CEDAR RAPIDS — Alex Kirilloff was at home in Pennsylvania, surrounded by family and friends. Royce Lewis was at his grandparents’ house in Southern California.
When Ben Rodriguez found out he had been drafted by the Minnesota Twins last June, he was having breakfast with a friend, rather despondent because he thought his baseball career was over.
“Pretty much after Round 30, I figured I wasn’t getting drafted,” said the Cedar Rapids Kernels catcher-infielder, whose team split a Tuesday night doubleheader with Beloit at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “One of my best friends was offering support. Talking me up like ‘Aw, you are going to do great things in your life. You’re going to have a good career.’ I was starting to make plans for what I was going to do.”
Rodriguez had a real solid backup plan. He already had his degree from Pepperdine University in hand and wanted to go to medical school.
But then ...
“I got a text from the Twins,” he said. “It was ‘Hey, man, I can’t believe you’re still on the board. We like you a lot. We didn’t think you’d be here, but we have to get you. Will you sign with us?’ I was just like ‘Hell, yeah.’ They called me, and that was it.”
Rodriguez went in the 38th round. There are only 40 rounds in Major League Baseball’s Draft; the 2018 edition is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
In the Kernels’ clubhouse, you have quite a dichotomy that way. Rodriguez is on one end of the spectrum, Kirilloff and Lewis on the other.
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Kirilloff was Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2016, going 15th overall. Lewis was last year’s first-overall draft pick.
Kirilloff and Lewis hit grand slams in consecutive innings of the nightcap, which Cedar Rapids won, 14-3. Beloit took the opener, 5-2.
“I’m not that kind of guy,” Lewis said, when asked why he didn’t go to New York City to attend the draft in person. “I don’t expect to be drafted or anything. I feel like if you go there, you’re saying ‘I’m going to be drafted, no matter what.’ So I stayed in L.A. at my grandparents. My whole family was there.”
“As politely as I can put it, when you get here, you realize how little those things matter,” Rodriguez said. “Like I talked to Royce the first day: ‘You were the first-overall pick, I was the 1,200th-something pick.’ But Royce would ask me questions about the game, just like I’d ask him questions about the game. Obviously, there’s a difference. I’m not saying there’s not a difference. But no one is not really treating me any differently just because I’m a 38th-round pick.”
Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire actually can top every one of his players, as far as being a low draft pick. The Twins took him in the 41st round in 2005.
The draft was decreased from 50 to 40 rounds in 2012.
“I was actually in Arizona with the Twins early on a West Coast road trip,” said Gardenhire, whose father, Ron, was a longtime Minnesota manager. “We were on a road trip, going from Arizona to L.A. We were in Arizona the day of the draft and watching it on the computer and stuff. I had a pretty good idea I was going to get drafted, had a pretty good idea the Twins were going to draft me. I knew that if I didn’t get taken by somebody out, they were going to sign me.”
Gardenhire, who played at the University of Illinois, said he didn’t even get a phone call from anyone associated with the Twins. He found out he had been drafted sort of by happenstance.
“I was in the clubhouse, sitting in my dad’s office, and they were like ‘You just got drafted,’” he said. “I was like ‘Cool. Nice.’ ... They didn’t call me, I guess they just assumed I knew. I actually talked to (then general manager) Terry Ryan the next day. We got off the road trip, I went into his office and signed.”
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Cedar Rapids fell to a season-worst 26-29 with the Game 1 loss. Beloit got three hits, including a home run, and four RBIs from Jesus Lopez, all coming against starting and losing pitcher Blayne Enlow (0-2).
Jose Miranda had a solo homer for the Kernels. Robby Rinn also homered in Game 2 for Cedar Rapids, which had 16 hits. Rinn, Trey Cabbage and Jean Carlos Arias each had three-hit games.
The teams play a day-night doubleheader Wednesday, with first pitches scheduled for 12:05 and 6:35 p.m.
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