CEDAR RAPIDS – An unassuming young man sits at a locker stall in the Cedar Rapids Kernels clubhouse at Veterans Memorial Stadium, chowing down on this particular night’s postgame catered food spread. It is chicken breast, pasta and a vegetable, in case you were wondering.
He’s distinct looking with shoulder-length red hair, otherwise blends in perfectly in these surroundings: a 20-something kid among a bunch of other mostly 20-something kids.
Sage Sutter isn’t a player, but he’s part of the team. Actually a senior at Cornell College, he’s the Kernels’ bullpen catcher for home games.
“Incredible experience. Very fun,” Sutter said. “I am learning a lot about the game, making myself better. It’s fun hanging out with all these guys. They’re nice, we mess around with each other and stuff. They’re not mean. They are good guys.”
A West Delaware High School graduate, Sutter got this super summer internship mostly by chance. Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman had contacted Cornell Coach Seth Wing somewhat early in the season to see if he knew anyone who could help him out.
Cedar Rapids had just two catchers on the roster at the time and was looking for a guy to help warm up pitchers between innings and in the bullpen during games. A need also was there to sometimes come in early in the afternoon before games and catch guys doing side-session work.
Wing got a hold of Sutter. Since Sutter is from the area, he said sure.
This experience has been priceless.
“I’ve learned a lot of stuff about pitch counting,” Sutter said. “Specific pitchers, I’m learning how to use their strengths the best. You can look at a hitter and think ‘OK, we’re going to attack them this way or that way.’ So I’m learning a lot about that, how to attack hitters and stuff like that. I’ve learned about everything. Stuff as simple as catching the ball. I’ve gotten better at simply catching the ball.”
He also has learned just how good these Kernels players really are. Even though they are relatively low on the minor-league ladder, they are pros for a reason.
“Oh, yeah,” Sutter said. “It is incredible how good you have to be to play professional baseball. It’s just incredible. These guys are the best players I’ve ever been around. Even though it’s just low-A, people always say stuff like that, but they are still very, very good at the game. It’s insane.
“Even just compared to a good D-I college program. They are so much past that. It’s weird that people think they are on the same level, because they’re absolutely not.”
Even though they all throw 90-mile-per-hour fastballs or harder, Sutter said he doesn’t have a tough time catching any of these Kernels pitchers. That’s with the exception of J.T. Perez.
Those darn left-handed sidearmers.
With three catchers on the active roster right now, Sutter doesn’t have to get to the ballpark until close to game time. He doesn’t have to hit the bus and make road trips.
But he gets to soak in everything else, and he has loved it.
“It has been the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “Better than I thought it was going to be.”
TENG TO THE GIANTS
One Cedar Rapids Kernels player was indeed involved in a major league trade deadline deal Wednesday. Pitcher Kai-Wei Teng was part of a minor league trio that was sent to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for big league reliever Sam Dyson. Teng was 4-0 with a 1.69 earned run average in nine games, eight starts, for the Kernels this season.
Also part of the trade was former Kernels outfielder Jaylin Davis and pitcher Prelander Berroa. Davis played in Cedar Rapids parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons and is having a breakout 2019, with 25 home runs in Double-A and Triple-A.
EVEN MORE MOVEMENT
Teng’s departure to the Giants coincided with Kernels pitcher Carlos Suniaga and Josh Winder being placed on the Injured List. Replacing them on the active roster are pitchers Dylan Thomas and Cody Lawyerson from Rookie-level Elizabethton. Thomas and Lawyerson were 13th and 14-round draft picks in June of the parent Minnesota Twins out of the University of Hawaii and University of Maine. Going into the weekend, the Kernels still were one player shy of the maximum 25 on their active roster.
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