116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – With two games left at Veterans Memorial Stadium going into Saturday, at least in the regular season, the Cedar Rapids Kernels have been able to reflect upon what they’ve gone through, what they have now, and where they hope to go.
They say the bottom line is they are appreciative. So incredibly appreciative.
The main thing is they continue to exist in affiliated professional baseball. They survived the chopping of minor league franchises by Major League Baseball when it officially took over operations of the minors over the winter.
The Minnesota Twins agreed to stay here for the long term, at least nine more seasons after this one. The Kernels even advanced a level in the minor league hierarchy after all of this reshuffling and axing, going from low-Class A to the High-A Central League.
The local ballclub, owned by several members of the community and run as a non-profit, are thankful it had a season at all. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled everything in 2020 and forced the Kernels and so many others in the minor leagues to take out a loan just to stay in business.
The 2021 campaign opened under strict guidelines: stadium capacity was limited to 30 percent and fans had to be masked everywhere, unless they were at their seats eating or drinking. Those guidelines were relaxed as the season went on, with full capacity OKed and masks required only for those non-vaccinated fans.
Of course, that was on the honor system.
The Kernels went into the weekend averaging a bit over 1,700 fans per game, which ranked 10th in the 12-team HACL. Attendance league wide and minor league wide has decreased for obvious reasons.
“It’s pretty amazing the support we have been able to get,” said Kernels General Manager Scott Wilson. “When we were strapped down to 30 percent, you think back to that time, we had two or three sellouts at that 2,000 (cap). We’re thankful.
“We are just thankful we’re back playing. I tell people that every day. They’ll ask ‘How’s it going?’ Yes, there is still some apprehension there. We’re still not back to normal, 100 percent. We’re still doing 3,500 on Saturdays instead of 4,500. But we’re not going to shun that at any point in time because we are back playing.”
Wilson said the ballclub budgeted with a 30-percent cap in mind, thus it will exceed those projections by a long way. That’s good.
He said it should allow the club to hire people in the offseason to support what has been reduced to a skeleton front office.
A 2022 HACL schedule should be released soon to member clubs, Wilson said, with each team playing 132 games instead of the 120 from this season. The regular season will begin April 12 and end Sept. 11.
Series will remain six games.
“Player development loves that, that’s no secret,” Wilson said. “Having guys in town for an entire week. The players like it, too. It seems weird to play one team the entire (week), but the entire rotation pitches, everyone sees everyone, scouting wise.”
The Kernels went into Saturday’s game against Quad Cities second overall in the HACL, which would get them a spot in the two-team, best-of-5 league championship series. QC already has clinched the top spot.
Cedar Rapids had a one-game lead on Great Lakes and Lake County. There were 14 regular-season games remaining for everyone.
“Last year was so crazy, it seems like eons ago,” Wilson said. “We’ve played 55-plus games here this season, and, wow, what a gift that has been.”
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