CEDAR RAPIDS — The Quad Cities River Bandits played the first two games of their longest scheduled road trip of the season Monday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The worst kind of cruel irony there.
Virtually every game to this point has been a road game for a Midwest League club that has been a river refugee. Persistent and record flooding of the adjacent Mississippi River has kept Quad Cities out of its Davenport stadium, on a bus and in hotel rooms almost exclusively.
After this 12-game trek to Cedar Rapids, Peoria and Kane County, the River Bandits will have played 43 games this season, all but three away from Modern Woodmen Park. They played those three games over a two-day stretch in late April, two of the three coming via a doubleheader.
Speaking of doubleheaders, Quad Cities and the Cedar Rapids Kernels split theirs here: Cedar Rapids winning the opener, 9-4, and Quad Cities the nightcap, 7-0.
“It’s kind of funny that we finally get a normal home field and now we’re on this long, 12-game road trip,” said Quad Cities Manager Ray Hernandez. “I think we’re ready for it. We can finish this, hopefully, and get back to normal by late May.”
Quad Cities was able to finally work out at its stadium Friday. A three-game weekend series against Great Lakes was canceled, though, because things still need to be cleaned up downtown around Modern Woodmen Park and an alternative place to play could not be agreed upon.
The teams were supposed to play their series at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., but the Los Angeles Dodgers — Great Lakes’ parent team — balked at playing at an NCAA Division III facility. That’s even though Bush Turf company of the Quad Cities maintains that field, Modern Woodmen Park and major league fields such as, wait for it, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
So the River Bandits, who played three “home” games last week against Lansing at the University of Iowa’s Duane Banks Field, were able to catch their collective breath a bit. Burlington, Clinton and Cedar Rapids hosted series that were supposed to be in Davenport, and Peoria hosted a “home” series between Q.C. and Kane County.
“Every day has been a big grind,” Hernandez said. “Actually, the last three days, you do kind of reflect on it a little bit. You appreciate how our players have handled it, how our staff has handled it. It was nice to get those couple of days off. I think we earned that. I know we would have liked to have played, kept playing, because we’ve been playing pretty good baseball. But it was nice to have a series off.”
That’s the thing about this Quad Cities team, as it went into Monday on a nine-game win streak and with the best record in the Midwest League (21-10). Credit pitching with a lot of that success, as the River Bandits rank second in the MWL in earned run average and are averaging over 11 strikeouts per game.
“This has almost made us closer,” said Quad Cities starting pitcher Austin Hansen. “We’re always laughing about it. Is this really real? We never knew where we were playing. Our families were trying to come in and watch us, we’re trying to make plans with that. One day we’re playing at home, then the next day, we all get a text saying ‘Oh, we’re playing in Peoria, we’re playing in Cedar Rapids instead.’ What can you do?”
“I had someone ask me who I’ve gone to for advice about how to handle it,” Hernandez said. “I tell them no one because no one has ever had to deal with something like this ... I don’t think I was expecting the trip that we’ve had. The journey, being on the bus as much as we have. I’ve tried to keep it as normal as possible, tried to provide the players some normalcy. Even though it was hectic, I think the players found comfort with just being on a baseball field. Whether it be Iowa, whether it be Cedar Rapids, whether it be at Peoria playing against Kane County, the comfort of being on a baseball field is, I think, why we have played so well.”
The Kernels got a complete game from starting pitcher Josh Winder (2-1) in Game 1, scoring nine runs, eight earned, against Q.C. starter R.J. Freure, who came in having allowed just one run in 18 1/3 innings. Gabe Snyder had a home run and four RBIs for Cedar Rapids.
Game 2 was all Quad Cities, as Jeremy Pena had a pair of triples and two RBIs. Starter Matt Ruppenthal pitched into the sixth inning.
The teams play again Tuesday night at 6:35.
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