CEDAR RAPIDS — If you read between the lines, you get the impression the Cedar Rapids Kernels feel pretty confident about their chances to remain in affiliated professional baseball next season and beyond. They seem to feel pretty confident about remaining a farm team of the Minnesota Twins.
You don’t really even have to read between the lines here. Kernels CEO Doug Nelson comes right out and says it.
“I feel very good about our relationship with the Twins,” Nelson said, in a late Friday afternoon interview. “Scott Wilson, our general manager, is having multiple conversations in an ongoing basis with the Twins’ baseball operations staff. I have had several conversations with Dave St. Peter, the CEO of the Twins, who has expressed not only his strong support of the Kernels, but his desire for their Class A affiliate to be in Cedar Rapids, and also his appreciation for the community in general and everything it does to support our organization.”
So, there you go. If you are worried the Kernels could be one of the 40-some franchises that will be contracted in a Major League Baseball imposed downsizing and streamlining of the minor leagues, Nelson’s comments should put you at some ease.
Of course, nothing is official until it’s official. The working agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball expired last week and negotiations for a new one are ongoing.
MiLB has virtually zero leverage here, and MLB is likely to get everything it wants in the new deal. It is believed Major League Baseball essentially will take over the minor leagues and offer licenses to minor league franchises it wants to literally remain in the game.
It was announced last week the Appalachian League will go from a pro Rookie league to a college wood-bat summer league. So that’s 10 of the 40-some “axed” franchises.
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Rookie-level leagues and teams are expected to go away, other than those in the Arizona Rookie League and Gulf Coast League, where MLB clubs own facilities. The future of the 16-team Midwest League also is in question, as teams like Burlington and Clinton have been rumored to be on the chopping block.
Quad Cities also has been included at one point or another on “The List,” though its owner has told local media he is confident it will survive.
“What I can say is negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still ongoing,” Nelson said. “There are several committees that have been formed, made up of minor league owners, working directly with Major League Baseball representatives to work out a deal. There is really no timetable for when a deal will be put into place, as there are just many, many topics that need to be discussed and determined, if you will.”
It has been a hellish summer for the Kernels, laying off staff after COVID-19 wiped out their entire 2020 season. Then you add the uncertainty of their future and the August derecho that did a number on Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Included in the extensive damage of the ballpark was the outfield fence from roughly center field to the right-field foul pole being blown over, a ribbon scoreboard in right-center being blown over and a huge light pole in right-center toppling.
“We have, quite frankly, a total of four insurance claims ongoing involving all the damage,” Nelson said. “It was quite extensive at the ballpark. We’re close to finally having all of the damage estimates completed and submitted to the insurance company. So I’m hoping within the next few weeks, we’ll start to get insurance settlements. Then once we get the insurance settlements, we’ll work with the city, because the city does own the ballpark, to go through their bid and purchasing process, in regards to hiring contractors.
“With that being said, the insurance company went ahead and hired a contractor somewhat directly to perform emergency repairs. So the emergency repairs have been completed.” Those emergency repairs include securing the outfield wall and replacing HVAC units in the office. Nelson wouldn’t commit to a total damage dollar amount, but, surely, it’s seven figures.
He said, technically, Veterans Memorial Stadium is ready to host games again, though they’d have to be day games since the right-center light pole needs to be replaced. It’d be helpful to the Kernels for a MLB/MiLB agreement to come to fruition sooner than later, so the club can see the new ballpark minimum requirements and try to make any needed upgrades at the same time derecho repairs are being made.
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“There will be a huge celebration in the Nelson household when January 1, 2021, gets here, because 2020 has been a real bad year,” Nelson said. “It’s mixed feelings. On one hand, no question this has been a tough year, and you can’t help but feel defeated.
“On the other hand, the way the community has reached out to us, the way the city has reached out to us, the supporters and helpers, that’s just been overwhelming. Just in multiple facets, we have gotten a lot of support, and that has helped carry, not only myself, but the front office staff and the board of directors, through these challenging times.”
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