116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – A van from a local hotel pulls into the lower parking lot at Veterans Memorial Stadium after a recent Cedar Rapids Kernels game.
A half-dozen or so players pile in. Roughly 15 minutes later, the van reappears with another half-dozen or so players piling in.
This is how guys get to and from the ballpark, to and from what is their home right now. Every player is living in a hotel until further notice, unable to take advantage of the long-time successful billet family program here.
That’s one of the COVID-19 pandemic protocols for minor leaguers, as mandated by Major League Baseball. For these guys, it’s no host families, no cars they can borrow from those host families.
It’s only hotels, two players to a room. That’s home and away.
“Yeah, man, it’s tough. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s not fun at all,” said Kernels outfielder Trey Cabbage, whose team had its game Saturday night against Peoria postponed by rain. The teams will play a doubleheader Sunday at 2:05 p.m.
“We’re grown men, we kind of want to have our own space,” Cabbage said. “So we really hope the host-family situation comes back to where we can do it.”
Most billet families here don’t charge players to live with them and provide food, while players are paying to stay in hotels. But it’s more than just that.
“Staying in a hotel, you’ve got a closet, you’ve got, like six hangers, you live out of a suitcase. It never feels like you settle,” said Cabbage, who has played here part of four seasons. “When you’ve got a host family, you get to wake up and talk to them. Have a conversation. It’s nice, it’s relaxing.
“I miss cooking, man. That’s what I miss. When you’re in a hotel, you can’t cook. I want to get outside and grill a little bit. Meat and potatoes. Got to have me some steak.”
MLB’s minor league protocols are on a month-to-month basis, so the hope is as times goes on, they will be relaxed enough to let players unite or reunite with host families at some point. Since 21 of the 28 active guys already have played here in previous seasons, plenty of friendships already have been struck.
“I know the boys really want to do the host family,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman, who lives in Cedar Rapids year around. “They enjoy the program, everything that goes on here. So hopefully not too long into the season, they’ll be able to be a part of that.”
“It’s not ideal. But it is what it is,” said Kernels outfielder Matt Wallner. “I think just being able to play is awesome. It was fun for about a week last year to have time off. But it got really boring really quick. It was miserable not being able to play. So it’s obviously worth it to be able to play. Whatever protocols … they hold us accountable, and we take them seriously. They’re letting us play, letting us perform, so it’s all good.”
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