116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Six hundred and three days.
That’s a long time away from the ballpark, a dreary road trip to nowhere.
“Last year was dull,” Erin Irish of Iowa City said as she filled out a score card Tuesday with the names and positions of the Peoria Chiefs and Cedar Rapids Kernels for her husband, Gene Szymkowiak.
“I don’t remember the numbers of the positions,” Irish said. Shortstop still is 6. Center field still is 8. And this was Game 1 for the Kernels at Veterans Memorial Stadium since September 2019.
“Not fun at all,” Szymkowiak said about last summer. “We even came here and looked at the place after the derecho. Seeing that about killed you.”
The wreckage included a light pole, the video ribbon board in right field, the outfield fence from the right field line to dead center, and a foul pole.
Your season is taken from you because of a pandemic, and you get a natural disaster thrown in as a bonus.
On top of that, Major League Baseball put the screws to the minor leagues. Cedar Rapids survived MLB’s 42-franchise cutdown across the nation, but Burlington and Clinton lost their franchises of generations.
The Kernels, in fact, signed a 10-year player-development license with MLB in February to continue as a Minnesota Twins affiliate.
Cedar Rapids’ city council approved a five-year, $1.4 million loan from BankIowa to the Kernels last October for pandemic relief to fund their operations. The Cedar Rapids Baseball Club, Inc., leases the stadium from the city.
A lot can happen in 603 days, even if none of it is actual professional baseball, which first was played in Cedar Rapids in 1890. Shirts worn by at least a couple Kernels employees Tuesday said “2020 — What the Shuck?”
But here we were on a nice-enough early May evening Tuesday, with customers lined up and waiting for the stadium gates to swing open an hour before the first pitch.
“It’s great to welcome all our fans and have our summer family back,” said Kernels CEO Doug Nelson.
The Kernels smacked the ball around in the first inning, going double-double-triple at one point for a 3-0 lead and causing Szymkowiak to start marking up his scorecard right away.
“We really missed meeting the players,” he said. “(Kernels second baseman Spencer) Steer, we sat with his grandparents for five games two years ago. We’ve met players, their parents, their host families.”
Szymkowiak and Irish come to 15 or so games a year here.
“We live in Iowa City and it’s a quick drive up,” said Irish. “Frankly, if I didn’t feel like cooking we’d just go to a ballgame, the food here is so good.
“There’s a really nice feel here. It’s just the right size, clean, friendly.”
A really nice feel. The right size. Clean and friendly. You can do a lot worse than that.
The Kernels have players from the Dominican Republic, three South American nations, and 14 states. There is a player from Lincoln, Neb., and one from Lincoln, Calif. There is one from Moscow (Maine). There’s one from West Branch (Michigan).
From now through September, you see, the Kernels are part of Cedar Rapids. Again.
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