CORONAVIRUS

Monday's postponed Cedar Rapids Kernels home opener leaves ballpark regulars melancholy

Jim Hutton watches the action during the Midwest League baseball home opener between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Pe
Jim Hutton watches the action during the Midwest League baseball home opener between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Peoria Chiefs at Veterans Memorial Stadium in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There’s Jim West and Tom Kelly. Sometimes former longtime equipment manager Ron “Roady” Plein joins them.

As do others.

You can’t miss these guys. They’re on the concourse at Veterans Memorial Stadium, just a smidge down the third-base line behind home plate.

“I call them his posse,” Marge Hutton said, about her husband’s friends.

“They’ve kind of adopted me, I guess,” Jim Hutton said.

Hutton is at virtually every Cedar Rapids Kernels home game. It’s what the 81-year-old loves to do during the spring and summer.

Baseball, the grand-old game, means an awful lot to him. It’s why he has attended every Cedar Rapids home opener since 1963.

A stint in the military in 1961 and 1962 broke what would have been an even longer streak.

“I don’t know why it’s so important with me,” Hutton said. “But I always like to start the season off with a new outlook on the team. I also look forward to seeing the new players. Looks like we might end up with a half-season this year.”

At best. The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped all sports cold at the moment.

The Kernels were scheduled to have their home opener Monday night. Wisconsin was supposed to be the opponent.

That’s not happening, and it’s hurting everyone. Especially the regulars at the ballpark.

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“It’s kind of funny,” said Kelly, one of Jim Hutton’s posse and president of the Cedar Rapids Kernels Booster Club. “The last two or three weeks, we’ve had some pretty great weather. But I see Monday is supposed to be one of those days where it’s rain and about 42 degrees. For some reason, on a Kernels home opener, that seems about right. About par for the course. We always seem to have those 40-degree nights where it’s about 28 when it gets around to being the eighth or ninth inning.”

At this point, you wouldn’t hear anyone moan or groan about it being too cold to watch a baseball game.

“We know for a fact that we will never complain about a 35-degree night at the ballpark again,” said Brandi McCarty.

McCarty and her husband, Jayson, are Kernels regulars, too, a rare younger couple in their 20s who love being at the stadium. Most nights, they’ll be out back of the ballpark postgame, chatting up Kernels players and trying to obtain autographs of them and the opposing team.

It’s their ritual, one that’s being taken away.

“Normally, it’s a boring offseason, but this offseason is extra long and extra boring now,” Brandi McCarty said. “We just hope there gets to be a season this year. We look forward to making friendships with the players when the season does officially take off and us baseball people can have a normal life again. Right now, us baseball people aren’t OK. It’s going to be weird for sure not having an opening day. But we know it will come soon.”

That’s what everyone is holding on to. That’s all they have.

No one knows how long it will take this pandemic to calm down. Will it come in time for the Kernels, the rest of the Midwest League and minor league baseball to have a season?

“We just never thought the delay of the season would ever be because of a crazy, life-changing virus,” McCarty said. “No one did.”

“With everything up in the air, you just don’t really know anything,” Kelly said. “You take it week by week and hope each week gets a little bit better.”

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They all know staying away, staying at home is the best thing for everyone right now. It’s a necessity.

But they want baseball back, they want the Kernels back.

“While it is disappointing that we will not be able to be together on opening day April 13, it is our belief we will be together later this summer,” Kernels General Manager Scott Wilson said. “Right now, we ask that all our fans do the right things and stay home, stay safe and be healthy. When we get the opportunity to all come out to the ballpark later this summer, we will all enjoy the celebrations. But right now, the focus is to be on staying healthy and safe.

“Baseball and our ballpark are a great gathering point for all of Eastern Iowa throughout the summer, and we will be ready to entertain and gather as soon as it is appropriate to do so.”

That can’t come soon enough.

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

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