116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – It was a mere 19 months or so between actual games for most all of these guys, but the rust you kind of expected to see wasn’t apparent Tuesday night.
At least for the home team.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels did virtually everything well in plastering Peoria, 7-0, in the 2021 season opener. A smidgen over 1,700 socially distanced fans celebrated the return of minor league baseball to Veterans Memorial Stadium, not to mention the play of their boys.
This was the first professional game in town since the Midwest League playoffs in September 2019, a span of 603 days, to be specific. It’s not the Midwest League anymore, replaced at least temporarily by the generic title of High-A Central League.
“It seems like it’s been awhile since we’ve been on the field here in Cedar Rapids,” said Manager Brian Dinkelman. “There was lots of excitement coming in with it being opening day. But I think just the fact that we hadn’t played in such a long time, just the things we went through with the pandemic and the derecho, to be back out there playing baseball and seeing fans in the stands ... It was good to be out there.”
If this is any indication, the Kernels should compete well in the HACL. Cedar Rapids scored all seven of its runs in the first four innings, coming out with a bang with a three-run first against Peoria starting pitcher Ian Bedell, a Davenport native and fourth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals who was making his pro debut.
Jair Camargo had a two-run double in the inning, followed by Gabe Snyder’s RBI triple. The Kernels had good plate appearances much of the evening, finishing with seven hits and eight walks.
Poor third baseman Seth Gray was hit twice by pitches. Hitting, in particular, would seem to be the thing most susceptible to the long layoff, but, again, not here.
“We swung the bat OK down in spring training,” Dinkelman said. “That first inning, to put up a three spot just like that, with the double by Camargo and then Snyder with the RBI triple, to get the boys rolling and feeling good about themselves and get the lead was a good start for us.”
Teams did get in a dozen or so spring training games last month, though they all had three days off at its conclusion to travel to their host cities and isolate for a couple of days before being tested for COVID and allowed to practice and play.
“It was tough. I was getting a lot of live ABs once I got to spring training. Then all of a sudden it slowed down a little bit,” said Kernels DH Trey Cabbage, who walked twice Tuesday. “So there were a little bit of hiccups with timing (at first). Once we got in there and got enough ABs, we caught back on pretty quick.”
The Kernels also played a clean game defensively and got exquisite pitching from Kody Funderburk, Andrew Cabezas and Melvi Acosta. That trio combined for a three-hitter (one hit allowed by each pitcher), with Cabezas being credited with the win after throwing four innings of relief.
Cedar Rapids deftly scored a run on a double-steal in the third. Spencer Steer was the guy nabbing second base, with Gabriel Maciel sliding head first into home just ahead of a tag on the back half.
Again, execution you wouldn’t necessarily expect after such a long time away.
“Yeah, for the first game, it didn’t seem like there was a ton of rust,” Dinkelman said. “The boys had good at-bats, we put a lot of balls in play, we took our walks. The pitching staff did a good job with throwing strikes ... Just an overall clean game for us being the first game of the year.”
“Getting the motivation to get back into it? That’s done with the drop of a hat,” Cabbage said. “Spring training was extra intense this year. Just from the fact that everything was (compact) from a time standpoint, but also because everybody was so excited to get back at it.”
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