“Twins Weekend” in Cedar Rapids

Celebrating the affiliation agreement with the Minnesota Twins has been pretty much an “all season long” thing for the Cedar Rapids Kernels and their fans, but this weekend was the official Twins Weekend event in Cedar Rapids.

Guests of honor have included all-time Twins great Tony Oliva, Twins organist Sue Nelson and mascot TC Bear. All three made appearances at the Kernels’ game with visiting Peoria on Friday night.

Oliva signed autographs for a long line of fans before the game, Nelson treated fans to her talents on an electric organ during the game and TC teamed with Kernels mascot Mr. Shucks to entertain fans throughout the game.

On Saturday morning, all three joined several Kernels players and coaches, along with over 100 fans, for a breakfast event benefiting the Cedar Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau.

As a fan who grew up in Minnesota in the 1960s watching Oliva play ball for the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium, I have to say it was a really big deal to me to have an opportunity to interview Oliva along with other local media Friday evening during the Kernels game.

It was even a bigger deal to find myself alone with Oliva in the pressbox for several minutes a short while after the formal media intervew and having the opportunity to just watch a ballgame and talk about a number of the young Twins prospects with Oliva.

On Saturday morning, during his remarks at the breakfast and in a “Q & A” session, Oliva shared a number of observations and anecdotes with the crowd.

If you’re interested in reading some of Oliva’s comments to the media from Friday night, click here to read my story for Metro Sports Report, which include Oliva’s thoughts on the current Major Leaguers from his native Cuba. Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jeff Johnson also has a story focusing on Oliva’s comments concerning PED usage in baseball.

Here are a few photos I took from the weekend’s events.

OlivaAutograph

Tony Oliva patiently signed autographs for about an hour before the game

Twins organist Sue Nelson

Twins organist Sue Nelson

TC Bear entertained fans and posed for pictures

TC Bear entertained fans and posed for pictures

OlivaMedia

Tony Oliva met with local media on Friday during the Kernels game

Kernels pitcher and Twins prospect Brett Lee answers a question during the breakfast event Saturday morning

Kernels pitcher and Twins prospect Brett Lee answers a question during the breakfast event Saturday morning as Niko Goodrum, Adam Brett Walker, Kernels broadcaster Morgan Hawk, Tony Oliva, Jake Mauer and Tommy Watkins look on.

Tony Oliva speaking to fans at the Breakfast event Saturday

Tony Oliva speaking to fans at the Breakfast event Saturday

Kernels outfielder and Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker answers fan questions during Saturday's breakfast

Kernels outfielder and Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker answers fan questions during Saturday’s breakfast

From left to right: Mike Gonzales, Dallas Gallant, Morgan Hawk (standing), Niko Goodrum, Brett Lee, Adam Brett Walker, Tony Oliva, Jake Mauer and Tommy Watkins

From left to right: Mike Gonzales, Dallas Gallant, Morgan Hawk (standing), Niko Goodrum, Brett Lee, Adam Brett Walker, Tony Oliva, Jake Mauer and Tommy Watkins

Kernels roster changes but results don’t

With just 40 games remaining in their regular season schedule, now seems like a good time to step back and take a look at the state of the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

It’s almost laughable to even question whether or not the affiliation switch from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the Minnesota Twins has been good for Cedar Rapids. Of course it has, by pretty much every measurement.

The Kernels have already qualified for the Midwest League postseason by virtue of their second place finish in the first half of the season and fan interest is up.

Attendance is up some, but even more telling, the fans who show up for games are enthusiastically engaged in what’s happening on the field. That has not always been the case at Veterans Memorial Stadium the past few years.

It certainly didn’t hurt that one of the Twins’ top prospects, Byron Buxton, got off to such an incredible start this spring. He drew fan and media interest from well beyond the local community.

But even after the inevitable promotion of Buxton to the Twins’ Class high-A affiliate at Fort Myers in June, the Kernels have continued to win games. That may come as a surprise to those so blinded by Buxton’s aura that they didn’t notice the Kernels roster included a number of other very talented players.

Jonathan Murphy

Jonathan Murphy

Of course, Buxton isn’t the only Kernels player the Twins have rewarded with a bump up in playing  level. The Kernels have seen about a dozen players, in total, promoted to Fort Myers already this season.

The Twins, as an organization, have a reputation for being conservative with their promotions. They historically have preferred to see most players spend at least an entire season, if not more, at most minor league levels.

No doubt, Kernels officials were hoping that trend would continue. In past seasons, the Angels seemingly couldn’t wait to promote players as soon as they demonstrated any level of productivity in a Kernels uniform.

Among position players, Buxton was the only key offensive contributor to be lost to promotion until J.D. Williams and Dalton Hicks were bumped up to Fort Myers about a week ago.

It’s not easy to replace players found in the top 10 of most Midwest League offensive statistical categories like Williams (on-base percentage, OPS), Hicks (home runs, RBI, slugging pct., OPS) and Buxton (almost everything), but players brought in to Cedar Rapids by the Twins to replace the departing hitters have done well.

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

Max Kepler joined the Kernels once he completed rehabilitating his injured elbow in Fort Myers. He arrived four days before Buxton was promoted and he has hit for a .263 average. Thirteen of his 31 hits have been for extra bases.

Jonathan Murphy is hitting .333 in the 17 games he’s played since his arrival at the beginning of July and Joel Licon has performed well in a utility infielder role since he joined the team in early June.

It’s too early to know for certain how well Mike Gonzales will fill in for the departed Hicks, but the big first baseman has four hits in his first eight at-bats as a Kernel. Gonzales hit .289 and stroked 15 home runs for the Beloit Snappers in 2011. He missed much of his 2012 season in Fort Myers and after starting this season again with the Miracle, a wrist injury has sidelined him for the past several weeks.

On the pitching front, the Kernels lost Taylor Rogers before most fans even got to know him. He made three unimpressive starts for the Kernels before being moved on to Fort Myers. Jose Berrios, a supplemental first round draft pick in the 2012 First Year Player Draft and one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins organization, essentially took Rogers’ spot in the Kernels rotation.

The subsequent promotion of Tyler Duffey in early June left a much more significant hole at the top of the Kernels’ rotation. Duffey carried a 2.78 ERA and a 0.943 WHIP through nine starts when he left Cedar Rapids.

Josue Montanez initially worked from the Kernels bullpen after his promotion to Cedar Rapids in June, but has shown some potential since joining the rotation about a month ago.

Perhaps even more critically, the Kernels have seen four important members of their bullpen earn promotions. Matt Tomshaw and Manuel Soliman had contributed a total of 59 innings of work over a combined 30 appearances before they were promoted. Last week, the Twins elevated Steve Gruver and Tyler Jones, who had combined to provide a formidable left-right relief combination late in games.

Reliever Alex Muren has been relatively effective since arriving from extended spring training in early May, and the early returns from more recent additions Madison Boer, Dallas Gallant and Tim Shibuya are encouraging.

But the bottom line in baseball is all about wins and losses.

The Kernels were 44-28, for a .611 winning percentage, with Buxton on the roster. Since his promotion four games in to the second half schedule, the Kernels are 17-9 (.654) and they are leading the MWL West Division by three games over first half champion Beloit.

It’s certainly too soon to know what effect losing the four players promoted a week ago will have on the team’s fortunes. However, the Kernels have won five of the first six games played (all on the road) since Hicks, Williams, Jones and Gruver got their well-deserved promotions.

On Tuesday, the first member of the Twins’ draft class of 2013 was promoted to Cedar Rapids when seventh round pick Brian Gilbert was added to the Kernels’ roster.

Roster turnover is just a fact of life in minor league baseball. When the local team starts out winning a lot of games, it’s probably because a lot of players are performing very well and players that perform very well deserve promotions to the next level in the organization.

One way to measure the strength of an organization is to look at how a minor league team performs after a number of their best players are promoted. If the new players perform well and the team continues winning, that’s a very good sign.

So far, that’s what we’re seeing in Cedar Rapids. That bodes well, this season, for the Kernels and for the Twins in the long run.

Hendriks vs Trout… I’ve Seen This Before

Barring something unforeseen happening, when Twins starting pitcher Liam Hendriks toes the rubber Wednesday night, he’ll be staring down Angels’ top prospect Mike Trout, who’s been hitting in the leadoff spot for the Halos since being promoted a few days ago.

Talk about déjà vu flashbacks.

Liam Hendriks

Just over two years ago, the Beloit Snappers opened their season against the Angels’ Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and I sat through a 10-inning 1-0 Snappers win in 37 degree temperatures. You can read all about it and see how photo-happy I was in those days by clicking here to go back to a Knuckleballs post I put up after the game.

You’ll note from the story that Liam Hendriks started that game for the Snappers and pitched five strong innings. What you won’t read in that story, because I focused so much on the Snappers, is that Mike Trout was the starting centerfielder for the Kernels.

Mike Trout

By the way, I’ve already started gathering my Mike Trout collectables… I’ve got a pack of Kernels baseball cards from 2010 with Trout’s card right up there on top and the Kernels gave away Mike Trout bobbleheads at their home opener this season. Yes, I made sure I was there early enough to be one of the first 1,000 in the gate (which I needn’t have done… they were still handing them out to people who came through the turnstiles at game time).

So, yes, I’ve seen Liam Hendriks face Mike Trout already.

If you regularly attend minor league games, you become accustomed to seeing a fortunate few of these kids eventually wear Major League uniforms, but I have to admit that seeing two of them rise to become Big Leaguers in just two years after playing here in Cedar Rapids seems rare. As it turns out, though, maybe it’s not as rare as I think. Three of Trout’s team mates on that 2010 Kernels team have already made their MLB debuts. Trout’s the only position player, but pitchers David Carpenter, Garrett Richards and Patrick Corbin have all already made appearances for the Angels or, in Corbin’s case, the D’Backs.

That Snappers line up on Opening Day 2010 was nothing to sneeze at either. Hendriks is the only 2010 Snapper to make the Big Leagues (unless you count JJ Hardy, who rehabbed with Beloit for three games that season), but it won’t be that way for long. Check out the picture I posted of my scorecard from that game in April, 2010.

See any familiar names? How about… Brian Dozier at SS. He’s still in Rochester, but it shouldn’t be long before he joins his former Snapper team mate Hendriks in Minnesota.

Aaron Hicks and James Beresford were in the line up that day… both have reached AA New Britain now. So has pitcher Dakota Watts, who also was with Beloit at the start of 2010. BJ Hermsen pitched in Beloit that year, as well, but I don’t believe he even began the year there. Now, he’s also a Rock Cat after being promoted recently.

You’ll also see names like Angel Morales, Michael Gonzales, Danny Rams and Anderson Hidalgo on that scorecard. While their former team mate Hendriks is in The Show, they’ve progressed just one rung up the ladder to High-A Ft. Myers since that Opening Day two years ago. But they’re still chasing that dream.

Wednesday night (and likely Thursday and Friday, as well), I’ll be out at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids again… watching this year’s Beloit Snappers face the current Cedar Rapids Kernels. I’ll have my eyes on the “big names” like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, arguably the Twins two top prospects, but who else will stand out? Which of these “kids” will have a chance to live the fairy tale some day and wear a Big League uniform for the Twins or Angels… or maybe another organization if that should be their fate?

For about $10, you can get the best seat in the house at a minor league ballpark like the one we have here in Cedar Rapids. For that price, you get to watch future Major League ballplayers play baseball. How can you beat that?

Man, I love this game.

– JC

Down On The Farm: Snappers Photos

The Beloit Snappers, Midwest League (low Class A) affiliate of the Twins, are making their last appearance of the season in Cedar Rapids this week with games Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon, and as I’m prone to doing, I’ve been out at the ballpark getting a look-see at the young future Twins.

Snappers in the field in Cedar Rapids

I saw plenty of offense out of some of the Snappers on Saturday night and Iowan BJ Hermsen survived some early struggles to squeak out a “Quality Start” in front of a packed house that included a fair number of Hermsen fans. Beloit won the game 10-5.

Sunday, the results were less favorable for the Snappers, as they gave up three runs in the first inning to the Kernels en route to a 6-1 loss.

But enough about the games. The purpose of this post is simply to give Twins fans a glance at the names and faces of a few of the young players who are toiling in the farm system as they work toward their dreams of playing Major League baseball. They work hard and know they face long odds… and they deserve some recognition. – JC

Jhonatan Arias donned the catchers gear on Sunday

DH Michael Gonzales was the picture of intensity at the plate

SS Andy Leer takes his lead off 1B

LF Derek McCallum gets his cuts

RF Daniel Ortiz went deep with this swing... but foul

3B Jairo Perez rips a line drive

OF/1B Lance Ray checks signs before getting in the batters box

Starting pitcher Adrian Salcedo strides toward home

CF Daniel Santana watches a pitch sail wide of the plate

Relief pitcher Sam Spangler delivers to the plate

2B Reggie Williams readies on defense

 

Snappers Extra-Inning Win in Photos

Like their parent club, the Beloit Snappers played extra innings Monday. Unlike the Twins, however, the Snappers actually managed to get some hits with runners in scoring position and thus avoided getting swept out of Cedar Rapids with a 5-4 win over the Kernels. Thunderstorms during the morning threatened to delay the Snappers “getaway”, but the two teams got started on time and completed their 10-inning game in just under three hours.

The 20+ mph wind that blew in from right-center field most of the game made for some interesting (and entertaining) defensive plays, but rather than just write about this game, I thought I might try to tell the story with pictures and even a short video.

Snappers shortstop Daniel Santana got things going for Beloit by lining the second pitch of the game over the left-centerfield wall for a leadoff home run.

Daniel Santana homers to lead off the first inning

Leftfielder Nate Roberts collected three hits, scored a run and stole two bases on the day, then added a sacrifice bunt to move Andrew Leer in to scoring position in the top of the 10th inning.

Nate Roberts leads off in front of Kernels SS Jean Almanzar

Also contributing three hits to the Snappers attack was centerfielder Wang-Wei Lin, who put the Snappers ahead 3-0 in the 5th inning with an RBI single to right field.

Wang-Wei Lin moves away from Kernels 1B Brandon Decker

Starting pitcher Adrian Salcedo didn’t give up a hit until Kernel 1B Brandon Decker reached on an infield single in the 4th inning (on a backhand play that Snapper 2B Derek McCallum would likely admit he should have made). Salcedo was regularly hitting 93 mph on the stadium radar gun and was dominating the Kernels through 6 innings.

Adrian Salcedo was all but untouchable for 6 innings

The wheels fell off for Salcedo in the 7th inning, however (or more accurately, they fell off for the Snapper defense behind him), as the Kernels batted around, scoring four runs (only two earned) to tie the score at 4-4. Clinton Dempster relieved Salcedo with bases loaded and two out and gave up an RBI single and a sac fly before getting the final out of the inning.

Dempster was more effective over his remaining two innings of work, facing the minimum six hitters.

Clinton Dempster collected a blown save AND the win

That’s where the score remained until the top of the 10th inning when Leer let off with a single to left field, was moved to 2B by Roberts’ sacrifice bunt and on to 3B by Michael Gonzales’ second single of the day. Daniel Ortiz’s groundout to second base was deep enough to easily score Leer.

All that remained was for relief pitcher Matt Hauser to nail down the save. He made it a bit interesting, giving up a walk and a single (almost makes it seem like the Twins actually teach their closers to do that, doesn’t it?), before getting the final Kernels out to finish off the Snappers’ 5-4 victory.

Matt Hauser talks things over with catcher Matt Parker

The Snappers make their next (and final) trip to Cedar Rapids for a three-game series July 30-Aug 1, but both teams are off to good starts in the first half of the season and have real shots at the Midwest League post-season.

– JC

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

 

Of Snappers and Kernels and Other Minor (League) Stuff

I’m probably not going to be seeing much of the Twins games this weekend. It’s not because I’m frustrated by their lack of hitting (though I am), but rather because the Beloit Snappers (the Twins Low A affiliate) are in town starting tonight for a four-game series… their final visit to Cedar Rapids of the year.

This is the third trip this season that the Snappers have made to Cedar Rapids this season and I’ve managed to get out to watch over half of the games they’ve played here. The last couple of years, Beloit’s only made the trip down here one or two times, so I’m enjoying getting to see so many games featuring these future Twins.

I don’t know how many of you ever attend minor league games or even live in a community that has a local team. I can only speak for myself, but there really aren’t many more enjoyable ways to spend a summer evening (or afternoon, for that matter) and do so on a budget.

Perfect Game Field at Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids

I’ve attended minor league games in Florida (High A) and Arkansas (AA), in addition to Iowa and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than $10 for a ticket… and usually a bit less. The highest priced ticket at Memorial Stadium here in Cedar Rapids is $10. It will get you a front row seat by the dugout or pretty much anywhere in the first few rows behind home plate from dugout to dugout. $7 gets you and your blanket in to stretch out on the grassy Lawn Seating area next to the visitors bullpen area. My favorite food is a ribeye sandwich that is grilled in a tent right behind the Lawn Seating area. I think they hit me up for about $6 for that and it’s probably about the most expensive food item in the ballpark.

Of course if you really want to live well, you can rent one of the available sky suites for you and a few of your closest friends. That will run you $500 plus food. I know that sounds like a lot, but I’m checking out StubHub for tickets for the Twins/Angels series in a couple of weeks at Target Field and I’ll easily spend $500 for some pretty mediocre seats for my family. So I guess it’s all relative.

Angels #3 Prospect Mike Trout

As for the baseball itself, the Kernels are usually pretty competitive and that’s the case this season as well. Their CF the first half of the season was Mike Trout, the Angels #3 prospect (according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings) who performed well in the Futures All Star Game last month and is already doing very well with his High-A team since being promoted. He’ll be arriving in Anaheim Stadium perhaps as early as September 2011.

The Kernels best pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, is a talented lefty who was also one of the Angels top 10 prospects. I say “was” because he signed his first contract with the Angels one year ago today… and by tomorrow he’ll be announced as the “player to be named later” heading to the D’Backs organization to finalize the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. Trust me, that deal wasn’t nearly as one-sided in favor of the Angels as the ‘talking heads’ have made it out to be.

Alexi Casilla rehabbed as a Beloit Snapper

But this is a Twins blog, so let me just mention a few of the Twins prospects I’ve been able to catch on their trips to Cedar Rapids in just the past couple of years. In fact, let me start with the guy in the picture at the right, Alexi Casilla. Lexi played two rehab assignment games for the Snappers here in Cedar Rapids in 2008 before rejoining the Twins. But that wasn’t the first time we saw Casilla here. He was a member of the Kernels for a few games at the end of the 2004 season and for the first half of the 2005 season, before being promoted to AA. (He was traded from the Angels to the Twins after the 2005 season for J.C. Romero.) You might say he was a local favorite.

Twins #6 and #41 Prospects, Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo

Over the past two seasons, when the Snappers have visited Cedar Rapids, I’ve had the pleasure watching pitchers Steven Blevins, Liam Hendriks (14), B.J. Hermsen (15), Brad Stillings, Tom Stuifbergen (22), Daniel Osterbrock and Billy Bullock (28) pitch against the Kernels. I’ve seen position prospects Danny Rams (33), James Beresford (40), Anderson Hidalgo (41), Steve Liddle (47), Micahel Gonzales, Angel Morales (6) and Aaron Hicks (2) get their swings in. (Those numbers in parens indicate the player’s ranking in Seth Stohs’ “Top 50 Twins Prospects” list this past June.)

Cards #1 Prospect Shelby Miller

Of course, I don’t just go to games when the Snappers come to town. For example, a week or so ago, I went out to catch a game with the Cardinals’ affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits. While Trout is no longer with the Kernels, I did get to watch the Cardinals’ #1 prospect (according to Baseball America) Shelby Miller pitch against the Kernels. His catcher that day was the Cards’ #10 prospect, Robert Stock.

The Kernels play in a nice stadium and the Angels consistently send enough of their top prospects to CR to assure that the team is at least competitive. In fact, they won the first half division title this year so they’re already assured of a spot in the Midwest League playoffs next month.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll probably spend close to $1,000 for tickets, parking, food, hotel rooms and gas to take my family up to Minneapolis for the Twins’ weekend series with the Angels at Target Field (not to mention some time at the Renaissance Festival). I’ll have a great time, I’m sure.  But tonight and tomorrow, I’ll watch future Twins face off with future Angels about 2 miles from where I live and even after ticket, parking (which is free), food and a couple of beers, I probably won’t spend over $20 either day.

How can you beat that? – 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

Opening Day, down on the ‘farm’ with the Beloit Snappers

Thursday was “Opening Day” for minor league teams across the country and I took advantage of the opportunity to watch the Twins’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League, the Beloit Snappers, open their season on the road here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Beloit Snappers Opening Night 2010

Let me just say, I really intended to catch 6-7 innings and then head home to watch the Twins and Angels by the time they got things going out in California. But with the Snappers and Kernels locked in a scoreless contest, there’s no way I was leaving until the game was decided. That happened, finally, in the 10th inning on a Michael Gonzales single that drove in Brian Dozier with the first run of the game, followed immediately by Derek McCallum scoring an insurance run on a throwing error by the Kernels’  Casey Haerther.

Truth be told, however, the game never should have made it to extra innings. Beloit loaded the bases with one out in the top of the sixth inning with a single by 3B Anderson Hidalgo, a double by RF Angel Morales, and an intentional walk to Aaron Hicks. That’s when Kernels relief pitcher Buddy Boshers uncorked a wild pitch and Hidalgo broke for home. Yes, the plate umpire called Hidalgo out, but you be the judge…

Anderson Hidalgo leads off 3B and Angel Morales is at 2B

Anderson Hidalgo is... out? Yeah... that was the call. Resulting in a scoreless tie headed to extra innings

Snappers pitchers struck out 15 Kernels over the 10 innings. Which is impressive… but not quite as impressive as the 16 K’s tallied by Kernels pitching. Derek McCallum wins some sort of award, I suppose, by virtue of being the only Snapper NOT to strike out, as he doubled in the 2nd inning, grounded to the first baseman in the 5th, and flew out to left field in the 7th, before being hit by a pitch in the 10th and eventually scoring the Snappers’ second run. Michael Gonzales was the sole Snapper with more than one hit, going 2-4, including a single that drove in the game winning run in the 1oth.

Liam Hendriks dominated for his five innings. Michael Gonzales (at 1B) was the only Snapper with more than one hit.

Liam Hendriks struck out 7 Kernels in 5 innings of work, including 5 of the final 6 hitters he faced. Tom Stuifbergen relieved Hendriks in the 6th and barely missed a beat as he recorded three strikeouts, sandwiched around a single, in his one inning of relief.

Tom Stuifbergen struck out three in his sole inning on the mound.

On a personal note, let me just say, for the benefit of those of you considering a visit to Target Field later this month… 10 innings of baseball in temperatures that drop below 40 degrees during the course of a game makes for a very cold evening! By all means, don’t let it dissuade you from going to the game, but dress appropriately!

To wrap up this post, just a few more pictures from Opening Night in Cedar Rapids…

Snappers Catcher Danny Rams

Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo before the game

Aaron Hicks robs Eric Oliver of a hit in the 5th inning.

Brian Dozier scores the game's first run in the top of the 10th.

Snappers are 1-0!

Yes... I stayed through the entire 10 innings, despite the 37 degree weather