This past weekend I visited family in Iowa for the holiday. I am always anxious to visit family, of course. However, a couple months ago I looked at the baseball calendar. I discovered that our favorite Midwest League team, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, were playing a four game series at the Cedar Rapids Kernels!
Cedar Rapids is not too far from where I grew up. As a kid, we always went to at least a couple of Cedar Rapids Reds/Kernels games each year. I loved the food and the atmosphere, and it was fascinating to have access to players for autographs after the games. I can still remember some of them.
A couple like Trevor Hoffman went on to be real major league stars. Others like Reggie Jefferson and Reggie Sanders were beloved during their time in Class A and went on to some big league success. They even had a player named Motorboat Jones, for real. As a kid I also traveled farther from time to time to watch other area Midwest League teams like Waterloo, Quad Cities, and Clinton.
For better or worse the Cedar Rapids stadium I knew and loved is long gone, replaced fourteen years ago by a shiny, fancy new one with a jumbotron and suites. Only once before had I been to a game at the new field.
This past Saturday night I was able to make it to a Kernels/Timber Rattlers game with my wife and kids and my Dad. The whole week was a wet one and we were nervous about whether the game would be played. Living close to Miller Park means I have not been used to worrying about rain delays and cancellations.
The night was beautiful, but sure enough, just after we got there the grounds crew starting pulling out the tarp. A sudden heavy shower came in but was quickly over. After a delay of about 40 minutes, the game was started and the rest of the night was lovely, even a bit cooler than expected.
I was excited to watch the Rattlers in person. I still thought they might have a couple more highly rated prospects at this point in the season. Trent Clark also was unable to play due to his recent injury but I saw him around the dugout and it doesn't sound like his injury is too serious.
The game featured little hitting but was very exciting, one of those games where as the game went on it felt like every pitch and each at bat were very important. It was scoreless for five full innings. The Kernels were hitting the ball much harder and had several base runners, but did their best Brewers impression by getting guys on first and third with no outs and not scoring.
Finally in the top of the 6th Luis Aviles led off with a double and Isan Diaz hit a bat shattering shot into center to drive him in. The Rattlers held the lead until the bottom of the 9th. The hometown Kernels got a leadoff double and eventually drove in the runner with a sacrifice fly, so we were able to enjoy some free baseball.
Timber Rattler right field Carlos Belonis had seriously misplayed a ball in the 9th to help the Kernels tie it up. In the top of the 11th he made up for it by opening with a base hit. Second baseman Blake Allemand, who made an incredible catch of a line drive early in the game, laid down a decent bunt. It was a little too hard and right to the Kernel pitcher, who made a fairly ill advised decision to try to get the lead runner. He had a chance, but his throw was somewhat Garzaesque and hit Belonis in the head quite hard. Belonis was a bit stunned but was able to advance to third. Belonis was clearly still in some pain and interestingly named Brewer minor league veteran Sthervin Matos was sent in to pinch run. Luis Aviles was the next batter and was able to hit it hard enough to right field to allow Matos to score. That run was enough as the Rattlers held on for an exciting 2-1 eleven inning win.
It was a fun game. I ate a footlong Klement's sausage (yes, in Iowa). It was a kind of sausage I haven't seen at Miller Park, and was deliciously covered with fried onions, sauteed onions and red peppers, and sauerkraut. I really enjoyed it, but I did not feel so well the next day.
We all wore full Brewers apparel and sat behind the Rattlers dugout where there were a number of other Brewers/Rattlers fans. One was a guy in a full Yadiel Rivera Brewers jersey. I asked him why Rivera and he wouldn't really say, but did say he thought he was the only one with a Rivera jersey.
As I noted on here a couple days ago, we were able to meet some of Monte Harrison's family, which was pretty cool. They were very enthusiastically cheering him on even as he continues to struggle at Class A. Late in the game my Dad snagged a full ball. Monte's group gestured towards us for the ball, and we were glad to give it to them as I have a number of Midwest League baseballs. They were very excited to get Monte to sign a ball.
Overall in the game the Rattlers struck out seventeen times to go with ZERO walks in 11 innings. Yet they still got the win. My impressions of some of the players were similar to what I have heard from others on BCB. Here are a few thoughts:
Isan Diaz: Diaz had a nice RBI single in the 6th. He didn't have a lot of action at shortstop but did make a couple nice plays where he had to track down a grounder and make a long throw. In our game he had no errors. I did see Diaz get overly frustrated with one strike three call. I saw a number of guys make comments to the umpire that might get them thrown out in the major leagues. Getting used to stuff like that is a big part of the minor league learning process.
Jake Gatewood: Jake had one solid line drive single in the game. He did work the count to 3-2 on a couple at bats which was encouraging. I believe he only had one grounder hit to him at third and managed no errors in our game. (He already has EIGHTEEN errors this year!) He looked more mature than some of the guys. He's still got a long, long ways to go, especially on defense, but at least he is improving.
Monte Harrison: Monte continued to struggle at the plate and reacted strongly to one strike three call. I believe he did hit one solid fly out. He looked pretty good in center field, making a couple nice catches, but also had one hit he misplayed that allowed a runner to advance a base.
Jordan Yamamoto: Starting pitcher for the game. I didn't know a lot about him. The scoreboard mostly showed pitch speed only for the home team. Yamamoto pitched 5 1/3, giving up just six hits and one walk while striking out five. He worked out of several jams.
Devin Williams: Highly regarded prospect Williams came on in relief in the seventh and in class A pitcher strategy he was clearly intended to pitch the rest of the game. As the game went on longer than intended he pitched an extra inning and third, 79 pitches total. Williams has struggled a bit to start the year but I thought he looked impressive. For the seventh and eighth innings he looked almost unhittable, blowing pitches past guys. I saw at least one registered at 93 MPH, but most weren't shown. In the 9th he seemed to lose control and got to 3-0 counts to a couple batters, but did manage to get out with just one run.
David Lucroy: Did an excellent job protecting the bullpen the whole game and had fun tossing baseballs up to little kids.
Overall, it was fun to see the Rattlers in person, and especially to cheer as a Brewers fan in "enemy" territory. I hope to see them again this year somewhere in the Midwest, and hope to see a couple more prospects join their roster!