Three days after MLB’s Opening Day, I wish you all a very Happy Minor League Opening Day! I may be in the minority, but I think I get as excited, if not more so, about minor league opening day as the big league version. For me, instead of just watching the Minnesota Twins games, I can now follow as many as five box scores each day.
All four Twins minor league affiliates are scheduled to play their opening day games on Thursday. Hopefully weather will cooperate so they can get their games in. On Tuesday, I posted the Twins minor league opening day rosters
. Today, I’ll provide a primer on the four affiliates. Please feel free to ask questions.
ROCHESTER RED WINGS
The Red Wings are scheduled to open their season at Buffalo. Scott Diamond decided to stay with the Twins organization. He will make the opening night start for the Red Wings opposite Blue Jays pitching prospect Marcus Stroman. The schedule has them playing their first two games in Buffalo before the teams move to Frontier Field in Rochester for two games to open up the Red Wings home schedule.
Top Pitching Prospect – Alex Meyer
Top Hitting Prospect – Danny Santana
First Pitcher Promoted – Kris Johnson
First Hitter Promoted – Chris Herrmann
Most Underrated Pitcher – Deolis Guerra
Most Underrated Hitter – James Beresford
Radio Voice – Josh Whetzel (Listen Live here
NEW BRITAIN ROCK CATS
The Rock Cats will open their season at home against Richmond. Pat Dean returns to the team to start this season after getting a handful of starts in Rochester a year ago. The Rock Cats will play their first seven games at home at New Britain Stadium, four against Richmond followed by three against Harrisburg.
Top Pitching Prospect – Flip a Coin (DJ Baxendale, Sean Gilmartin or Taylor Rogers)
Top Hitting Prospect – Kennys Vargas (since Miguel Sano is on the DL and Eddie Rosario on the Restricted List)
First Pitcher Promoted – AJ Achter
First Hitter Promoted – Danny Ortiz
Most Underrated Pitcher – Adrian Salcedo
Most Underrated Hitter – Mike Kvasnicka
Radio Voice – Jeff Dooley (Listen Live here
FT. MYERS MIRACLE
Ft. Myers starts out on the road in Jupiter for two games before returning to Hammond Stadium for two games against the Hammerheads. Jason Wheeler returns to the Miracle despite a solid season with the team a year ago. The Miracle made it to the playoffs a year ago and this year will have a mix of guys who played with the Miracle or with that offensive juggernaut from Cedar Rapids last year.
Top Pitching Prospect – JO Berrios
Top Hitting Prospect – Jorge Polanco (or some might say Adam Walker, Travis Harrison, or Max Kepler… with Byron Buxton on the DL)
First Pitcher Promoted – Jason Wheeler
First Hitter Promoted – Lance Ray (if/when healthy)
Most Underrated Pitcher – Mason Melotakis
Most Underrated Hitter – Travis Harrison
Radio Voice – Brice Zimmerman (Listen Live here
CEDAR RAPIDS KERNELS
The Kernels had a hugely successful inaugural season as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The offense was remarkable. This season’s team will not hit anywhere near those prolific numbers, but the pitching staff certainly has a lot of talent. 2014 fifth round pick Aaron Slegers will make the Opening Day start for the Kernels when they host Clinton at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Top Pitching Prospect – Kohl Stewart
Top Hitting Prospect – Zach Larson or Engelb Vielma
First Pitcher Promoted – Miguel Sulbaran
First Hitter Promoted – Michael Quesada
Most Underrated Pitcher – Brandon Peterson
Most Underrated Hitter – Zach Granite
Radio Voice – Morgan Hawk (Listen Live here
PLANNING A TRIP TO CEDAR RAPIDS
Last season, I had the opportunity to go to Cedar Rapids on two separate occasions. I was there for their opening weekend and then again around the Fourth of July. For me, it is about 11-12 hours each direction. If you live in the Twin Cities, the drive to Cedar Rapids is about four-and-a-half hours. Just check mapquest and you’ll see you only have to know about three or four road names/numbers to get there.
On the way home, consider going up to Decorah and then to Rochester. There are a couple of places to stop and some incredible scenery. Driving that way and seeing all of the corn is actually a pretty incredible site. As you get further north and are driving along the Mississippi River, there are some breathtaking views.
Of course, along that path is Dyersville, IA, which of course is the home of the Field of Dreams movie site. My brother and I made a stop there on our way home and although we were only there for about an hour, maybe 90 minutes, it was a pretty neat experience. It is incredible in its simplicity. Walk in the corn, play catch, take some pictures in front of the house, or sit on the bleachers where James Earl Jones gave the memorable "They Will Come, Ray" speech. For any baseball fan, Dyersville should be on your bucket list. And, it is about one hour north and east of Cedar Rapids.
Also along that way, if you’re as cool as me (and I wouldn’t wish that on many people), Burr Oak, Iowa is on the way. Of course, that is one of the many places where author Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. Maybe you’ve got a goal to visit many midwestern-type, small town museums. You can cross this one off the list!
The Amana Colonies
are about 15 to 20 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids. There are several cultural options as well such as the NewBo City Market
, the Czech and Slovak Museum
, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Arts
and around the Fourth of July is the Freedom Festival
. Depending upon your interests, Cedar Rapids has many options
so you (and your family) have something to do between Kernels ball games!
That’s right, back to the Kernels…
They play at Perfect Game Field. Another interesting thing is that the Perfect Game
facilities are basically right across the street from the ballpark.
Each of the six Kernels games that I went to I had at least one (and usually two or three) people come up and tell me they had driven down from the Twin Cities. Generally speaking they would leave work at noon on Friday or Saturday, spend a night and go to a second game the next day before driving back. I had one or two people say they drove down that afternoon and were driving back after the game. I couldn’t do that, but it is an option.
The atmosphere at the stadium is tremendous, especially after school lets out and the weather warms. You will most likely see GM Doug Nelson roaming the huge concourse, talking with fans and making sure they’re enjoying the experience. The Kernels players do a ton in the community and before each game two players are up in the concourse signing autographs.
The field is really terrific and they continue to make improvements each year. This offseason, the put in new grass on the field which was a huge undertaking. The year before, they put in a huge 30x48 LED scoreboard in the outfield that shows replays and provides a ton of statistical information. They also have a pregame show before each game on the board that includes the daily Minnesota Twins Organizational Report which is sponsored by Twins Daily.
You'll also want to check out their Hall of Fame. Cedar Rapids has a long, rich history of minor league baseball going back over 100 years. There is a ton of information on that history. There are also a lot of plaques on the wall of contributors, but also of a lot of players you will recognize from the Reds and the Angels organizations.
They also have a really neat feature, a Walk of Fame with players getting stars around the concourse. It was a very neat thing to see all those big league stars who spent time with the Kernels, such as the new $144.5 million man, Mike Trout.
And after the games, be sure to head over to Bushwood Sports Bar & Grill
for lots of sports on big screen TVs, beverages and great food. Most likely, you will also find Steve Buhr (aka Jim Crikket) sitting at a table top. You can thank him for all his great writing and reporting of the Kernels by buying him a beer and some corn nuggets (which are actually not too bad!).
I can’t emphasize enough that if you enjoy reading about the minor leaguers, and Twins Daily is certainly the best place online to do that every day, it’s so satisfying to get to a couple games and see for yourself. The Twins have an affiliate within reasonable travel distance. Take advantage. Check out their schedule and their promotions and book some tickets if you’re interested.
And, if you do make a trip to Cedar Rapids to see the Kernels (or see the Miracle, Rock Cats or Red Wings as well), be sure to report for us what your observations were about the facilities, the experience, the players and anything else you found interesting in the forums of Twins Daily.
Again, Happy Minor League Opening Day to everyone! It’s great to be able to talk about five teams, especially when the big league club struggles. Good luck to each of the teams and all the players.