Minor League Sports

Kernels job leads to lasting friendship

HS journalism: Cedar Rapids' Jolene Buchheit has friend in Carlos Suniaga

Cedar Rapids Washington teacher Jolene Buchheit (right) tutored Kernels pitcher Carlos Suniaga this summer, forging a lasting friendship. (Jolene Buchheit)
Cedar Rapids Washington teacher Jolene Buchheit (right) tutored Kernels pitcher Carlos Suniaga this summer, forging a lasting friendship. (Jolene Buchheit)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Because of a summer job, Jolene Buchheit was able to create an everlasting friendship with a professional baseball player from Venezuela.

Carlos Suniaga, a pitcher for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, made his debut in 2018 and spent the entire 2019 season in Cedar Rapids. When it came time for needing help with an upcoming math exam, a friend of Suniaga mentioned Buchheit as a possible tutor.

Buchheit works at Cedar Rapids Washington during school year and concessions at Memorial Stadium in the summer. She met Suniaga at the high school when he came to talk to the Spanish classes and the ELL students.

“We saw each other throughout the (2018) season in the parking lot and when he came to the stand to talk to his friend,” Buchheit said. “When I saw him for the first time this season, he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek before hugging me tightly.

“That was the first cultural difference I noticed.”

Suniaga was born and raised in Venezuela and with Buchheit tutoring him, she noticed some more cultural differences in normal conversations.

“As we began to spend more time together, I noticed more, his reverence when speaking about his grandmother and mother, for one,” Buchheit said. “When he talks about what is going on politically in Venezuela and what it’s like to live there right now. There was a lot of turmoil in Venezuela throughout the course of this season and I am definitely invested in following it to see what Carlos’s family is going through.”

That care for each other is what turned a math tutor into an everlasting friendship.

Suniaga was placed on the injured list and when Buchheit found out, she was immediately worried about his well-being.

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“I messaged him right away to see if he was OK,” Buchheit said. “He apologized for not telling me about his sore arm sooner and making me worry.”

Buchheit and the other workers would cheer whenever Suniaga would enter the game, but one game they were swamped with work when Suniaga entered.

“He noticed the lack of cheers,” Buchheit said. “I apologized and told him we are always screaming for him in his head. He now says he still hears it whether we scream or not, even away games.”

With the season over, Suniaga will be having Tommy John surgery in Minnesota. Buchheit will consider driving up there to be with him since his host family or teammates won’t be able to make the trip.

No matter where Suniaga ends up in his professional career, he always will hear the concessions stand cheers and cherish the friendship with Buchheit.

A chance to tutor a baseball player also opened up a new door for Buchheit, with an everlasting friendship. She always is looking for more opportunities to tutor students.

“I have a passion for working with students, which is why I work at Washington.” she said. “If anyone comes across the opportunity, they should seize it.”

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