Kernels' Jon-Jon reaches the big leagues
This story is from columnist Marcia C. Smith of the Orange County Daily Register. Jon Teig of Cedar Rapids recently attended a Los Angeles Angels game in Anaheim, Calif., against the Texas Rangers.
Teig, who is autistic, has been a batboy for the Cedar Rapids Kernels for 12 years and has been the subject of several stories over the years in The Gazette and KCRG-TV.
ANAHEIM, CALIF. - For the reunion, Jon Teig traveled 1,567 miles from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and dressed four hours before the baseball game.
He put on a well-worn, heather gray T-shirt with "Cedar Rapids Kernels" over his heart. He selected his favorite commemorative baseball jersey from his collection: cherry red, with "Angels" stitched across the buttons and its left sleeve bearing the cartoonish Class-A Kernels' yellow baseball bat logo in the spot where you'd expect an ear of corn to be.
He pulled on an Angels baseball cap and laced up a pair of brand-new running shoes: white Pumas he bought that morning and knew would get soiled and stained orange as soon as he stepped on the Angel Stadium warning track.
Then Teig, 26, and his parents, Bob and Karen, walked from their Anaheim hotel to the ballpark three hours before the Sept. 19 game's first pitch between the Angels and their AL West-rival Texas Rangers.
"Can't be late," Jon Teig said, eying his watch and checking the time on his smartphone.
"Never. Be. Late."
After 12 years as the batboy for the minor-league team in the Angels farm system, Jon Teig was finally going to "The Show."
He had never been to Angel Stadium but shared that minor-to-major-league dream with hundreds of Angels prospects who began their careers grinding out games in the Iowa heartland.
He had watched Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick before they were All-Stars, shortstop Erick Aybar before he won a Gold Glove, outfielder Peter Bourjos before he hit an inside-the-park home run and rounded the bases in 13.4 seconds, and catcher Bobby Wilson and Ervin Santana before they teamed for a 2011 no-hitter.
Last week he finally followed them to the big leagues, waiting in front of the Angels' dugout during batting practice for the reunion.
He didn't have a handful of baseball cards, photos and baseballs like the autograph-seekers around him. He didn't try to get attention, calling out players' names like the fans bending over the railings on the edge of the field.
Then it happened. They called his name.
"Jon Jon!" shouted a surprised Trout, jogging over to hug the dedicated batboy who was there at his Angels beginning.
Teig smiled. "You've been doing great. Two runs last night. I saw," he told the home-run-robbing center fielder and AL Rookie of the Year front-runner.
Teig has autism. He knows everything about the former Kernels players who've become Angels. Their statistics, most dramatic plays, Trout's "hit-run-steal-steal-score" – the memories pour from him so quickly that his words trip over one another.
He can remember racing to the plate to pick up a bat so it wasn't in the way of Trout, always a jackrabbit on the base paths, sliding home. And he recalls sprinting down the right field line at Perfect Game Field at the 5,300-seat Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids to retrieve their foul balls.
He hurried to refill the dugout coolers with water and to hand them cold towels during those afternoon games when it was hot enough to melt cleats.
He patted them on the back when they hung their heads low after strikeouts, and he did "the worm" in the dugout and the "Family Guy" Peanut Butter Jelly Time dance when they scored.
"Jon Jon is a good dude," said Trout, a Kernel in 2009. "He was always cheering for us, no matter what the score was, and always with a smile, always there every night taking care of us."
The Angels remembered that he picked up their soiled uniforms after games, scrubbed the clods of mud from their cleats and spent late nights cleaning the clubhouse long after they left the ballpark.
Most players can't wait to get out of the minor leagues. But Teig likes it there, seeing new prospects arrive hungry to play, sweating out their at-bats in front of small crowds and for little money, less glory and no names on the backs of their jerseys.
"It's baseball, just baseball," said Teig, who every night checks the Internet to see how well the former Kernels are doing for the Angels.
Teig has been a batboy for the Kernels since he was a 13-year-old fan who talked his way into a job he never left. He has never wanted more than the "BB" on the back of his Kernels jersey. He has never asked for a raise from his $30-a-game rate, which "comes out to about 50 cents an hour," his father said.
"He has never even asked for an autograph because you don't ask your friends for autographs."
Helping the players is all "Jon Jon," his boyhood nickname from his early seasons with the ballclub, wants to do. Completely. Wholeheartedly. Genuinely.
The players realized how much the Kernels meant to Teig when they played a joke on him in 2007, telling him he had been traded to another team. Teig didn't know batboys weren't traded.
"The prank kind of backfired on us because we saw this look of sadness of Jon Jon's face," recalled Angels catcher Hank Conger. "It made me see how much he loved the team."
But Teig was a good sport, laughing but relieved afterward. He was happy to feel like one of the guys, even when former Angels catcher and 2002 Kernel Mike Napoli taped Teig to a chair and tucked a hot dog in his shirt before lunchtime.
"That was players-only," Teig said with a big grin. "I was hungry."
Napoli, during Rangers batting practice, yelled, "Jon Jon!" when he saw Teig at the game and came over. So did the Angels' Bourjos, Aybar, Kendrick and Trumbo.
"I saw the Home Run Derby," he told slugger Trumbo. "You hit some big shots."
So many Angels were coming up to Teig that some nearby fans wondered about his celebrity. "That guy knows everybody," one man whispered.
Teig knew them before they were Angels, before they were famous, before they had big contracts, big muscles and some, big tattoos.
"I'm happy they made it to the big leagues," said Teig about reuniting with the Kernels who were gone for good.
On this day, Jon Jon made the big leagues too.
Below are links stories from this season on Teig and Autism Awareness Day at the ballpark, as well as an excellent feature from KCRG's John Campbell about "Jon-Jon."