116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — He lined a single into center field to score a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, made an aggressive hard turn around first but eventually settled back to the larger base.
First, second and third bases are physically bigger this Midwest League season, if you weren’t aware. Kind of have an apearance of pizza boxes.
Then the crowd at Veterans Memorial Stadium, at least what remained on this chilly opening night, began a chant to honor Christian Encarnacion-Strand of the Cedar Rapids Kernels for one of the great offensive performances in a season opener in club history.
“MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP!” the mostly well-lubed patrons roared.
A stretch after just one game? Uh, yeah. But Encarnacion-Strand did go 4-for-5 with nine RBIs in C.R.’s 12-5 win over Beloit.
That included a go-ahead grand slam in the fourth inning and a three-run shot to dead center in his next at-bat, measured at a mere 427 feet.
“Just having fun, trying not to think about much,” said Encarnacion-Strand, the parent Minnesota Twins fourth-round draft pick in 2021 out of Oklahoma State. “The fans tonight were definitely in tune with us. It’s like I say around here, too, I’m just having a good time out here.”
His limited pro career has been a real good time. Encarnacion-Strand had hits in his first 20 games last season at low-A Fort Myers, posted a .391 batting average in 22 games.
Word is he was strong in spring training in Fort Myers in March, and, obviously, was en fuego here. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll finish the season with 264 home runs, 1,188 RBIs, and a batting average of .800.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” Encarnacion-Strand said with a grin. “That ain’t happening.”
“I like the way he swings,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “We saw it throughout the spring. Good at-bats, he can drive the ball to all fields. I know he did a nice job at Fort Myers last year. He plays a really good third base, too. He’s got a strong arm. So I think he’s going to do a good job over there.”
“I’m an aggressive hitter. I look early,” Encarnacion-Strand said. “Some guys like getting it over on their first pitch, and that might be the only pitch to get to hit, so you better do that. I knew that on the first one, he had walked the guy before me, so I figured he was coming into the zone. I was just ready to go.”
Encarnacion-Strand singled hard up the box in the bottom of the first inning to tie this game at 1. In his next at-bat, he ambushed a first-pitch fastball well over the fence in left field to give Cedar Rapids the lead for good..
In his next at-bat, Encarnacion-Strand pounded a fastball over the fence in dead center for a three-run shot. Another line drive capped the night, a single to center that scored the Kernels’ final run.
Aaron Rozek worked through five innings as starting pitcher to pick up the win.
“Spring training was a just new experience for me. I’m not used to being off for so long and then getting right back into it,” Encarnacion-Strand said. “So that was like a transition that I had to get used to. But it’s baseball. You get comfortable, have a good time out there. It seemed long, but it actually went by really fast, surprisingly.
“I don’t know. I was just out there having a good time and whatever happened, happened. When I’m on the baseball field, I don’t think too much. I just go out there and have fun playing the game. If it seems too much like a job, then it’s no fun anymore.”
You can bet your life saving that Friday night was plenty fun.
Comments: (319)-398-8258, firstname.lastname@example.org