Minor League Sports

Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman waits for a baseball season here at home in Cedar Rapids

(from left) Kernels manager Brian Dinkelman speaks to Trevor Casanova at third base during a Midwest League game against
(from left) Kernels manager Brian Dinkelman speaks to Trevor Casanova at third base during a Midwest League game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Though it’s said 13 is the unluckiest number, 14 has been really full of misfortune for Brian Dinkelman.

This is the Cedar Rapids Kernels manager’s 14th season in professional baseball, and he’s got no team to manage. There is no diamond to go to, no office to sip a celebratory postgame beverage in, no coaches to work with, no players to develop.

The coronavirus pandemic has him home here in Cedar Rapids, getting to see his wife, Randi, and their daughter, Sydney, which is highly unusual this time of the year. That’s the saving grace.

Yet we’re approaching May, and baseball guys gotta baseball. It’s in their blood.

“It’s definitely a different time,” Dinkelman said. “This is a time where you are playing games every day. But instead of being at the ball field, we’re stuck at home for awhile and not sure of the future. So it is definitely a weird situation, to be home in the spring time.”

Dinkelman, 36, began as a player in the Minnesota Twins system in 2006, an eighth-round draft pick out of McKendree College in Illinois. He made his major league debut in 2011.

After his playing days, he transitioned over to the coaching side. He was C.R.’s hitting coach in 2016, 2017 and 2018, which is why he and Randi moved here, and made his managerial debut last season, leading the Kernels to a 78-62 regular-season record and to the second round of the Midwest League playoffs.

This year’s team was supposed to be another good one. It still could be, if there is a season.

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“I think so,” Dinkelman said. “A lot of guys that we had there at the very end of the season and in the playoffs probably would have been back. Especially position player wise. I know that some of the pitchers we would have had come here were pretty good, some high draft picks from last year. As usual, I think we would have had a very competitive team fighting for a playoff spot, like we seem to every year.

“It will be another exciting year for the Kernels … hopefully.”

Hope is all anyone has left. Like everyone else, he described the situation in spring training when everything was hitting the fan at once as simply surreal.

He’d been in Fort Myers, Fla., working with his team and new coaching staff: Carroll Kuemper graduate Bryce Berg, Luis Rodriguez, Calvin Maduro and Peter Larson. Then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t.

“Went to Fort Myers the middle of February. Probably the 16th or 17th,” Dinkelman said. “Was down there for big league camp for a couple of weeks before I went to the minor league side. I think it was, oh, the middle of March or so was when rumblings of the virus started coming around. The NBA got shut down one night, then hockey. About three days later, we had a meeting where they said they didn’t know what they were going to do with baseball, yet.

“They gave us the next day off while they made some decisions, then the day after that, they told us they were sending everybody home. So within about three or four days, it went from playing and practicing to everybody going home. Now here we are.”

Twins staffers meet electronically about every week, but no one knows how this thing will play out the rest of the way. You’d have to guess there will be some sort of major league season, even if it doesn’t begin until June or July and is played in just one or two locales as rumored (perhaps Arizona and/or Florida).

But, quite frankly, it seems a minor league season, even a shortened one, is a long shot.

“We have been having meetings as a group. Not everybody, but different parts of the organization, on a weekly basis,” Dinkelman said. “Just talking about different things. Right now it’s just kind of wait and see, kind of seeing the guidelines from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and everything. Hopefully we’ll get back to playing baseball here sometime soon. I don’t think anyone has an answer, yet, so we’re all in a wait-and-see mode.”

Dinkelman was asked if it’s possible some sort of minor league season would get played at spring training complexes. Players definitely need the work and at least the chance at a bit of development time.

No season at all would delay individual progress.

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“For the minor league season? I don’t know. That would be tough to do,” he said. “Having everybody in the minor leagues at one complex. Four or five teams. Hopefully that’s something we won’t have to (consider). Hopefully we’ll get to our cities that we’re supposed to play in.”

Dinkelman already is here. His wife is a speech pathologist at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

It was recently announced the Twins, and most major league clubs, are committed to paying all of their personnel through at least the end of May. Former Kernels manager and current Twins first-base coach Tommy Watkins also is waiting out the pandemic here in Cedar Rapids with his girlfriend.

“I’m home every day and hanging out with the family every day,” Dinkelman said. “It’s something weird to get used to.”

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

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