Diamonds and Ice

Sandoval gets Angels honor
September 30, 2008, 10:11 pm
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Former Cedar Rapids Kernels third baseman Freddy Sandoval has been named Los Angeles Angels Minor League Player of the Year. 

Sandoval played for the Kernels in 2005. This season at Triple-A Salt Lake, he hit .335 with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs in 131 games. He led the Pacific Coast League with 45 doubles and made his major league debut in September.

Other organizational honors went to first baseman Efren Navarro (Defensive Player of the Year) and Anthony Ortega (Pitcher of the Year). Navarro played the majority of the 2008 season with the Kernels, Ortega was in Cedar Rapids in 2006.

Clinton, Wisconsin change affiliations
September 23, 2008, 8:03 pm
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Finally, a Player Development Contract in the Midwest League that makes sense.

The Wisconsin TImber Rattlers announced Tuesday that they have agreed to a four-year PDC with the Milwaukee Brewers. Geographically, the deal makes complete sense, since Milwaukee and Appleton are about 110 miles apart. Milwaukee’s low-A farm club had been West Virginia of the South Atlantic League. The Brewers previously were in the Midwest League in Beloit, also a short drive from Milwaukee.

The deal ends a 16-year partnership between Wisconsin and the Seattle Mariners. That means the longest-tenured marriage in the league is now the Cedar Rapids Kernels and Los Angeles Angels. The Kernels-Angels and Timber Rattlers-Mariners had been tied.

The Mariners, by the way, landed on their feet by agreeing to a two-year Player Development Contract with the Clinton LumberKings. Clinton had been partnered with the Texas Rangers, who moved their low-A farm club to Hickory of the South Atlantic League.

Considering the fine ballclubs the Rangers put in Clinton, the divorce doesn’t make much sense. However, the rumor is Clinton GM Ted Tornow didn’t get along well with some of the Rangers’ minor-league brass.

ESPN did it wrong in Yankee Stadium sendoff
September 23, 2008, 6:46 am
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This isn’t to create any staff controversies. I respect Scott Dochterman’s opinion on the extensive ESPN coverage of Yankee Stadium’s history and final game. I just don’t agree with it.

I found the hours upon hours of programming nothing short of excessive. Just another bit of proof how much ESPN stands for Eastern Sports Programming Network. Don’t the Yankees have their own network anyway?

As a lifelong baseball fan, the Yankees’ largesse and sense of entitlement is head shaking. The number of titles won is impressive but keep in mind there weren’t as many teams in MLB back in the “old days.” Also keep in mind the Yankees always have had the most money, even going back to the days of Ruth, therefore the best players, the most championships, etc. To say I “respect” the Yankees isn’t an accurate statement.

Also keep in mind this isn’t really “The House That Ruth Built” that is being torn down. There was an extensive renovation of Yankee Stadium in the 1970s.

ESPN spent so many hours of programming on the final game of one stadium. My question is where were they when Tiger Stadium closed? Where were they when equally historic Comiskey Park was torn down? Better yet, where were the hours upon hours of programming for the final Boston Celtics game at Boston Garden. If there’s a Yankees “equal” in any sport, as far as success and history, it’s got to be the Boston Celtics.

So there you go. Another man’s opinion. You can agree with Scott or myself, it’s up to you. I’m just glad we won’t be seeing any playoff games at Yankee Stadium this season.

Now there’s an appropriate sendoff.

Kernels raising ticket prices
September 17, 2008, 7:28 am
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A little bird has told me the Cedar Rapids Kernels plan to increase their ticket prices one dollar per game next season. Tickets would run from $7 to $10, depending on where you want to sit.

Kernels ticket prices have been $6 to $9 since the newer Memorial Stadium opened in 2002. This season’s attendance was the lowest in the new ballpark.

The 2009 schedule has been figured out, but the club is not releasing it as yet. Kernels General Manager Jack Roeder told me last week that a couple of series were still being ironed out, as are some game times.

Burlington wins MWL title without playing
September 14, 2008, 12:02 am
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You see a lot of different things in the minor leagues, and you can add this one to the list.

The Burlington Bees were declared champions of the Midwest League on Saturday despite not even playing a game. Game 3 of the best-of-5 MWL championship series was rained out for a second-straight day. With even more rain in the forecast for the South Bend, Ind., area, Midwest League President George Spelius invoked a league bylaw that allows shortening of the title series to a best-of-3 if there is persistent inclement weather.

Since Burlington won the first two games of the series, the Bees were crowed champs. It seemed a fair call considering the Burlington won Game 1, 6-0, and Game 2, 12-0, at home.

Why is there such a rush to complete the MWL postseason? Major league organizations conduct instructional leagues for its minor leaguers each fall. Those begin early this week.

Boys of summer go home
September 9, 2008, 7:19 am
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So long to the Cedar Rapids Kernels, who are headed home (and most of them to Instructional League next week) after concluding their Midwest League season Sunday with a loss to Burlington in Game 2 of the Western Division championship series.

That this team got as far as it did is a testament to the players and coaches. There was not a whole lot of eventual major league talent on this roster, especially compared to last season. Was there anyone on this team you could look at and say “there’s a big leaguer?” You’d have to think pitcher Jordan Walden (who was promoted to high-Class A about halfway through the season) will make it eventually because of his powerful right arm. Lefty Trevor Reckling would seem to stand a good chance, too.

But other than that … you can make cases for some guys (pitcher Ryan Brasier, shortstop Andrew Romine, outfielder Clay Fuller) but there’s still questions in your mind about them.

The Kernels won more games than they lost (74-68) and made the playoffs because they truly played as a team, doing the “little things” you so often hear about to win ballgames: solid defense, good pitching, aggressive baserunning. The Kernels finished last in the Midwest League in team batting average and first in stolen bases.

This is where you say “That’s Angels baseball,” as I so often did in jest whenever a guy would get thrown out trying to steal third base this season or get thrown out trying to go from first to third on a hit to the outfield. The Angels teach their guys to play aggressively on the bases. Whether too aggressively is for you to decide.

Also, this was one of the better groups I’ve dealt with professionally in the 10 years I’ve been on the Kernels beat. Almost every guy was amenable when asked for a quick interview. Most of them would greet you hello whenever you passed them in the clubhouse or outside the stadium. The coaching staff of Manager Keith Johnson, pitching coach Brandon Emanuel and hitting coach Damon Mashore also were great to deal with (or have a beer with after the game). Thank you guys for all of your help this season, including catcher Chris Rosenbaum, who came to us to see if we wanted to run his season-long blog, which was simply outstanding.

As you know, I think it’s ridiculous that the Kernels’ Board of Directors don’t even look at bringing a Midwest major league affiliate in here (hello, Minnesota Twins). But I have to say that most of the players and coaches I’ve dealt with the past 10 seasons have been good guys. That is a testament to the Angels.

So we bid the 2008 season farewell. It’s Burlington against either South Bend or Dayton in the Midwest League finals. Just think, opening day 2009 is only about six and a half months away.

If you’ve never been to Burlington’s Community Field
September 7, 2008, 7:09 pm
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It’s a trip back to the old days of minor league baseball. The park is quaint, with primarily bleacher seating, with the exception of four rows of box seats that go from dugout to dugout. The light standards are of the old-school oil-well variety. There is a cover over only a portion of the grandstand directly behind home plate. That was part of Burlington’s stadium improvement project of a couple years ago, funded mostly through the state of Iowa’s CAT fund.

A few fans made the trip down to Burlington for Game 2 of the Midwest League Western Division championship series. Most of them are Kernels front-office employees and their families, plus a couple of player host families. I’m struck by the lack of board of directors in attendance. They are the men and women who own the Kernels. At first glance, I see board president Tom Barbee and former president Wally Krouse.

Yes, it’s a Sunday afternoon (and the first NFL Sunday of the season), but you’d expect a few more BOD members to take the time to make the hour-and-a-half car ride to watch their team in the Midwest League playoffs.

Kernel could play at home Saturday
September 6, 2008, 12:27 am
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If the Cedar Rapids Kernels win their game tonight at Clinton and clinch the best-of-3 first-round Midwest League playoff series, they could play the first game of a second-round best-of-3 series Saturday night at 6:30.

That’s only IF Burlington clinches its first-round series tonight against Kane County. If C.R. wins and Burlington loses, Cedar Rapids would have Saturday off and then play at home Sunday. Of course, if Cedar Rapids loses tonight, Game 3 of this first-round series would be tonight at 7 at Clinton.

Midwest League expands
September 2, 2008, 10:20 pm
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OK, they’re not officially calling it an expansion, rather a transfer. The MWL and NAPBL announced Tuesday that South Atlantic League franchises in Lake County, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Ky., will be moving to the Midwest League for the 2010 season.

This is something that has long been rumored. NAPBL President Pat O’Conner told me during a visit to Cedar Rapids a couple of weeks ago that he was pushing for it. A condition for the Bowling Green franchise to move from Columbus, Ga., was that it be allowed to play in the Midwest League.

It’ll be interesting to see how the divisions stack up. The 8-and-6 format now being used is a joke. The league can move the two new franchises to the Eastern Division to even things up, or it could create four, four-team divisions.

At any rate, this is a good thing for Midwest League fans because you get to see prospects from two more major league organizations. Lake County is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and is affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. The Columbus franchise is an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Angels finally contribute
September 2, 2008, 7:18 am
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Forgot to add this to my Tuesday morning Kernels story. Before the regular-season finale Monday afternoon, the Cedar Rapids Kernels announced that the parent Los Angeles Angels are going to contribute to flood relief by donating 15 computers total to the Boys and Girls Club in town and the main YMCA. I believe the split is nine computers to the BAGC and six to the Y.

During their last regular-season homestand, the Kernels played short video messages from Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, General Manager Tony Reagins and some Angels players who used to play for the Kernels, expressing their respective best wishes to the city in its recovery.

Those would have been great sentiments about two and a half months ago, but seemed a little late to this reporter. The same could be said for the Angels’ computer gift.