CORONAVIRUS

The only normal: April at Cedar Rapids ballpark is still cold

In 114 previous years, pro baseball would have been played here this week

The gates of Cedar Rapids' Veterans Memorial Stadium aren't open these days. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
The gates of Cedar Rapids’ Veterans Memorial Stadium aren’t open these days. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It was 41 degrees and windy a half-hour before Monday night’s scheduled home-opener at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Ten minutes later, it was 35. Snow — on April 13 — fell and blew in those few minutes. It was no night for baseball, like so many in the Midwest League in April when they play anyway.

Obviously, the Cedar Rapids Kernels and professional baseball are suspended these days along with so much else on the planet. But there I was, alone at the locked gates of the ballpark, remembering things I’ve seen and heard over a lot of years of going to that stadium and the one that preceded it here.

Oh, how I’d like a roll of toilet paper for every night I’ve spent at Cedar Rapids minor league baseball games. I go back to a night in July 1976 when I was a kid in the stands of the old stadium.

It was just another night, just another game, just another crowd of 912. Except that during the game, public address announcer Les Melsha told the fans there was a phone call for Marlon Brando, the Hollywood icon who twice won an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Melsha never used his microphone for nonsense. Someone actually called the stadium asking for Brando, who came to Cedar Rapids for a day to support two Native Americans accused (and eventually acquitted) of murdering two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

So, 912 of us got excited and looked around the ballpark for Brando, four years after “The Godfather” was released. Alas, he wasn’t among us. If he had been, this probably would be the 500th time I’d be writing about it.

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One of my first regular assignments at The Gazette was to cover Cedar Rapids pro baseball games. I was heartbroken if they got rained out because it was an opportunity to write and to be a tiny part of the pro baseball world.

Tonight is Quarter Beer Night at Memorial Stadium, so that may explain why the Cedar Rapids Reds are driving their fans to drink.

I wrote that, shamelessly. The Reds were in a losing streak, you see.

Quarter Beer Nights were a thing back then here, a few times a season for a while. I covered a late-season Quarter Beer Night once when some people lost whatever inhibition they brought to the ballpark. Two young men jumped onto the playing field and ran around late in the game. One did a textbook (as I prefer to recall it through the haze of time) hook slide into second base before a cop chased him off.

Someone in the box seats at that game had a tambourine attached to the top of a broomstick, and made a lot of annoying noise all night. It seemed a bit demented, and I loved it.

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Rob Dibble was on the National League team at the 1990 All-Star Game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. I covered that game, and approached Dibble to ask what he remembered about Cedar Rapids since he played there five years earlier.

“Don’t remember nothing about Cedar Rapids,” Dibble said tersely, giving me an immediate brushoff.

Fourteen years later, Dibble’s memory was far better. He was inducted into the Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. He returned here for that year’s Midwest League All-Star Game. He attended the league’s luncheon, signed autographs before the game, and threw out the first pitch.

“The way I was treated here, and at every step of the minor leagues, was great,” Dibble told me. “I remember it more for off-the-field than on. The people were awesome here.”

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Which was truth. Something that has never changed here is people have been devoted to keeping professional baseball existing and thriving through 114 seasons in Cedar Rapids.

Let’s have a 115th and 116th and 200th. If it’s freezing at the next home-opener, I don’t care. I’m going. I might leave in the third inning, but I’m going.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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