116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Kernels’ Diamond Shop employee Nick Lemieux can point any store patron in the right direction.
Kernels’ flip-flops? All the way in the back of the shop to the right. Kernels’ bottle openers? Just near the register. Kernels’ sunscreen? Smack dab in the middle of the store.
What Lemieux cannot show you in the shop, however, is the Kernels’ masks. He would like to, but they don’t exist.
At least not in the Diamond Shop.
“Listen, there's some dude from London selling them for 10 bucks a pop online, like, on Red Bubble, one of those custom sites,” Lemieux said. “Those were the only ones I could find.”
There also is a seller from Gimhae, Korea Republic. One from Miyazaki, Japan. None, however, are sold by the official Kernels’ organization.
Jessica Fergesen, Senior Director of Corporate Sales & Marketing for the Kernels, said the decision not to buy Kernels’ masks was a combination of timing and economics.
“When you don’t have a season, you have to watch your pennies,” Fergesen said. “At the time when getting and making masks was big, we weren’t a destination.”
As of last week, Veterans Memorial Stadium has become a destination again. Baseball is back in Cedar Rapids.
Everyone who walked through the gates for Kernels’ opening game against the Peoria Chiefs a week ago had to have a mask. Many of them were disposable. Others were long-established “favorites,” washed and reused for outings to grocery stores and prescription pick-ups.
Looking at these faces, which are more than used to the feeling of fabric after 14 months of a pandemic, Fergesen’s logic behind the Kernels’ not investing in masks seemed to be affirmed.
The consideration of purchasing another mask now, to be stuffed in a drawer with the others, also brought up ideas around the pandemic’s deeper psychological effects.
“I mean, $15 isn’t a ton of money,” said 34-year-old Kernels’ fan Ryne Edwards. “But ideally I want to distance myself from this life we’ve had the last 14 months as much as possible.”
A political talking point, a sign of human decency — masks will hold different meanings for those within Edwards’ generation and the one after it. Few would argue, though, masks will forever be a reminder of a year of immense struggle, loss and isolation.
But, if you really want one with a cute corncob on it, you’ll have to search well outside the team gift shop.
After a week on the road, the Kernels return home for a six-game series with Beloit, then host Wisconsin May 25-30.
Hannan Lichtenstein is a graduate student in the sports specialization Masters program at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Twelve students were in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines and South Bend recently reporting and writing stories on Minor League Baseball.