 5-3 on what turned out to be a longer, chillier, evening than I expected to spend at the ballpark, but it was well worth it. I won’t be seeing Sunday afternoon’s game, but I’m planning on playing hooky from work Monday afternoon to catch the series finale. Hopefully, the weather will be a bit warmer and the Snappers a bit more successful!

- JC

 

A Snapper Weekend

As I mentioned in my little essay about minor league baseball on Saturday, the Twins’ Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are in Cedar Rapids taking on the Kernels in a four game series that runs through Tuesday. I’ve been to the first two games of the series, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping to get out to the Tuesday game, as well. Monday’s game is a noon start so that would could be a bit iffy. (The blogging gig hasn’t blossomed to the point where I can quit my day job… yet.)

Saturday night, I was at the game with family and friends and friends of family, so the social aspect was fine. It was a pleasant enough evening, just a bit on the humid side, but nothing compared to what it was a week or so ago (or what it would be on Sunday). But the game itself was among the more difficult professional games to watch I’ve been to in a while.

Snapper/Kernel games are always a bit of a challenge for me, anyway. I’m a Kernels fan, of course, since they’re my hometown team. But when the Snappers come to town, I also look forward to seeing the Twins’ young prospects do well. So I root for the Kernels to win and the Beloit players to do well individually.

Pitcher Pedro Guerra and Danny Rams (1B)

Saturday night, the Kernels won the game 10-4, and it wasn’t among the better efforts I’ve seen out of the Snappers.  Top prospect Aaron Hicks, had a nice double down the LF line in the first inning and I got to see Pedro Guerra get his first start since being called up to Beloit. The Snappers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead through two innings. Guerra had a respectable debut, though he didn’t throw the ball particularly hard. He gave up a couple of runs in the third inning and left after giving up a walk and a double to the first two hitters he faced in the 5th.

That’s when the wheels fell off.

The Kernels sent 8 players to the plate in the 5th inning while taking a 7-5 lead in what had to be one of the longest half innings I’ve witnessed all year, purely in terms of time elapsed. Deliberate pitching, hitters stepping out of the box over and over, an error or two and a pitching change made that half inning drag on forever.

There aren’t many bright spots among your pitching staff in a 10-4 loss, but Nelvin Fuentes entered the game in the bottom of the 7th and went on to strike out 3 in two scoreless, hitless, innings to finish the night. It was also a tough night for the Snappers in the field as they ended up being charged with 5 errors on the game. Second baseman Reggie Williams had a nice night at the plate, going 2 of 4 with a double (that I thought should have been ruled a triple).

After doubling, Aaron Hicks takes his lead in front of Kernel SS Jon Karcich

But the great thing about baseball is that there’s always another game tomorrow. In this case, the Snappers bounced back from Saturday’s 10-4 loss to win Sunday afternoon 10-9. Yes, they did still have some pitching issues and yes, they did rack up 4 more errors, so it may not SEEM like it was much of an improvement, but I’ll guarantee it was a happier clubhouse after the game than the night before.

Pitcher Martire Garcia and 3B Reggie Williams

Danny Rams leads off behind Jeremy Cruz and in front of Jean Segura after a walk. He added a 2B and a HR in the game.

For the second straight game, Beloit manager Nelson Prada sent a pitcher to the mound for his first start as a Snapper. Sunday, it was Martire Garcia making his MWL debut. Garcia got off to a bit of a rocky start the first two innings but settled down and hung a couple of zeros on the board for the Kernels in the 3rd and 4th innings before calling it a day.

Nelson Prada's not telling the umpire a fish story

Of course, Prada didn’t see much of Garcia’s performance as he was tossed early in the bottom of the first inning for arguing with the home plate umpire over whether a Kernel double down the RF line was fair or foul. That left the team in the capable hands of Twins fans’ old friend Tommy Watkins, who’s the Snapper hitting coach.

And his hitters were doing their jobs at the plate (if not so much in the field). 1B Danny Rams and CF Aaron Hicks brought the big lumber. Rams went 2-3 with a walk, double and a home run. He also scored 3 runs. Hicks was 3-4 with two doubles.

Tommy Watkins signals pitches to his catcher

Once again, the pitchers struggled a bit, but lefty reliever Matt Tone managed to shut the Kernels out in his two innings (the 7th and 8th) of relief. That allowed Beloit the cushion to withstand a 9th inning rally and hang on to their 10-9 win.

It was one long, hot day at the ballpark for these guys following a very long game the night before.  We’re approaching mid-August. It’s hot. They’ve been playing baseball virtually every day since they reported for Spring Training over five months ago. But that didn’t stop Aaron Hicks and Steven Liddle from diving for balls in the outfield (Liddle also showed off his arm on an impressive throw to the plate) or Reggie Williams from diving for hard ground balls down the line at 3B or James Beresford and Derek McCallum from hanging tough on double plays at 2B. And Josmil Pinto caught a day game in oppressive heat and humidity after catching the game the night before. The execution isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubting their effort and that bodes well for the future of our favorite Major League team.

Finally, just because we’re all Tommy Watkins fans, one last picture of Tommy positioning his outfielders from the bench Saturday night. – JC