CEDAR RAPIDS — And after six hours of baseball in record heat, Cedar Rapids Kernels players got to spend postgame Sunday night signing autographs for fans in the outfield at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Of course, the line for Royce Lewis’ signature was the longest. Of course, he stayed longer than he had to in order to make sure everyone got one.
That’s just the way the kid goes about his business. It helped the 18-year-old shortstop and last year’s first-overall draft pick had a good day on the field, including a winning sacrifice fly in the Kernels’ 3-2, eight-inning win over Clinton.
“It was like playing back in Florida or Arizona when I was younger,” Lewis said of the humid and mid-90s weather. “I love the heat. I wish it was a little less humid, and there weren’t as many bugs out. But, other than that, I love the heat. I think my play explained how I liked it.”
Cedar Rapids lost a 10-inning, 9-4 opener and appeared on the verge of its fourth loss in about 24 hours. But it rallied to tie the nightcap with a run in the seventh, then re-rallied for two in the eighth for an uplifting victory.
“It was great. The whole thing,” said Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire. “Like you said, the guys could have laid down. It was a grind, the whole thing. You find a way, and that’s what we did.”
Ben Rodriguez began the C.R. eighth at second base, then Andrew Bechtold walked. David Banuelos bunted them ahead into scoring position, with Rodriguez scoring on Jacob Pearson’s little RBI dribbler toward third base.
Lewis fought off a couple of two-strike pitches from Clinton starter and unfortunate loser Nick Wells, then lofted a deep fly the other way to right field to score Bechtold easily. In Game 1, Lewis — who has been struggling of late and seen his batting average dip under .300 — had a pair of home runs.
“First time ever,” he said of that feat. “Little league, everything. I can go all the way back to tee-ball.”
The parent Minnesota Twins have had Lewis on a rigid schedule this Midwest League season that includes planned days off. This was his first Sunday action.
He might be playing more on the first day of the week.
“Sunday fun day,” he said. “I think it’s working out the way it’s been done. Obviously I’ve been going through some struggles. The whole thing is to get back hot. This win hopefully will be a momentum builder in the future.”
Randy Dobnak saved the Kernels with a strong seven-inning start, his team’s rally preventing him from a tough-luck loss. Nick Brown allowed Joseph Rosa’s two-out run-scoring single in the top of the eighth but picked up the win.
This was the second doubleheader in as many days for the teams. They play again Monday at noon: a nine-inning game..
“I was going all seven,” Dobnak said. “I thought I was going more than seven, actually. I knew going into the game that we had used all of our guys.”
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