I’m traveling for work the first half of this week, so I won’t really have an opportunity to write a regular weekly update on the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Perhaps it’s just as well, though, because the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate did not have a real good week.
The Kernels dropped from the second spot in the MWL Western Division standings all the way to the cellar, as they endured an eight-game losing streak.
That losing streak ended Sunday in Burlington, however. Cedar Rapids topped the Bees 7-6. As a bonus, the win lifted the Kernels out of the MWL West basement.
Since I don’t have anything exciting to write about this week, I thought the least I could do is provide a few pictures of the game on Sunday. I had hoped to take more, but it turns out there are very few spots where you can take pictures at the Burlington ballpark that aren’t behind netting.
Some of the photos are a bit blurry. I hoped they just looked blurry on Sunday because I was having a few beers at the game, but no, they’re still a little blurry.
Paul is gone again, but we’re still here! While he’s gone we put pine tar all over our bodies and get ejected in the 2nd inning. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
The Twins won a double header against the Jays, but other than that things have been less than stellar for the team in the pas week. We dive into some stories from the week that was, including the acquisition of Sam Fuld and what it means for Aaron Hicks, the retirement of Jason Bartlett, and what to make of Chris Colabello. It is an exciting time to be a podcast listener because this week Cody runs an interview for the first time in the history of the podcast as we chatted with the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ Hitting Coach, Tommy Watkins. Watkins has coached several of the current Minnesota Twins and shares some of his baseballing knowledge with us. We also take some time to talk about the unhearlded pitcher Yohan Pino who has been pitching in Minors for 10 years without a MLB appearance. Of coure, the usual – beer, baseball and the news to round out the show.
Enjoy the show.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are pretty cool, you guys.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels sported a 9-7 record as they departed for Peoria Monday for the first of seven road games before returning to Veterans Memorial Stadium on Monday, April 28. They enter the week just two games behind Kane County in the Midwest League’s Western Division standings.
One reason for the success they’ve had thus far has been a power surge in the heart of their batting order.
The Kernels lead the MWL in slugging percentage entering this week’s games largely due to power generated by catcher Mitch Garver and infielder Bryan Haar. Garver leads the league in home runs, with five, and Haar is right on his heals with four round-trippers.
Over the weekend, Haar shared his perspectives on the start to the season that he and his team mates have had, as well as some thoughts about his own experiences moving from college ball, through two levels of Rookie level professional baseball and on to his first month with the Class A level Kernels.
Though Garver and Haar have provided much of the power early on for Cedar Rapids, Haar insists that their offensive success has been a team effort.
“When our team got hot and went on a little winning streak, I think we were all hitting pretty well so that helps,” said Haar. “Hitting is contagious. So I think we all contributed to the good start.”
While the Kernels have kept their record above .500, they haven’t exactly had it easy thus far.
Haar and many of his team mates have spent their lives playing ball in far warmer climates. Several of the Kernels’ games have been played with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, so they were glad to see things warm up a bit over the past weekend.
“Anything above 50 right now is good for us,” Haar said with a smile on Saturday. “If it’s not 35 and raining, we’re happy.”
You won’t yet find Haar’s name on many of the organizational “top prospect” lists published during the offseason, but the 24 year-old from San Diego is showing power that’s been largely missing to this point in his professional career.
Haar was drafted by the Twins in the 34th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, following his senior year at the University of San Diego.
He hit only one home run in 44 games with the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2012 after signing with the Twins and went deep just six times in 60 games with the Twins’ short-season Appalachian League affiliate in Elizabethton last season.
Haar said it took some time for him to adjust from college pitchers, who generally threw a mix of pitches, to lower levels of professional ball, where he faced a lot of strong young arms who were looking to impress.
“In GCL that first summer, it was just fastballs all day,” recalled Haar. “I actually struggled a little bit because I forgot how to hit a fastball. It was new to me. They were blowing it by me.”
He had to continue working on being able to catch up with the heat a year ago in Elizabethton.
“In E’town, it was rookie ball, so there were a lot of 18 year old pitchers out of high school that maybe thought they threw 95 and really threw 91-92, trying to throw fastballs by me. I got more fastballs then. Jeff Reed (hitting coach at Elizabethton) is a great hitting coach, so he helped me out a lot.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the pitching he faced in college was superior to what he saw his first two years in the pros, though.
“I’d say not better, but more command of their sliders,” Haar explained. “In E’town it was sliders in the dirt, sliders in the dirt. They never flipped one over for a strike. In college, it was slider for a strike, slider for a strike, now you’re down 0-2. But now (in the MWL), it’s more college guys so I’ve got to readjust to college pitching, I guess.”
Haar knows he’s largely been feasting on fastballs this season and said he already sees pitchers making adjustments.
“The first game of a series, usually I get some fastballs to hit. If I hit them well, then the next two or three games I get sliders and change-ups and curveballs. Just making that adjustment has been a little harder than I would have thought, but I’ve got to hit the fastball when I get it.”
Kernels hitting coach Tommy Watkins has been working with Haar to keep a step ahead of the adjustments the pitchers are making.
“They’re throwing me off-speed a lot, so I’ve got to start adjusting my swing a little bit towards that,” Haar said. “Tommy and I have been working on that the past couple of days. Not really trying to strike out less, but just put more balls in play hard.
“I’ve hit two home runs off sliders, but I think they were the only hits I’ve had off sliders. We were working on that (Saturday), just kind of letting the ball get a little deeper, seeing it deeper.”
At 24, Haar is a bit older than the average MWL position player, but he’s not feeling any extra anxiety about trying to advance quicker up the Twins organizational ladder because of that.
“I don’t really worry about that. I’m just having a good time in Low-A with my friends,” he said. ”I got drafted in 2012 and pretty much all the guys here were drafted in the 2012 draft, so it’s nice to move up with them, in a sense. I’m just letting my play speak for itself and doing what I can here.”
That includes being versatile in the field. Haar has played both corner infield positions for the Kernels already and that’s fine with him. Haar said he’d play anywhere, “as long as I’m in the lineup.”
Haar played some football and basketball in high school and said his interests include, “pretty much every sport with a ball.” But as a Southern Californian, his interests outside of baseball go beyond what local fans might consider the norm.
“I’m from San Diego, so I surf whenever I can. Usually in September I take some time off from baseball and I go surf. But when I get back in to workouts, I don’t have much time for that.”
There’s obviously neither time nor opportunity for surfing during the season, so Haar is looking for other things to do with his limited down time.
“I do enjoy fishing, so since we’re in Iowa, I’d like to get out and fish a little bit, but it’s tough. Getting back from a long road trip, you want to sleep in, and then you’re at the field.”
Of course, there’s always the standard fallback option for ballplayers: video games.
Haar and team mates Garver and Zach Larson, who live in close proximity to one another this season, “have a little FIFA battle on the X-Box. We’re on that quite a bit.”
Cedar Rapids Kernels hitting coach Tommy Watkins knows his way around a minor league field, having spent parts of 11 seasons as a player in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. Toward the end of the 2007 season, he got to live the dream of every player who ever put on a minor league uniform when he was called up to the Big Leagues by the Twins.
Since 2009, Watkins has been coaching in the Twins minor league organization and this season is his fourth as the hitting coach for the Twins’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League (the first three coming with the Twins’ then-affiliate, the Beloit Snappers).
Watkins recently sat down and talked about his role with the Kernels and more.
Jim Crikket: This is the first year in Cedar Rapids for you and the team after spending a few years in Beloit. How do you feel things are going here?
Tommy Watkins: Things are going great here. The people are amazing, just like the people in Beloit were pretty amazing. But things have jumped off here pretty well.
The facility is one of the best in the league, especially in our division. In the other division, you’ve got a lot of the newer parks, but we’ve got one of the best parks in our division and we get a lot of Twins fans, which is fun.
For me, the (batting) cage is right outside the clubhouse so if the guys want to get some extra work, we can go right out and get right to it. It’s been fun.
JC: Describe the work you do as the hitting coach. I’ve been told the organization puts a plan together for all the players in the minor leagues. How do you go about implementing that plan with the hitters?
Watkins: Everybody’s different. We have a hit plan that we stick to throughout the organization, but each guy is different with the drills they like to do or things they need to work on. So, like I said, we’ve got a hit plan over the whole minor leagues. Bill Springman (Twins Minor League Hitting Coordinator) put that together for everybody. And then we go through and we get individual hit plans for each guy.
JC: That sounds like a lot of work.
Watkins: It’s a lot of work, but I’m only dealing with twelve or thirteen guys at a time, so it’s not too bad.
JC: I understand the Twins have implemented some kind of “balance” program for the players in Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers. A program Jim Dwyer (the hitting coach for the Fort Myers Miracle, the next level up the Twins organizational chain) recommended. How’s that going?
Watkins: I think it’s good. The guys all take it pretty serious. I just think it’s training your brain. Just like we go out and take BP every day, they get on that balance board to train their brain. It helps with a lot of things, concentration being one of them I think, for me. I’ve even heard a couple guys talk about getting on it to help their golf game to focus and train your brain.
Jimmy (Dwyer), he got in to it big time last year. Just to see the guys do those exercises, he saw a change in their on-field stuff. It’s just like anything, you’ve got to train your body and you’ve got to use your brain to play and I think it helps you focus more.
We’ve even had guys in the dugout doing it during Batting Practice.
JC: I’ve heard that you sometimes serve as a translator for some of the guys from Latin America. I’d think it must be tough as a coach to communicate with players that don’t speak English. Are you bilingual?
Watkins: I like to call it Spanglish. It’s not really Spanish. It’s English mixed with Spanish. All of our guys speak (English) enough. The Twins do a good job of giving the guys classes during spring training and instructional league.
I went down to the Dominican and we had an English teacher down there. So, the Twins do a really good job of trying to help these guys learn English. I think it’s a big part of development and making it to the Big Leagues is learning how to speak the language.
The Twins gave me Rosetta Stone in Spanish. I’ll use it on the bus. It’s pretty good. But I think you learn a lot more by actually dealing with people and talking to people.
JC: During a game, fans can see you motioning to players in the field, moving them around some. Do you have particular in-game responsibilities?
Watkins: I think me and Jake (manager Jake Mauer), we work together on moving the defense around, depending on the batter, depending on the pitcher. We keep a book on what they (opponents) do, so it kind of helps us plan for how we play them defensively. That’s one of the things I do with defense.
When it’s late in a game, we’ll play a guy back in “no doubles,” I’ll let them know that. Or throwing the ball to the cutoff man or whatnot. Just those kind of details.
Hitting wise, I just try to watch their at-bats and see if I can help them out with anything. With approach or maybe a swing they took. A lot of times just trying to see what they were thinking and just get some feedback from them.
The guys are good to work with, all of them. We just talk a lot about approach. I ask them what they see and tell them what I see and try to fix whatever it may be.
JC: Do you get video of your hitters’ at-bats to review with them?
Watkins: We get video of a couple guys every night. Maybe we’ve got a lefty pitching (against us) and we’ll get all the right handed hitters that day. We’ll put it on the video and guys can go back there and take a look at it, analyze it. I have my iPad and sometimes I like to get video on that. They’ve got the video any time they need it. I think they also send it out within the organization so they can see it, too.
JC: You made it to the Major Leagues for a bit as a player with the Twins. Now you’re in your next career as a coach. Is it your goal to work your way back up to that level?
Watkins: I love the coaching part of it and coaching in the Big Leagues is a goal of mine. That’s what I want to shoot for, whether it be managing, coaching third base, first base, whatever it may be. I would love to have a chance to get up there and coach in the Big Leagues.
JC: Just as an observer, the guys seem to really like working with you. It’s got to be easier to coach a guy that you have some sort of rapport with.
Watkins: Yeah it is. We’ve got a bunch of good guys on the team and they get along with each other just as well as they get along with the staff.
JC: They see how you turned Byron Buxton from a nobody in to a prospect like that. It really gives you instant credibility, right? (question posed with a smile and tongue firmly in cheek)
Watkins: (Laughing) Yeah, yeah, right.
JC: That has to give your resume a pretty good shot. “I was Byron Buxton’s hitting coach.”
Watkins: I thank him. He might be able to help me out a lot!
No, but Buxton’s got tremendous talent, as everyone can see. You know, I just tried not to mess him up. When he left, I was like “alright, good.” I was joking with Jim, “hey, Dwyer, don’t mess him up.”
He was a fun guy to watch, man. Easy to coach. You’d suggest something to him, he’d listen and try to work on it. What was good about him was that he could apply it.
A couple times, he’d go 0 for 2 and he’d say, “what am I doing?” I’d say, “you’re alright, you’re OK.” Then the next two he’d hit right up the middle by the pitcher.
I just try to keep all the guys happy and just try to make them feel comfortable. I think that’s the biggest thing. Being comfortable, confident and just trusting in your ability.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels won three of four games over the Beloit Snappers in their first series of the 2013 season and there was no shortage of drama in the process.
The Kernels won their season opener 8-6, then recovered from a 2-1 ninth inning deficit to claim a walk-off 3-2 win in game 2 of the series. The Snappers managed to hold their 2-1 lead to completion in claiming the third game of the series. In the finale, three Kernels pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter at the visiting Snappers.
Outfielder Byron Buxton gave the locals a good look at what all the fuss is about as he hit .563 for the series, including plenty of power.
The game stories are widely available on the web, but this morning, I thought I’d share a few (OK, much more than a few) of the pictures I took over the course of the past week, since the Kernels arrived in Cedar Rapids.
If you didn’t see your favorite Kernels in these pictures, not to worry… we’ll be posting a lot more pictures over the course of the season.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels and their new parent organization, the Minnesota Twins, have announced the Kernels’ 2013 coaching staff.
The Kernels will be managed by Jake Mauer, brother of Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Jake will be entering his sixth season as a minor league manager for the Twins. He played minor league ball in the Twins organization and has, for the past three seasons, been managing their “high A” team in Fort Myers FL.
Pitching coach Gary Lucas and hitting coach Tommy Watkins will be joining Mauer in Cedar Rapids. Both Lucas and Watkins have held the same positions for the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate in Beloit for the past several years.
The coaches will be joined by trainer Ryan Hedwall. Hedwall was previously the trainer at the Twins Appalachian League affiliate in Elizabethton TN and was named Appalachian and Minor League Athletic Trainer of the year for 2012.
Click here for the link to the story at Kernels.com.
We’ve been running into so many of our former players on opposing teams lately, like Nathan, Guerrier, Hunter, Hardy, Thome, Punto, Crain…. well, you know. With recent news on a couple more, it got me wondering about some of those guys we don’t hear so much about. Whatever happened to some of the players we used to spend practically every day talking about?
So I went and did a little looking around – not too much because I’m lazy so I’m sure there are lot more of our former guys out there doing things we wouldn’t expect or with teams we don’t see often. If you know of one I didn’t include here, feel free to share what you know! It’s always fun to to catch up..
One of guys we didn’t get to see even though we could have hoped for it was Lew Ford! He recently came up from the minor leagues with the Orioles and got his first hit in MLB since 2007. During that time he played in Japan, Mexico and with an independent league before coming back to the minor leagues in the Orioles system. I’m not sure what it is about the Red Sox and the Orioles but they seem to be a haven for former Twins. And he’s finally on Twitter so you can follow @CaptainLew20 there – anyone else have a little trouble believing that it took a geek like Lew so long to finally join the social media world of micro-blogging?!?! Of course, I found out information about another former Twin by following him! It turns out Terry Tiffee is playing 3B for the AAA Gwinnett Braves. The interesting part is that apparently he recently got called upon to pull a Butera! He pitched an inning in the 22-1 Gwinnett loss. His line: 1IP, 5ER, 4H, 2BB, 0K,45.00ERA.
Also rejoining the ranks after an albeit VERY brief stint in independent league baseball is Luke Hughes! The very same day he announced that he was joining an independent team, he followed up with an announcement that he was going to Las Vegas instead to play for the 51s in the Toronto Blue Jays system. I am hoping his return to the big leagues comes a lot quicker than Lew’s!
Also still in the minor leagues is former utility everything guy, Matt Tolbert. He’s doing well with the Iowa Cubs. He’s also hitting significantly better in the minor leagues than he was able to achieve in the bigs. I suppose that is to be expected for a guy who is used to facing major league pitching. But he’s getting more multiple base hits including a recent outing where he was only a homer short of a cycle. I wish him all the best!
Of course not all former Twins are playing in the minor leagues. Plenty of them are still playing well in their new homes. Interestingly enough, I happened to catch the end of the Cardinals game on the radio on my way home from work on Sunday. Sure enough, there was a former Twin. Kyle Lohse racked up win #12 and is probably their best starting pitcher. I think he could be a good example for Liriano to look to – a guy with a LOT of talent who really struggled with the mental readiness required to anchor a rotation. Clearly Kyle figured something out after he left us.
Speaking of pitching, perennial fan favorite, Pat Neshek is providing a show relieving for the Oakland A’s. Yes, his pitching is still as awkward looking as it always was. And we just faced Jose Mijares with the Royals but yeah, he just got claimed off waivers by the Giants so he’s off to a new home. A couple other former Twins pitchers are currently on the DL, again. I guess they didn’t just have that problem with us. Things are looking up for Johan Santana who is expect to make his return from rehab on Saturday. Things aren’t as rosy for Kevin Slowey. There’s a reason we won’t see him playing the Indians. He’s been out since May with what was reported to be a strained lat. On Friday, trainer Lonnie Soloff said Slowey’s actual injury is a fractured rib. “That takes a long time to heal,” said Soloff. I guess the Twins training staff isn’t the only one having trouble with diagnoses.
It’s not like pitching is the only thing we lose over time. Two of our biggest hitters from last year are with new teams this year. Michael Cuddyer was having a good season with the Rockies — hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI — but has been bothered by a strained right oblique muscle and hadn’t played since Tuesday. Does that sound familiar to anyone else?
And my thanks to Thrylos who got me to go check out what is going on with Jason Kubelthese days. He’s doing VERY well batting .281 with 23 homeruns. And as Thrylos pointed out, he’s lost a significant amount of weight so in some pictures, it’s hard to recognize him! That has to be a LOT easier on his knees. Yeah, that’s him all they way over on the left. I think he looks taller in addition to looking smaller.
And there are the guys who aren’t playing anymore but are doing the best to pass on what they know to the next generation of players – they are coaching! I am amused by how many former Twins become Hitting Coaches.. really? But one we even get to interact with occasionally. JC just got see Tommy Watkins while visiting in Beloit because he’s still in the Twins system – coaching for us even! You can even follow him on Twitter: @TommyWatkins. He’s been fun to chat with.
Also filling the role as hitting coach are Doug Mientkiewicz and Jacque Jones. I’m very glad they are both still working in baseball but I have to admit that with Dougie especially, I wouldn’t have pegged him as a HITTING coach per se. But according to Utah’s Standard Examiner he’s making a big impact:
Baseball America, in their pre-draft player rankings comprised of both college and high school prospects, tabbed Rathjen as the 229th best draft-eligible player in the country. Had he been the 229th pick, he would have gone off the board early in the seventh round.
But instead of being taken where pundits predicted, he fell to the 11th round, and Rathjen seems pleased with how that’s worked out so far. He’s been given the opportunity to learn from Raptors hitting coach Doug Mientkiewicz, and the two have made a strong connection.
“(Mientkiewicz) was a player, and he was a good player, so he knows how to relate to us and explain things,” Rathjen said. “He can show us what we’re doing wrong and explain it in a way we can understand. For me, personally, that’s really helped.”
Already, Mientkiewicz has helped Rathjen speed up his timing and cut down his long, “metal-bat” swing to a short, direct-to-the-ball cut that’s more suited for wooden bats.
“He’s really done a solid job of (making adjustments),” Berryhill said of Rathjen. “He’s being able to recognize pitches a lot better, which means he’s getting better pitches to hit. He’s driving the baseball.”
I always wanted Dougie to get into coaching – hoped it would be for us like Tommy – because I really thought he had a gift for imparting his love of the game and ability to LEARN the needed skills on to others. I just never really thought it would be about hitting. It makes much more sense to me that Jacque Jones is doing the same thing for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the Padres system. Since his last couple of playing years involved a LOT of bouncing up and down between the minors and the majors and from team to team, I am almost glad he decided to retire and go into coaching.
Last on my list today but most definitely not last in my baseball heart is Mike Redmond! He’s really making a name for himself Managing in the Blue Jays system. He has already been promoted to AA after a winning season with his A team, the Lansing Lugnuts, last year. His new team speaks pretty highly of him:
…the team will be operating under the guidance of a new skipper, former Major League catcher Mike Redmond.
Redmond made his managerial debut in 2011, when he took the Blue Jays A-ball affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts, to the Midwest League Championship Series. Though the team fell in finals, the Lugnuts finished the regular season 17 games over .500 at 77-60, and won two post-season series under their rookie Manager.
A native of Seattle, Washington, Redmond spent 13 seasons as a catcher at the Major League level with three different Clubs (1998-2004 with FLA, 2005-2009 with MIN & 2010 with CLE), batting .287 with 13 home runs & 243 RBI in 764 career games.
I honestly couldn’t be happier for him and still really wish we could snag him away to help the Twins minor league system (and eventually the majors!) I think he has a long future in baseball ahead of him.
As I said at the beginning, if you know of someone else I didn’t mention here today, feel free to share! Obviously I love finding out what has happened to someone since the days I wrote their names in my scorebook.
**note: as I was putting the final touches on this post, in the space of about 10 minutes, I was lucky enough to see Brad Radke on TV and see a story about Corey Koskie tweeted out!! Bradke was discussing the American Indian Community Center in Minneapolis that he had recently helped remodel and the story about Koskie, you can read better for yourself:Koskie finds peace of mind.
I drove up to Beloit over the weekend to catch a couple of baseball games between the Twins’ Class A affiliate, the Snappers, and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The Rattlers and Snappers finished first and second, respectively, in the first-half standings of the Midwest League’s Western Division, so I anticipated that they would play some decent baseball. They did.
If you want to read a lot about the games themselves, I’m going to refer you to the daily reports being posted by Seth Stohs over at Twins Daily. Seth and Travis Aune were in Beloit the past few days, as well, and I got to spend some time with them. I also met Jeremy Nygaard and his brother Jed on Saturday. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk a little baseball with the group and appreciated their willingness to let an old man like me tag along with them for a day and a half.
For my part, I’m going to simply post a whole bunch of pictures I took and let it go at that. Except for this one thing… I’ve mentioned from time to time rumors that the Twins and my own local MWL team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, might consider entering in to a Player Development Contract starting next year. That’s all they are, at this point, just rumors. Neither party is allowed to discuss the possibility or make any comment on the topic until September. As I think I’ve also posted before, I think the odds are about 50-50. I’m aware that some others think the odds are a bit greater.
Of course, in Beloit there is some concern. They don’t want to lose the Twins. I don’t blame them. They were abandoned by the Brewers a few years ago and nobody likes being told, “we don’t want to be your MLB affiliate anymore.”
The Beloit staff don’t deserve to go through that. They are hard working people who put on a good show at Pohlman Field. The word you hear is that they don’t draw well in Beloit. I suppose that may be true, but I saw a good crowd on Saturday night and an even much better crowd on Sunday. Fireworks Saturday night and a Prince Fielder “BobbleArm” promotion Sunday probably helped, but all minor league teams rely on promotions to draw crowds. It was fun to see the hard work of the Snapper staff rewarded by appreciative crowds.
The problem is the stadium, not the Snappers operation or the fans themselves. Pohlman Field is beyond outdated. I’ve heard it said that it’s the “worst” facility among the 16 teams in the MWL. I’ve only been to three of them, so I can’t speak to how accurate that is. I know it’s tough to come up with funds to build new ballparks or even remodel old ones to bring them up to acceptable standards. I don’t know if Beloit will ever solve that problem. I hope they do.
But professional baseball is a business. A dozen years ago, Cedar Rapids faced losing its team if it didn’t replace their old stadium. The same choice has faced a number of other MWL communities over the past 20 years. Some, like CR, built new ballparks. Some, like Davenport, remodeled old ones. Others determined that they simply could not raise the funds to do so and gave up their franchises to other communities that were able to provide appropriate facilities. I felt bad for some of those cities and I don’t wish to see that kind of thing happen to Beloit. Whether the Twins stay there or elect to move their affiliation elsewhere, I hope Beloit can find a way to survive and eventually thrive as a member of the league.
So here are the pictures. Several of them, actually. I was going to just post a few but then I decided there’s no reason to hold back. We don’t pay for blog space by the inch around here.
I took the afternoon off from the office to sneak out to the ballpark and take in the final game of the Snappers/Kernels series today and it was well worth the penalty I’ll pay of having more work to do tomorrow.
The Kernels won the game 5-4 in 11 innings. Given the heat and the fact that I went straight from the office and thus was still in “business casual” attire, I really didn’t need a four hour extra innings game, but it certainly was entertaining.
Lefty Ryan O’Rourke threw six solid innings for the Snappers but was left with a no decision as his team mates committed four errors behind him (OK, technically only three were committed behind him since O’Rourke committed one of those errors himself when he lobbed a pick off throw to 1B well down the RF line).
The latter stages had everything a fan could want to see in a game. Strategic bunting, clutch hitting, diving catches, good baserunning, controversial umpiring, and a 9th inning manager ejection (the Kernels manager, Brent Del Chiaro… though Snapper manager Nelson Prada and 1B coach Tommy Watkins came close to getting early showers one play later, following what could best be referred to as a pretty obvious “make up” call).
In the end, the Kernels won the game on a walk-off HR down the LF line. If it was fair, it wasn’t by much, but it was called fair and that’s all that matters I guess.
Here are a few pictures of some of today’s action… I didn’t take as many as Sunday, but we have a few shots of guys who didn’t play in Sunday’s game.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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