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Kernels pitcher Hildenberger goes from college no name to Midwest League All-Star

1 of 4 Cedar Rapids hurlers to throw in 51st classic

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PEORIA, Ill. — Trevor Hildenberger didn’t play his sophomore year at the University of California. He wasn’t injured, suspended or anything like that.

“We were just stacked, and I wasn’t very good,” the Cedar Rapids Kernels relief pitcher said. “They ended up winning a regional and going to the College World Series. I watched it from the couch.”

His former mates could turn on the television Tuesday night and watch him pitch in the 51st Midwest League All-Star Game. Funny how guys develop sometimes.

He was one of four Kernels pitchers to participate in the game at Dozer Park, which the Eastern Division won over the Western Division, 5-0. Felix Jorge threw a scoreless third inning, Jared Wilson got two outs in the eighth inning, and Hildenberger the final out of that frame.

Cam Booser got one out in the ninth but allowed three runs on two hits and a walk. Infielder Tanner Vavra was originally named a starter but did not play because of injury.

The Most Valuable Player of the game was East starting pitcher Jeremy Null of South Bend, who struck out three in his inning of work. East pitchers struck out 16 and allowed three hits

“We get to meet up with guys you know of or just meet in passing,” Wilson said. “To be able to hang out with them is kind of cool. It’s just fun being out here and playing baseball here. Everyone is having a good time. They’ve put on a good event.”

“It’s a really cool honor to be recognized,” Hildenberger said.

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Hildenberger’s emergence from not good enough to make his college team to professional all-star began his third year at Cal. That’s when, on a lark, he started throwing sidearm.

He had a buddy come out for practice wearing the wrong jersey one day, with Cal Coach David Esquer telling his buddy the number he was wearing made him think he was a corner outfielder. Hildenberger asked Esquer what he thought of his number 26.

“He goes ‘Well, the sidearmer from UCLA, the sidearmer from Washington,’” Hildenberger said. “They both wore 26. Then he just asked me if I’d ever thrown a bullpen that way. We tried it right then, and he said ‘All right, that’s how you throw.’”

Hildenberger was sent to an amateur team in Bend, Oregon, that summer to work on his delivery. He was OK his junior season at Cal, then took off last year as a fifth-year senior.

The Minnesota Twins drafted him in the 22nd round, and he has posted incredible numbers for the Kernels. He has eight saves and a 0.51 earned run average, allowing just 15 hits in 35.1 innings.

He went from mid-April to early June without giving up a run, a span of, ironically, 26 innings.

“I try not and look at my numbers too much,” Hildenberger said. “I know that I’ve had continued success … I’ve been trying to do the same things. Wear the same socks every time I pitch. The same cleats, the same everything. I try to keep a routine, something that works for me. This is my first full season, so it’s kind of nice to find something, a daily routine that, whether an outing goes good or bad, I can go back to.”

Hildenberger knows left-handed hitters get a much better look at him, and getting them out will be important moving forward. But he feels he has room to grow because he’s still tweaking things with the way he throws the ball.

“Guys have the same delivery for 18 years. I’m going on three years,” he said. “So I still think I’m learning things. Whether it’s should I roll my shoulder more, or should I take a longer stride? Those are things I’m still figuring out week by week.”

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Cedar Rapids will host next year’s MWL All-Star Game, so this was a reconnaissance mission for CEO Doug Nelson, General Manager Scott Wilson and other Kernels front-office members.

Nelson said the club has formed an all-star committee of staff members, board of directors and others. They are close to having an event logo finalized and are focusing on putting together the annual Monday night pregame social event for players and club and league officials.

“The neat thing about baseball is that we all share,” Nelson said. “They’ve been willing to share with us their plan, their budgets, what worked, what didn’t. I think we’ve got a lot of really neat ideas to bring to Cedar Rapids. I’ve got to admit that after being at the last couple of all-star games, I am really excited about showing off Cedar Rapids. To show the Midwest League everything that our community has to offer.”

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

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