116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — This has to mean a little more for Aaron Rozek.
He’ll get the ball as starting pitcher for the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ season opener Friday night against Beloit at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Sure, it’s just high-Class A minor-league ball. Not exactly the major leagues or anywhere near it.
But take into consideration the road the southpaw has taken to get to this point.
“Always nice to get the nod, I guess,” Rozek said. “It doesn’t really matter what day I throw, you’ve just got to go out and pitch, get innings. That’s what I came here to do. So it doesn’t really matter what night it is. But, yeah, it makes it a little more (special) on opening night.”
Rozek, 26, is a Minnesota guy through and through. He’s from Burnsville, played college ball at Minnesota State, played in the amateur Northwoods League for Alexandria and St. Cloud.
One of his mentors has been Al Newman, the former Minnesota Twins infielder who was on World Series winning teams in 1987 and 1991. Newman coached him as a youth and then again in the Northwoods League.
Rozek was Northwoods League pitcher of the year for St. Cloud in 2017.
“Beautiful person, an amazing baseball mind that taught me so much,” Rozek said.
Despite a 20-4 career record at Minnesota State, Rozek wasn’t a hard thrower and didn’t get a sniff from major league teams. He signed with Southern Illinois of the independent Frontier League in 2018, was traded to Schaumburg in 2019, didn’t pitch at all in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then began with Schaumburg last season.
He threw so well, the Twins offered him a contract.
“Getting that phone call was cool. Very, very cool. I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Rozek said. “I was driving on my way to the field. I think we were having an away series at Windy City, so I was just going down to the field to get my early work in and hang out before we made the road trip down there.
“Manager Jamie Bennett called and said ‘The Twins want to sign you.’ I was like ‘Are you sure?’ because, I mean, I hadn’t heard a peep about anything, about any of that. So it came as a surprise. Obviously happy it was the hometown Twins.”
Rozek grew up going to games at the old Metrodome.
“Looking back, I think the younger me would have thought that signing with the Twins would have been a lot more cool than I did at that point,” Rozek said. “As I got into college, it was more about watching favorite players than favorite team. Obviously, I still kept up with the Twins as my favorite team. But I would have been happy with anybody signing me.”
Rozek pitched at four levels of the minors last season. He began with the Florida Complex League Twins, got a one-game stint with Double-A Wichita, spent a month with low-A Fort Myers, then about a month with the Kernels.
He had five appearances with Cedar Rapids, including four starts. He finished 1-1 with a 4.03 earned run average, allowing 17 hits in 22 1/3 innings, striking out 28.
“A lot of different teams,” he said. “A lot of miles in the air. But it was a lot of fun.”
Rozek participated in his very first spring training, actually reporting to Fort Myers, Fla., in mid-January.
“A lot of learning experiences,” he said. “Obviously the first spring training for me, so it was exciting. I was down there for mini-camps that they do ahead of time, so I was down there January 16, which is about a month and a half before spring training. That allowed me to settle into a routine, not get too sped up with (just) the whole spring training thing. They do a really nice job running everything super smoothly. It was fun.
“A lot of experimenting with stuff you’re not necessarily going to do in season.”
Rozek throws a four-seam fastball, slider, curve and changeup. It was mentioned to him that as far as his baseball career as gone, it’s all about Minnesota.
“I spent countless summer days and nights at the Dome,” he said. “At TwinsFest and all that.
“It’s all about the Midwest.”
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