116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s a baseball season that quite frankly couldn’t have played out much better for Matt Mullenbach.
Oh, sure, he could be in Double-A or Triple-A, pitching in the highest levels of the Minnesota Twins farm system. That would have been really, really nice.
But, all in all, consider everything.
The 25-year-old Cedar Rapids Kernels reliever is a Waukee High School graduate. Other than being with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, this is as close to home as he could get in affiliated professional ball.
“It has been a blessing, yeah,” Mullenbach said. “Getting to see my parents pretty much every weekend when we’re home. It’s cool that they get to see me play.”
Dan and Barb Mullenbach got to see their son play last week at the Field of Dreams. Matt threw a scoreless inning in C.R.’s loss to Quad Cities, the first minor league game played at the temporary stadium near Dyersville and one that was telecast live on MLB Network.
As the only Iowan on either team, this was especially story worthy. Even more so considering Dan Mullenbach proposed some 30 years ago to Barb in Dyersville.
Dan played college baseball at Buena Vista, graduated and took a job in Chicago. He had a friend who lived in Dyersville and would travel each weekend to Eastern Iowa to play town-team ball and meet up with his future wife, who was a teacher in the state.
Dan and Matt got a significant amount of air time on MLB Network during last week’s game, talking about how special the game was to the family. Matt had never been to the Field of Dreams site.
“It was just surreal going out there,” he said. “It blew what I expected out of the water.
“I’m not sure if the coaches realized I was from Iowa or not. Every day they send out a schedule telling you if you’re available. Today I was, so I prepared just like it was any other day.”
That approach has helped the soft-spoken Mullenbach carve out some really nice overall numbers this summer. The right-hander has a 0.84 earned run average in 15 appearances for the Kernels and is 4-1 with a save and a 1.41 ERA in 25 appearances between Cedar Rapids and low-A Fort Myers.
Mullenbach began this season with the Kernels but was sent to Fort Myers in May because C.R. had a ton of pitchers and not everyone was getting work. He returned to town in early July and hasn’t given up an earned run since, spanning 15 2/3 innings.
He doesn’t overpower you, his fastball sitting high-80s. But his pitches have movement, and he mixes well.
“I think I’ve done well the last couple of weeks or so. I try to do the same thing every outing: throw strikes, don’t walk people. Then usually good things happen,” he said. “I don’t look at my numbers very much. I mean, the only thing I pay attention to is the walk-to-strikeout ratio. Because walking people is not a good recipe for success.”
Mullenbach pitched four years at NCAA Division II Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he had middling results. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent after his senior season in 2019 by the New York Mets, spending that summer with Brooklyn, a short-season Class A club.
He was released by the Mets after spring training in 2021, made two appearances in the independent Frontier League and was signed as a free agent by the Twins. He pitched at three minor-league levels last season, including one game for Triple-A Saint Paul.
By the way, the Mullenbachs are longtime Twins fans. Let’s just say there’s a reason Matt’s middle name is Kirby.
Yeah, Kirby Puckett.
“At the end of the day, you take it for what it is and try to do your best,” Mullenbach said of this second opportunity in affiliated baseball. “There’s still a month left in the season. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing and see what it ends up at.”
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