116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DAVENPORT — A group of parents, housing parents and other fans stood by the two team buses outside Modern Woodmen Park late Sunday evening and cheered each and every Cedar Rapids Kernels player as they brought their gloves, bats and other equipment with them to pack away for the short ride home.
It brought a smile to the face of most every guy, soothing the disappointment of a 5-0 loss to Quad Cities in the deciding Game 5 of the High-A Central League championship series. Several of them stopped and hugged housing coordinator Linda Mann and others before boarding their bus.
This was a good return season for the Kernels on and off the field.
The team played all 120 regular-season games, which was an accomplishment during this unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic. A pandemic that canceled the entire 2020 campaign.
Just a couple of players were believed to have been affected by the virus, and that was minimally early in the season, before virtually the entire team became fully vaccinated. Guidelines from Major League Baseball, which has taken over operations of the minor leagues, generally became relaxed as the season went on, with twice-a-week testing stopped for the vaccinated and players allowed to move in with billet families, provided they also were fully vaccinated.
Veterans Memorial Stadium and other ballparks in the league had capped capacities early in the season with masks for fans required unless they were at their seat eating and drinking. That went away later in the summer.
With the Delta variant raging, players and coaching staffs were asked to mask back up late in the season when they gathered in clubhouses.
“The beginning of the season was weird, with the COVID rules, with the late spring training, the late start to the season. The six-game series and Mondays off,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “It was new baseball compared to what we were used to in professional baseball. But I felt like it went pretty smooth. We got all the games in, so you can’t complain on that. We had some success. It was a good year.”
Oh, yeah, the success part. The Kernels made it to the High-A Central League finals as one of two teams with the best regular-season winning percentage.
Cedar Rapids didn’t officially qualify until the final week of the regular season, doing so despite spending its final two weeks on the road. The championship series was back and forth, with the Kernels winning Game 1 at home and Quad Cities winning Game 2.
The series shifted over the weekend to Davenport, with the Kernels winning Game 3. On the verge of their first league title since 1994, Saturday night’s Game 4 was fraught with drama.
Seth Gray just missed hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning, settling for a double that put runners on second and third with none out. The Kernels ended up not scoring.
Aaron Sabato’s solo homer in the top of the fifth gave Cedar Rapids a 1-0 lead, but Quad Cities countered with a two-out run in the bottom of the inning. Logan Porter’s walk-off homer in the ninth gave the River Bandits a 2-1 lead.
Sunday night’s Game 5 pretty much was all Quad Cities, as it scored twice in the first inning, added another run in the second and shut out Cedar Rapids, 5-0. The River Bandits outhit the Kernels, 12-2, with the Kernels unable to do a thing with eight drawn walks.
So close, yet so far.
“It was fun,” Dinkelman said. “I think the boys had a good time. We won baseball games, we got to the playoffs here again. This series I thought was really good. The games, there was some excitement, some big moments for the guys to learn from. We had a great staff. I think everybody enjoyed this season.”
The Kernels finished with a 69-56 overall record, playoffs included. From a statistical standpoint, they led the 12-team league in team earned run average, were second offensively in home runs and third in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging).
Michael Helman led the team in doubles (21), home runs (19) and stolen bases (21). He was one of eight players to reach double digits in homers.
The team played in the playoffs without their regular middle infield, as shortstop Wander Javier and second baseman Yunior Severino both were injured.
Among the pitchers who impressed this season were Tyler Beck, who got a promotion to Double-A Wichita, and Louie Varland, who came in from low-A Fort Myers and went 6-2 with a 2.10 earned run average in 10 starts.
Dinkelman said he won’t know for a while, yet, what his 2022 assignment will be. He was hitting coach here before taking over as manager in 2019, when the Kernels were a low-A team.
“Time to be home with the family for a while, enjoy some time off,” he said. “Then look forward to next year.”
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