Kernels Hot Stove & Twins Caravan!

What a great night for baseball fans in Eastern Iowa!

In celebration of the new affiliation agreement between the Twins and the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the organizations combined to put on a terrific event Thursday night.

Every winter, the Kernels put on a Hot Stove banquet with proceeds going to their own charitable foundation. The event combines dinner, a silent auction and induction of the new Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame members. Tonight’s event, however, also included a local stop by the Twins Caravan.

The combination brought out a record crowed for the Hot Stove event. The banquet sold out and standing room only tickets were sold at a discount to give even more Twins fans an opportunity to attend the Caravan.

Media members (including this humble blogger) were invited to come in starting at 4:30 to interview some of the participants. I had a chance to visit a bit with Twins pitching prospect, BJ Hermsen. He will be heading to the Twin Cities next week where he’ll receive his Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year award and then attend TwinsFest. Not long after, he’ll be on the road to Fort Myers for his first Major League Spring Training.

I asked whether Hermsen has any sense of where he’ll start the 2013 season (he doesn’t) and talked a bit about the offseason training work he’s been doing. He was asked by another person if he was going to be speaking during the Caravan portion of the program and he indicated he didn’t think so (he was wrong… emcee Dick Bremer had a number of questions for Hermsen during the program).

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Steinbach also were made available for interviews with the media, as was new Kernels manager Jake Mauer. Naturally, the local media had questions for Gardy that alluded to the new Cedar Rapids affiliation and he was appropriately complimentary in his responses.

Gardenhire did bring up the fact that his managerial debut was with Kenosha in the Midwest League in 1988 and that his team had their “butts beaten” by Cedar Rapids in the playoffs to end that season.

The Hall of Fame induction was sandwiched between dinner and the formal part of the Caravan program. The CR Hall inducted former players Trevor Hoffman and Casey Kotchman, along with longtime Kernels groundskeeper Jim Curran and Pat Harmon, one of the people credited with bringing minor league ball back to Cedar Rapids in the 1940s. But the highlight, for me, of the ceremony was the induction of former Cedar Rapids manager Alex Monchak.

Alex Monchak

Alex Monchak

I’m sure most of you have no idea who Monchak is, but this man epitomizes the career baseball man. He had a cup of coffee with the Phillies, but his career was interrupted by World War II. While he never returned to the Big Leagues as a player, that didn’t stop him from spending the rest of his life teaching others to play the game the right way.

He was inducted in to the CR HoF specifically for managing the 1958 Cedar Rapids Braves to the Three-I League championship, but after leaving our little town, he spent about a decade as a scout and almost 20 years as a coach on manager Chuck Tanner’s staffs with the White Sox, A’s, Pirates and Braves. In fact, he was a coach on the Pirates’ Championship team that also included pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Hoffman and Kotchman had other commitments that kept them from attending the event, but Monchak, who will be 96 years old in March, was in attendance to accept his award and address the crowd.

Dick Bremer did a professional job of emceeing the Caravan program. It’s no small task, I’m sure, to do that job in a way that comes across as fresh to every crowd, despite the fact that they’ve been essentially going through the process multiple times per day for about a week. Bremer did sports for the local CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids before moving on to Minnesota, so he was able to blend in some anecdotes from his days here.

Everyone on the dais did a good job of fielding the questions Bremer has no-doubt asked them several times over the past week, as well as a number from the crowd. Obviously, Gardy got the lion’s share of the questions from fans and he handled them with his typical combination of optimism and humor.

Of course, there are causes for concern from Twins fans after the past two seasons, but this event was all about generating interest and enthusiasm among the fan bases of the Twins and Kernels, as well as celebrating the upcoming inaugural season of this relationship. Based on the attendance and enthusiastic support from the crowd, it was an overwhelming success at doing just that.

I’ll wrap up this post with a few pictures from the evening. – JC

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach prepares for a TV interview

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

The Twins Caravan dias in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Manager Ron Gardenhire, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The Twins Caravan dais in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Manager Ron Gardenhire, Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, N.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, B.J. Hermsen

Twins Announce New Coaches: Cuellar, Bruno and Steinbach

The Twins announced Monday that they’ve filled their three open Major League coaching positions. As had been speculated, two of those coaches are Bobby Cuellar (bullpen coach) and Tom Brunansky (hitting coach). But the third addition qualifies as a mild surprise, as Terry Steinbach will be stepping in as the Twins bench coach (and catching instructor).

While many Twins fans had wanted Minnesota native Paul Molitor to fill one of the openings, it turned out to be another native of the Gopher State, New Ulm’s Steinbach, who got the gig.

Many had expected Rochester Red Wings manager Gene Glynn to be promoted to the Twins dugout, but reports are that he will remain in his role at Rochester.

Tom Brunansky, new Twins hitting coach (Photo: Knuckleballs)

Of particular note, two of the new Twins coaches come with championship jewelry that they can flash in the clubhouse. Brunansky, of course, was a member of the Twins 1987 World Series Championship team and Steinbach got his ring with Tony LaRussa’s 1989 Oakland Athletics team that swept the Giants.

Brunansky came up through the Angels system and appeared in a few games with the Halos in 1981 before being traded to the Twins a year later. In 1988, Brunansky was traded to the Cardinals for Tommy Herr in one of the most infamous trades in Twins history. Over the final seven years of his career, he played for the Cards, Red Sox and Brewers.

Following nearly a decade in an A’s uniform, Steinbach finished his playing career with three years, from 1997-99, with the Twins.

Both Brunansky and Steinbach also have All-Star credentials. Clearly, in these two coaches, the Twins have added plenty of credibility to the coaching staff. Any player that won’t listen when Brunansky and Steinbach talk probably won’t listen to anyone.

Brunansky has been working his way up through the Twins minor league coaching ranks the past two and a half years and Steinbach has served as an instructor during Spring Training with the Twins for several years.

While Cuellar doesn’t come with the same Major League credentials that the other two do, having just the proverbial “cup of coffee” with the Rangers in 1977, he does have a long history of working with successful pitchers on their way up to the Big Leagues.

Most notably, to Twins fans anyway, Cuellar is credited with working with Johan Santana to perfect the change-up that Santana used to lay claim to two Cy Young awards as a Twins pitcher. However, Cuellar also worked with other pitchers, such as Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, who didn’t turn out so bad, either. Most recently, he’s been the Red Wings’ pitching coach, but he has also spent time on Major League staffs with the Expos (pitching coach), Rangers (bullpen coach) and Pirates (bullpen coach).

In the same announcement, the Twins indicated that Scott Ullger would be the first base coach and Joe Vavra will man the third base coach’s box.

I can’t help but wonder if Glynn was left off the Major League staff for essentially the same reason that Molitor wasn’t seen as a “fit” by GM Terry Ryan. Specifically, both men would probably be viewed as a potential “manager in waiting” to replace Ron Gardenhire should the Twins get off to a slow start in 2013. Assuming they both remain in the organization in their prior roles, they would still be available to step in if the ship starts sinking early in the year, but it makes some sense to me not to have them standing there looking over Gardy’s shoulder every game.

To my mind, there’s nothing not to like about these hires. The Twins have brought on a bullpen coach that has a long track record of success working with young pitchers (which the Twins bullpen is likely to have a plethora of well in to the future) and both a bench coach and hitting coach who not only have related well to young players, but should have credibility with the Twins’ veterans, as well.

I’m on board with these hires, although I cringe a bit at Ullger and Vavra coaching the bases. Most importantly, now that the coaching staff is set, Terry Ryan can turn his attention to adding a few new players for these guys to coach.

– JC