116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Pat Winkel shed his catcher’s gear and ran toward the right-field bleachers postgame the other night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Hugs were exchanged with some people in the stands. Mom and dad (James and Marcy Winkel) were in town from Connecticut to watch their son play a professional baseball game for the very first time.
A special deal. Pat Winkel, the Cedar Rapids Kernels catcher, had three hits in his team’s loss to Quad Cities, but that wasn’t the topic of conversation between them all.
“It was ‘It’s good to see him playing again,’” Pat Winkel said.
Yeah, it was.
Winkel began this minor-league season on the injured list with a back issue. He was activated in late May.
“Coming back from the IL, coming up here a few weeks ago, four or five weeks ago, it’s just a relief to be back on the field again and in a uniform,” Winkel said. “Not doing the same thing every day, going to the training room. So they were just as excited as I am to see me back on the field.”
Winkel said he began experiencing back discomfort right before the start of spring training, and it just kept getting worse. Doctors diagnosed it as an issue with his spine/vertebrae that likely would have led to a stress fracture at some point.
That would have meant six months or more out of action instead of six weeks.
“We’re lucky we caught it when we did,” he said.
Winkel has at least one hit in 16 of the 21 games he has played for the Kernels, going into Saturday night’s doubleheader with Quad Cities. He has three multi-hit games so far in July, boosting his batting average to .266 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
He appears to have a nice little swing, a left-handed one, unique for a catcher, obviously.
“Good bat-to-ball skills, good line-drive swing,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “He has taken good at-bats for us so far, has done a good job at the plate, getting on base ... He has done a nice job calling games and is getting better receiving.”
“It’s certainly been a learning curve coming right from there, where you are playing a couple of extended spring training games, to coming up here to high-A,”Winkel said. “Pitching’s a lot better, they’ve got more and more information on you. It really takes getting used to. I’m thankful that I’ve got a bunch of guys, a bunch of buddies that I’ve played with last year and in spring training. They’ve helped me get back into it, get acclimated back into it to kind of get to where we are now.”
Winkel originally was drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school but went to UConn instead. He had a couple more years of eligibility remaining with the Huskies, but decided to turn pro after the Minnesota Twins drafted him in the ninth round.
He got a signing bonus of $500,000, which was $350,000 above slot value, more than three guys drafted and signed above him (including Kernels third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand, a fourth-rounder) and as much as third-rounder Cade Povich (also a Kernels teammate).
“Honestly, I thought I was going to end up back in college, the way it was going,” Winkel said. “I’m just thankful to the Twins for sticking with me. They came after me a few times. I, for sure, felt like they definitely wanted to have me, and that was certainly a huge factor in it. Being with a team that wanted to have me in their organization instead of someone taking you just because.”
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