Young skipper Collins returns to Cedar Rapids, beats Kernels

Former C.R. catcher managing Fort Wayne

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CEDAR RAPIDS – The only way to distinguish Michael Collins from his players is the stop watch tucked in the back pocket of his uniform. He uses it to time pitchers’ deliveries to the plate.

Otherwise you really couldn’t tell him apart from his Fort Wayne TinCaps. He is so chiseled physically and youthful in appearance.

Collins is just 30 years old, come to think of it. So hard to believe the native Australian and former Cedar Rapids Kernels catcher is in his third season as a professional manager.

“I guess I haven’t really ever thought about the age thing because I’ve always been young,” he said, after Fort Wayne blanked the Kernels, 2-0, Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “I signed when I was 16, came over here and was pretty ignorant, like most 16 year olds, to a lot of things. I started playing young, finished playing young and then got into the coaching part of it. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Collins played 10 years in the minor leagues, including part of 2004 and all of 2005 with the Kernels. He and his wife drove separately from the team this week for a six-game road trip to Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids.

They’ve seen some familiar places and faces, including the daughter of his housing family here.

“It’s good to be back, man. A lot of fond memories,” he said. “I played about a year and a half here, had some success on a personal level. It was fun.

“My wife is living with me in Fort Wayne, and we actually drove here because she wanted to come back. She spent some time here when we were dating and said ‘Well, I’ve got to go back and see Cedar Rapids.’ We took a little drive up First Avenue and through downtown. Checked out some of the things we’d seen before.”

Collins appears to have a bright future in the game, even if it’s not as a player. He managed the Arizona Rookie League Padres last season and the Dominican Summer League Padres in 2012.

Fort Wayne has won four of five on its trip, with Sunday’s victory coming thanks to a combined four-hit shutout. Lefty starter Jeffery Enloe pitched into the sixth, was replaced by submarining righty Eric Yardley and then closer Ryan Butler, who was blowing upper-90s gas.

That was too tough of an adjustment for Kernels hitters. Cedar Rapids (46-53, 15-14) managed but four singles, never advancing a runner to third base and only one to second.

On a positive front, Ryan Eades had a much-needed quality start, throwing six innings and allowing only five hits and two runs. It has been a rough season for the parent Twins’ second-round draft pick in 2013, as he came into Sunday with a 5-10 record and 6.67 earned run average.

This is something for him to build upon.

“My mechanics were all in a funk there for awhile,” he said. “I’ve been trying to figure out, working with (pitching coach) Ivan (Arteaga), on getting back to what’s right and what’s comfortable. It was just nuts earlier on (in the season), but these last three weeks, I’ve felt a lot more comfortable on the mound, and I’ve been able to walk away from outings and stuff with a positive mindset.”

The teams conclude their three-game series Monday at noon. The Kernels then head out for a week-long road trip to Bowling Green and Dayton.

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