CEDAR RAPIDS — Mark Hylbak and his wife traveled up here from Atlanta this weekend for a couple of pretty good reasons.
To eat some tenderloins, for one. To buy at least one of the special jerseys the Cedar Rapids Kernels wore Friday night in their 4-3 loss to Dayton at Veterans Memorial Stadium, for two.
It was Snoopy Night, and the Kernels donned white shirts with yellow arms and black lettering with Peanuts caricatures on them. They were auctioned during the game for charity.
If he was successful on any of his four bids, Hylbak and wife, Lucy Isman, hoped to add to a game-worn jersey collection that is approaching 6,000. Hylbak said he’d have to check his Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that lists them all for the exact number, but figures it’s around 5,850, give or take a few.
“We saw on the Kernels Facebook page about these, and my wife was like ‘I really want one,’” Hylbak said. “So it was like ‘OK, how many Delta Sky Miles do we have? Can we make a quick trip up here?’”
Of course, they could. Hylbak originally is from Mount Vernon and worked at KCRG-TV before landing a job with CNN.
He worked there for 33 years until retiring. That’s where this obsession, if you will, with jerseys was born.
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“When I first got to CNN, I worked in the sports department. Which I loved,” he said. “The only problem is you’ve got to work weekends. So I couldn’t go to Athens to see a Georgia Bulldogs game, I couldn’t go to a Braves game on a Saturday night, couldn’t go see the Falcons on a Sunday afternoon.
“After seven years there, I finally got some weekends off. Went to a Braves game, and everybody is wearing a Braves jersey, and I felt under-dressed. So I went to the gift shop, and if you wanted a real Braves jersey that’s double-stitched with a number on the back and everything, anymore they’re $250 or more.”
Hylbak subscribed to a bunch of sports magazines at the time, with several of them including classifieds for game-worn minor-league jerseys. He realized $35 for one of those was a lot more reasonable than $250.
It’s obviously easier to buy them in this day and age online and everything. He said he’s got some Falcons jerseys, some St. Louis Blues hockey jerseys and other shirts from major-pro sports teams.
His collection also includes about 50 Cedar Rapids RoughRiders hockey jerseys, and he somehow came across an old wool Cedar Rapids Rabbits baseball jersey from 1938 that he bought for $100 and eventually donated to the Kernels.
”You’d get a jersey, and you’d think ‘Well, who exactly is this player?’” he said. “I’d look them up, where he was from, who drafted him, is he any good? So I got into the background of who wore these jerseys. It just grew.”
Hylbak was wearing a special-edition Yellow Submarine (the old Beatles song and movie) jersey from the Florida Fire Dogs, an affiliate of the Braves, Friday night. All of his jerseys just lay loose around his house, with the exception of two that are framed: a Dale Murphy, Braves jersey and a Walter Payton, Chicago Bears jersey.
“I just enjoy it,” he said, of his collection. “I feel like it keeps me in the game.”
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The Kernels (12-15) committed four errors and struck out 15 times to drop the opener of this three-game series. Three infield errors in the sixth gave Dayton (9-18) what turned out to be its winning run.
Cedar Rapids put the first two guys on base in the bottom of the ninth, but they were stranded on second and third to end the game. The teams play again Saturday night at 6:35.
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