SPORTS

Kernels' Anderson perseveres in chase toward 'The Dream'

Relief pitcher overcomes myriad of obstacles to get shot in affiliated baseball

Cedar Rapids Kernels logo
Cedar Rapids Kernels logo

CEDAR RAPIDS – You talked to Nick Anderson for awhile, and there was one thing that came up repeatedly, one common sentiment the Cedar Rapids Kernels relief pitcher kept going back to.

These quotes are kind of out of context, but see if you can pick up the theme.

“I’m chasing my dream,” Anderson said.

“Try to move on and keep focused on the dream,” he would later say.

“I have never thought for a second that the dream is over,” he said, even later in the conversation.

Did you get it, yet? Yeah, ‘The Dream,’ otherwise known as playing in the major leagues someday.

“I’m 25 years old now, and I’ve learned that you’ve got to try and keep everything even-keeled,” Anderson said. “Don’t get too high or too low.”

The Brainerd, Minn., native has had enough of the latter not to worry much about the former.

He began his college career at NCAA Division II St. Cloud State but transferred for his senior season to NAIA Mayville State in North Dakota. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the 32nd round in 2012 but never offered him a contract, in part because of a 2011 felony conviction in St. Cloud for second-degree assault.

Anderson struck a man with a baseball bat. Alcohol was involved.

The Brewers did line him up with the Rockford Aviators of the independent Frontier League, where he pitched the 2012 and 2013 seasons, without much success. He couldn’t find a professional gig last season.

“I had a couple of things lined up for independent baseball, but I found out shortly before spring training that I wasn’t going to get an invite,” he said. “I kind of put my eggs all in one basket. With my numbers at Rockford, I didn’t really have anything for me to call other teams with and say ‘Hey, sign me.’ I tried using some of the connections I had, but nothing panned out.”

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Instead he did house remodeling as a full-time gig back in Brainerd, giving pitching lessons on the side. Undeterred, he went to Florida last spring to an independent league showcase, where he caught the eye of the manager of the Frontier Greys of the Frontier League.

With the Greys, his numbers were eye-popping: a 2-0 record, 13 saves and 0.65 earned run average in 25 appearances. Anderson struck out 35 in 27.2 innings, thanks in part to a fastball that consistently sits 93 to 97 miles per hour.

The Minnesota Twins paid the Greys $3,000 last week to purchase his contract, and the 6-foot-5 right-hander is unscored upon in three innings with the Kernels. He also has a save.

“Our scout in the independent leagues had been on him for about two months,” said Twins farm director Brad Steil. “For awhile there, we didn’t have a spot, were full in the bullpen up and down the system. But we got to a point where there was an opening with … Just an opportunity for us to add another quality arm to the system.”

“Guy goes out there and throws 93 to 96, we’ll take that any day,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer.

Anderson can’t begin to thank his home-state Twins for the opportunity. It’s the team he always has rooted for.

“I had heard there was some interest from teams, but, personally, I never got any phone calls,” he said. “Usually everything goes through the manager and the pitching coach in independent ball. I found out (a week ago) Wednesday, right before batting practice. We got to Evansville, and were about ready to go out onto the field. The pitching coach came in and said the Twins wanted me.

“I didn’t know what to say, to be honest. I had a goal to get picked up … I had a good season in the Frontier League, so I felt like it was a matter of when someone was going to pull the trigger.”

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Just to further the whole hard-earned, never-give-up-the-dream thing, Anderson played most of this season for a club that never plays home games. The Greys are a traveling team based (somewhat) in Illinois that plays every single game on the road.

“At first, it’s just games. It’s the beginning of the season. But it starts to get a little long,” Anderson said. “At the same time, being around everybody, being on the road all the time, it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball.

“It’s a little tougher to keep the body fresh, sitting on the bus, having the trips all the time. Take a 12-hour trip in a vehicle, and see how you feel getting out.”

Ironically, the Kernels made a 10-hour trip early this past week for a series at Lake County. That’s suburban Cleveland.

But if there was anyone not complaining, it was Nick Anderson. He’s that much closer to (what else) “the dream.”

“Obviously I am super excited to be here,” he said. “This is something I wanted to do, (take) that extra step. I’m chasing my dream.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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