116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels long have had an outstanding housing parent program. One of the best in the minor leagues.
Players live with local families for free. In general, the refrigerator and freezer are stocked with food and drink, sometimes cars are provided for guys to drive to and from the ballpark and around town.
It’s a base, so to speak, an opportunity to have a home while being away from it. Every Kernels player is taking advantage of it this season, except one.
Though there’s a reason for that.
Jeferson Morales is the only married Kernels player, a 22-year-old catcher/outfielder from La Victoria, Venezuela. He and his wife, Albanis, have a 3-year-old son named Alham.
They live in a local hotel, lodging that is paid for by the parent Minnesota Twins. It’s not ideal, but this young family is together, and that is the main thing.
“It’s hard,” Jeferson Morales said. “They don’t speak English, nothing. My son, sometimes he plays with other kids, but he doesn’t understand what they are saying. It’s hard for him.”
Morales is just grateful to have his wife and son with him. The Twins helped Albanis and Alham make it to the United States in late April.
Jeferson went to spring training in Florida in February. He was far, far away from his family for a considerable amount of time.
“Sometimes it was really hard,” he said, with the help of Kernels hitting coach Jairo Rodriguez, a fellow Venezuelan. “I couldn’t see my family for three months. I like it right now, that we live together. I can play with my son. It’s more comfortable for me. It’s easier for me right now to play baseball.”
Which perhaps is a reason Morales has been on a hitting tear in May. He hit just .192 in 14 games last month, but went into Thursday night’s home game at Veterans Memorial Stadium against Lake County with a .297 batting average and .867 OPS this month.
He’d hit in every May game he’d played until last weekend. He’d also driven in 10 runs.
“In April, it was a little cold,” he said, through Rodriguez. “Coming from Venezuela, it’s hot every day. But I just try to focus and keep working every day. Right now, I feel better, comfortable. It’s baseball, and I am enjoying it every day.”
“He’s a good hitter,” Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman said. “He brings energy, has a line-drive swing all around the field. Gives you competitive at-bats. I like having him in the lineup.”
At what defensive position in the lineup always has been the question. Morales, who signed with the Twins as an international free agent in 2016, has caught, been a second baseman and played the two corner outfield positions in his professional career.
This season with the Kernels, his time has been split between catcher and left field, with a handful of games at designated hitter sprinkled in.
“When I play outfield, it’s really good for me,” he said. “I feel comfortable. Behind the plate, I need to work a little bit more. But I keep working, we keep working hard every day.”
So what does he consider himself?
“I don’t know,” he said in English, with a broad smile.
Versatility is good, and if you can hit, they’ll find a position for you. Morales can hit (.a 262 career average in just over 200 games), had 12 home runs last season and for the most part has done well at controlling the strike zone.
Things are good right now for him: on the field and at home. Even if that home is a hotel.
“I feel OK in a hotel, though it’s not the same as a house,” he said. “But I feel comfortable because I am together with my family … I (play baseball) for me and my family. This is my goal, my passion.”
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