116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Braden Hoyer’s earliest baseball memories include his dad’s Cedar Rapids Kennedy teams.
He followed the Cougars all over, attending games and playing ball with friends in a makeshift field behind the home press box. They even considered the grass area surrounded by three trees their own “mini Herkelman Field.”
The young fan is a senior, entering his final postseason and playing his last games for his father, longtime Kennedy Coach Bret Hoyer.
“When you’re a kid you see it but think that won’t happen or that’s super far down the road,” said Braden, a regular first baseman and pitcher. “It’s my last one, so it’s crazy how fast the time has passed from when I was a kid in the stands watching until now.”
Fourth-seeded Kennedy travels to No. 3-seed Muscatine for a Class 4A Substate 4 opener at 7 p.m. Friday night at Tom Bruner Field, as large-school programs across the state begin postseason play.
The Hoyers’ dual role as father/son and player/coach will come to a close when the season does.
“I think it’s something every parent that goes into head coaching business looks forward to those moments,” Bret said. “There are good times and not so good times. By and large, a lot more good times and more positive memories. We hope to create a bunch more over the next two weeks and see what happens.”
Braden laughed when he described playing for his father as “one of the coolest and scariest” endeavors, making sure to always call him coach when he becomes frustrated. Their relationship has shifted over the years from when Braden was little and shadowing the Kennedy players to playing in the Junior Cougars program to throwing on a varsity jersey in 2019.
“It is definitely one of those things that is cool to experience in life,” Braden said. “I have had practice with him. He’s thrown me BP (batting practice). Now, he’s coaching me in a team setting.
“I’ve been pretty lucky. It’s been pretty good because I know when he’s my coach and my dad. When I’m on the field for practice or a game, he’s my coach.
“After the games, he becomes my dad again. We’ve been able to establish it and when we’re on the field it’s just baseball and business.”
Bret said there are many things outside of competition that has made him proud. Braden is one of the last ones done cleaning the bus or dugout. He was the salutatorian, ranking second among the Class of 2021. Bret said he is more pleased with the person than the player.
“I’m super proud of him and what he does in so many areas,” said Bret, noting achievements in fine arts, academics and athletics. “All those things are super important. The way he treats others. It’s just tremendous. Those are the big things I’m proud of him for and excited for what he’s accomplished as a ball player at Kennedy.
“I’m very appreciative for the opportunity to coach him.”
The Hoyers share an affection for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears, watching games or discussing plays or front-office decisions. They also love to golf together.
The Hoyer family remains rooted in baseball. Three generations share a passion for the game, including Bret’s dad, Tom, who lives in Iowa City.
Bret recalled the fond memories of those early years, hearing and seeing young Braden play with classmates and future teammates during varsity action.
“I could hear his voice,” said Bret, who has 791 career coaching victories in 31 seasons, including 727 in 28 at Kennedy. “I’ll never forget that. There are certain voices over the crowd that resonate with you. It always made me smile when I’d hear him playing.
“When they got older, they’d go to the auxiliary softball field and play out there. I tried to sneak a peek and see what was going on.”
Braden learned about postseason baseball then. The atmosphere changed and kids were vested in the Cougars’ substate battles instead of their own pick-up contests. He didn’t understand that at the time, but he fully understands now.
“I was going up to my friends and saying let’s go back and play,” Braden said. “They wanted to stay and watch.
“My (biggest) memory is trying to get people to play. It was how I first learned about playoff baseball and how it’s different.”
The Cougars (21-15) have won four of their last five regular-season games, knocking off top-ranked Pleasant Valley in the finale. Muscatine (21-13) and Kennedy have similar numbers with the Cougars owning a slight edge in runs per game (6.5 to 6.4) and runs allowed (5.5 to 5.7). Kennedy has better power numbers with a 17 to 1 advantage and its .942 fielding percentage is almost .40 higher.
“I think we’ve been playing really well the last 10 days,” Bret said. “Traditionally, Kennedy baseball teams have played well after the Fourth of July. These guys have picked up where those other teams left off.”
The recent win over Pleasant Valley, which is the top seed in the district, could be the perfect springboard into the postseason.
“It is a huge confidence boost, knowing you can compete with that type of competition,” Braden said. “Now, not only do we have a blueprint on what we have to execute but it gives us momentum going in. We know we can do it, too, which is a great thing.”