Minor League Sports

80-year-old Cedar Rapids man never misses a Kernels home opener

Jim Hutton has been to the ballpark over 70 years

CEDAR RAPIDS — It was 47 degrees at first pitch Thursday night, with a cold breeze blowing straight in to the Veterans Memorial Stadium concourse. Not exactly balmy.

That kept Jim Hutton from making it out to the ballpark until about game time. No sense in freezing until you absolutely have to.

But make no mistake, Hutton was here. Just as he has been for every one of Cedar Rapids’ professional baseball home openers since 1949.

Yes, 1949.

“I was at the game when they opened the old stadium that year,” said Hutton, prior to the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ 10-2 loss to Peoria. “I was 10 years old. It was April 2, I think. I forget the exact date. But I was here. Played the clarinet in the Kenwood grade school band. They got us the job of playing the National Anthem for the opening game.”

Hutton, 80, took his usual spot Thursday night: in a handicapped-accessible area virtually right behind home plate. He caught up with his summer friends, many of whom he hadn’t seen since last season.

That’s one of the beauties of opening night. And there are a lot of them.

“There’s nothing like coming to the ballpark,” he said. “It’s the official start of spring. No matter how cold it is, I’m here for that.”

“For me, anytime you open a season, that’s what I really like,” agreed Tom Kelly.

He’s another ballpark regular, president of the Kernels booster club. It’s rare when he’s not here for a game.

“I’m a baseball fan,” Kelly said. “Growing up in Benton County, that was baseball out there. We didn’t have football in high school, until I was about a junior ... I’m still a big baseball fan. Still one of those guys who reads the newspaper every morning and looks at those boxscores. There’s not too many of those people around anymore.”

Like Hutton, Kelly said baseball season means the weather is close to turning.

This was a weather win, comparatively, for the Kernels. Last season’s home opener was played in 30-degree weather, with a blustery northern wind bringing the wind chill into the teens.

“I remember it being down in the low 20s, the mid 20s before,” Hutton said. “A couple of years ago, it was really warm. I don’t remember too many of those, though.”

“You know the summer is going to be here soon,” Kelly said. “We know the first month of the season can be pretty rough (weather wise). You’re going to have a lot of 40-degree nights, like tonight. But it’s always nice to get out and smell that popcorn, have a beer and see guys you haven’t seen for awhile.”

It’s a good thing the Kernels have 139 of these things left because their first game of 2019 was not good. Peoria chased starting pitcher Blayne Enlow in the third inning and won going away.

Every Chiefs starter had at least one hit, with six recording RBIs. Kernels pitchers walked 10 guys, meaning Peoria had a whole lot of baserunners.

Cedar Rapids finished with just five hits, two of the infield variety. Yunior Severino, one of the more highly regarded players on this team, went 2-for-4.

The teams play again Friday night at 6:35.

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

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