CEDAR RAPIDS — It ain’t easy being a “rat.”
That’s what they call freshmen at Virginia Military Institute. You are told what to do by upperclassmen every minute of the day when you first arrive on campus.
You walk a prescribed route at “rigid attention” whenever you are inside the barracks. You can be stopped at anytime and asked to sing the school song or other questions you must know the answers to.
If you don’t succeed, you do push-ups.
“It’s a different college experience, for sure,” said Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher Josh Winder, after his team’s 2-1 win Saturday night over Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “But it has definitely made me who I am today. It toughened me up, made me very disciplined, all that type of stuff. The biggest thing about going there are the friends and the people I met through that process. They are some of my biggest support system to this day.”
Winder pitched Division I college baseball for the Keydets, became the highest-drafted VMI player in over two decades when the Minnesota Twins plucked him in the seventh round last June. He signed and is using the extensive lessons learned at his school to try and advance in professional baseball.
“There is a lot of extra stuff that you don’t have to do at normal colleges,” said Winder, 22. “You learn how to march, how to do military drills, salute the flag, all that type of stuff. Your days are a lot more structured. There is a lot less free time. That especially makes it tough to play baseball there, because you’ve got to make the most of the time you have down at the field.”
The 6-foot-5 right-hander was very solid in his pro debut last summer, making nine starts and helping Rookie-level Elizabethton to the Appalachian League championship. He was good in his first start here last week and struck out nine in five solid innings against Burlington.
He allowed a two-out RBI single in the fifth to tie the game, meaning he had a no decision. But his low-90s fastball, curveball and changeup look like they will play in the Midwest League.
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“He’s done well the first two starts,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “Good job of pounding the zone. He uses his fastball well, gets a little carry on it. Mixes in his breaking ball and changeup as well. Kind of tries to get them up in the zone a little, then gets them with the breaking ball. He’s a competitor.”
“I thought I had a lot of my stuff working, a lot of my stuff going,” Winder said. “Moved the fastball around a little bit more today, kind of kept them off balance. Was able to work some of my pitches off that. Overall, I felt really good out there, and, hopefully, I can keep going.”
The Kernels (4-6) won their second straight, with the winning run scoring in the seventh on a throwing error by Burlington relief pitcher Austin Krzeminski. With runners on first and second and two away, C.R.’s Andrew Bechtold his a roller up the third-base line, Krzeminski fielded it but his hurried throw was into the runner, Bechtold knocking the ball out of Bees first baseman D.C. Arendas’ glove, allowing Trey Cabbage to score.
Brian Rapp (1-0) threw three shutout innings in relief for the pitching victory. Joe Record pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save.
Winder, Rapp and Record combined for 15 strikeouts. The teams play again Sunday afternoon at 2:05.
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