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Joe Mauer in Cedar Rapids--Day Two

Tuesday night was a big deal at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids. Twins Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco were in the Kernels’ line-up together and at least twice the usual Tuesday night crowd squeezed into the ballpark to watch them. I don’t know that from witnessing it first hand, but only from accounts from media and family members that used my season tickets that night.

Seems I had foolishly committed to making a business trip to St. Louis Sunday through Wednesday this week.
So I missed the filled ballpark and, from what I understand, filled pressbox on Tuesday when Nolasco pitched and Mauer played designated hitter for the Kernels, who beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 9-0 that night.

I did make it home from St. Louis Wednesday in time to see Mauer’s rehab debut in the field at first base. I didn’t expect to see another huge crowd, but I certainly didn’t expect to see what was essentially a pretty normal 2,000+ crowd, either. Yet, that’s exactly what I saw.

I’m not sure what that says about baseball fans in Eastern Iowa.Maybe it says we aren’t as awe-struck by the presence of big leaguers as some people think we should be. Maybe it just reemphasizes that the Twins organization still has a lot of work to do in the area if they want to truly make a dent in the Cubs’ stranglehold around here and make this area a part of “Twins Territory.” Maybe it reflects the reality that Joe Mauer, himself, does not have the star power that he did when he was winning batting titles and MVP awards, not to mention being the cover-boy of MLB video games for two straight years.

Still, while a lot of the Twins fans in Minnesota who have been booing Mauer at Target Field this season might scoff, he’s an almost certain future Hall-of-Famer and he was in uniform playing for the Kernels Wednesday night. If you’re a baseball fan, why the heck would you NOT show up to watch?

You can’t say nobody tried to get you out there. The Kernels began marketing the Mauer arrival even before they could officially announce it was happening. When it was still an “unofficial” thing, the Kernels announced via every media outlet they could get access to that they would have special extended ticket office hours Saturday and Sunday.

And people did take advantage. They got tickets for Tuesday and they got tickets for this weekend’s games, but there was little demand for Wednesday’s contest.

It’s great that there will be big crowds Friday and Saturday, but honestly, there were going to be big crowds Friday and Saturday, anyway. Already-planned promotions and tie-ins with a major local employer or two this weekend guaranteed the Kernels would have a couple pretty full houses those two nights, with or without a big league headliner.

That’s good, perhaps, because there’s no assurance that Mauer will play both nights. He’s scheduled for an off-day on Thursday and he indicated after Wednesday’s game that he still has a few things on his “checklist” that he wants to accomplish before returning to the Twins, so I think we can safely assume he’ll be on the field Friday night. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on him also being with the Kernels on Saturday night. I would also be betting he’s en route to Houston to rejoin the Twins before the Kernels take the field on Sunday.

Anyway, I just don’t understand the mediocre crowd Wednesday night.At least the fans who did show up didn’t boo Mauer when he walked to the plate. They didn’t rise to their feet with an ovation, either, but the polite applause is better treatment than he gets from his home town fans at Target Field these days. I don’t understand that treatment, either.

On Wednesday night, Mauer continued to kick off the rust a bit. He went 0-3 before calling it a night. He grounded in to a force out in the first inning and was stranded at second base. He barreled up on one in his second at-bat and drove the ball to the warning track in left-center field. In his third trip to the plate, he watched two strikes go by and then went down swinging.

Defensively, I don’t recall a ball being hit to him at all. He did get one ball thrown to him on a double-play attempt that went in the dirt and he didn’t come up with it.

He obviously is not lighting up the Class A pitching he’s seeing, but that’s why you rehab in the minors. Keep in mind, it’s not like he’s been taking batting practice throughout his time on the disabled list. His injured oblique muscle meant he was pretty much on the shelf until taking a few cuts in the few days before coming to Cedar Rapids. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to sit out a month and then step in and immediately hit any level of professional pitching has never tried to do it.

If he’s not making consistent solid contact by the time the weekend is over, then I’ll be a bit concerned.The Kernels and Twins PR guy Andrew Heydt have done a good job of getting media access to Mauer without totally disrupting the clubhouse and other aspects of the game day routine for the Kernels. As was the case Tuesday, Mauer met with the media after exiting the ballgame in an auxiliary locker room near the Kernels’ clubhouse.

Here’s some video I shot of that exchange. I think you can tell he’s not pleased with his results on the field, but he’s also glad to just be back on the field again. His response to a question I posed also gives a little insight into those items on his “checklist” that he still wants to try to do before rejoining the Twins.

The Kernels got pretty well drubbed in the game. Chih-Wei Hu had his first rough start as a Kernel, giving up six runs in the fourth inning. Nick Burdi pitched the ninth inning for Cedar Rapids. He maxed at 99 mph on the scoreboard gun, which is known as a “slow gun.” We use a +2 guideline in Cedar Rapids, adding 2 mph to what shows on the board, which means Burdi likely hit about 101 on that pitch. Otherwise he was in the mid-upper 90s with the fastball and around 90 with the slider.

I have a few photos from the evening posted over at Knuckleballs if you'd care to go check them out.

We’re celebrating my grandson’s first birthday on Friday by having a “Party at the Park,” and I’m looking forward to seeing Mauer donning one of these, “Jimmy Buffet Night” jerseys on Saturday night.(Again. if you want to see an image of the jerseys, you need to go to Knuckleballs.com.)

Mauer may well be on his way to Houston to rejoin the Twins by Sunday, but I’ll be at the ballpark that afternoon to watch Ricky Nolasco stretch himself out to 75 pitches in his second rehab start with the Kernels.


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2 Comments

I was in Ceder Rapids both Tuesday and Wednesday, making the drive from Des Moines both nights. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Nolasco and Mauer for $11 a ticket, regardless of the seasons they are having.

I was expecting a much bigger crowd Wednesday, but thought the rain throughout Iowa might have scared some people off. Ceder Rapids is a great place to watch a game, I prefer driving the two hours and watching the Kernals as opposed to the 15 minute drive to see the Iowa Cubs.

The highlight for me on Wednesday's game was watching Burdi pitch. The ball makes a different sound when it hits the catcher's mit after leaving his hand.

I will be back before the season is over. I think Mauer will be fine by the time the weekend is over, from my vantage point it looked like he and the other Kernals players were having fun.

I shot video of Burdi's inning on Wednesday night. I was going to post a link to it, but when I uploaded it to YouTube, for some reason it loaded sideways. So, rather than make everyone turn their heads 90 degrees to watch it, I figured I would just wait a few days and try again.


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