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Cedar Rapids Kernels Baseball

Mauer enjoyed his time with Twins

MINNEAPOLIS - The Cedar Rapids Kernels fell one game short of a Midwest League championship this season following an emotional one-run loss to West Michigan.

One day later, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer was in the Minnesota Twins dugout beginning a two-week term as a supplemental coach on the Twins’ bench.

Thanks to that assignment, Mauer had a first-hand view of the Twins’ surprising but ultimately ill-fated playoff drive. The Twins were eliminated from postseason contention Saturday following a loss to Kansas City in the next-to-last game of the regular season.

The stint with the Twins was Mauer’s first opportunity to work with the big league team.

“It’s been awesome,” Mauer said in the Twins dugout Saturday. “It’s been a lot of fun, obviously, being in the mix here for the playoff spot and watching how these guys prepare and go after it.”

Mauer, who has coached and managed at three different minor league levels in the Twins organization over the past decade, had the opportunity to get a close-up look at a number of his former players, including three members of his 2013 Cedar Rapids Kernels squad with Tyler Duffey, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler.

“It’s been really interesting, especially watching these young guys, some of the guys that I had in the Florida State League (Class High A) or even in GCL (rookie level Gulf Coast League), seeing them five, six, seven, eight years down the road here. Watching them mature and see some of them have a big impact on what’s going on and the success that they have had here has been pretty exciting.”



Congratulations to Kernels and their loyal fans

Congratulations to the Cedar Rapids Kernels for nearly winning the Midwest League title. And congratulations to all the fans who supported the Kernels to the very last pitch of the 2015 campaign.

Manager Jake Mauer and his staff did a marvelous job this season, steering a club of light hitters to the final game of the playoffs. The Kernels looked like dead men walking in August, but they came alive in the playoffs and nearly pulled it off before losing a pair of one-run games with the championship within reach.

The Kernels succeeded in the playoffs. And so did their fans.

Cedar Rapids fans did not know until late Sunday afternoon that there would be a fifth and final game at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Monday night. Nonetheless, an impressive crowd of 2,363 showed up and paid attention to every pitch.



Kernels will host 2016 All-Star Game

The Cedar Rapids Kernels will host the 2016 Midwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday, June 21 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Midwest League president Richard Nussbaum made the announcement prior to giving the West Michigan Whitecaps their 2015 championship trophy after they beat the Kernels, 3-2, in the fifth and deciding game at the stadium Monday night.


"It's a shame,' Mauer says of ending

All of the players on the Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball team have dreams of playing in the Major Leagues and winning a World Series for the Minnesota Twins some day, but you'd be dead-wrong to think they didn't care deeply about winning a Midwest League title on their way up the ladder.

Several Kernels sat quietly in their dugout Monday night after they lost a heartbreaker to the West Michigan Whitecaps, 3-2, in the championship game of the Midwest League playoffs. Other Kernels were draped on the dugout fence, watching the Whitecaps celebrate on Perfect Game Field and then accept the championship trophy.

Two Kernels sat in the dirt near their bullpen, not ready to budge. Other players picked up their gear and filed slowly to the clubhouse for the last time in a season that began 149 games ago in April.

"We definitely cared," said 19-year-old shortstop Nick Gordon, a $3.85 million bonus baby who developed before our eyes this season. "Everybody went out there and gave their all."

Once again, the Kernels could not get a big hit at the right time Monday night. It was the same story Sunday when they lost to the Whitecaps, 2-1, in Game 4 of the series after loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth.

The Kernels took an early 2-0 lead Monday, fell behind 3-2 in a disastrous fifth inning and could not take advantage of two promising opportunities in the seventh and eighth innings.

"It's a shame. That was a shame," Kernels Manager Jake Mauer told reporters in his office. "It's just a shame, our bats really didn't show up the last three days."

The Kernels swept their first two playoff series against Quad Cities and Peoria and had a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 finals against the Whitecaps, but the visitors ended up dancing on Perfect Game Field while the Kernels packed their bags.

Mauer was justifiably proud of his guys for their work this season, but naturally sad about the way it ended.

"If you would have told me in April that we'd be sitting here - what is it, the 21st of September? - I'd take that any day. Absolutely," he remarked.

Mauer will join the Minnesota Twins as a coach for the rest of the season, beginning Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis. The rest of the Kernels will be heading home or to fall ball for the next step in their career.

Some of the Kernels will be promoted to Fort Myers next season. Some of them will be assigned to Cedar Rapids again. Some of them will be released from pro ball.

They exchanged a few hugs Monday night when it was over, not knowing exactly when they'll see each other again after a successful ride in Cedar Rapids.

And make no mistake, they cared about what happened on the field here Monday night.

"It's still baseball," said muscular third baseman T.J. White. "Losing is tough. We made it this far, we wanted to come out with a W. It didn't turn out for us."

The Kernels got off to a good start Monday. Austin Diemer socked a solo home run in the third inning for a 1-0 lead and they made it 2-0 in the fourth on a triple by Edgar Corcino and an RBI single by White.

Kernels starter Randy LeBlanc cruised through the first four innings on the mound and the enthusiastic crowd of 2,363 sensed they might witness the first Midwest League title for a Cedar Rapids team since 1994.

Things unraveled quickly in the top of the fifth.

LeBlanc got the first out, but a walk, a single and another walk loaded the bases with one out. The Whitecaps scored their first run on a high hopper to Gordon when the Kernels were unable to turn the double play, then David Gonzalez - a .069 hitter for West Michigan in the playoffs at that point - lined a two-out single to right field to tie the game.

Luke Bard replaced LeBlanc point, but Bard - who had little time to warm up - uncorked a wild pitch and hit a batter to re-load the bases. The Kernels could have escaped without further damage, but catcher Brian Navarreto committed a rare passed ball to let the go-ahead run cross the plate.

Navarreto had a strong year behind the plate for Cedar Rapids, but he got beat up in the playoffs by foul balls and let a pitch get away at the absolute worst time.

"It's unfortunate that's what it comes down to and turns out to be the winning run," said Mauer. "In my book, he's the best defensive catcher we've had in the three years I've been here. It's off his glove and they're celebrating."

White belted a 390-foot shot to left-center in the sixth inning, but the ball was caught at the edge of the warning track. The Kernels put two runners on base in the seventh inning and again in the eighth, but could not get a key hit.

Max Murphy drew a one-out walk in the ninth inning in a 10-pitch at-bat, but pinch-hitter Brett Doe and Diemer struck out to end the ballgame.

"They take advantage of a passed ball and that's our season," said Mauer.

The Kernels compiled a 1.54 ERA during the playoffs, but they hit just .238 and fell a hit or two short of the title.

WEST MICHIGAN (3): Kivelt, cf, 3 0 0 0, Simcox, ss, 4 0 0 0, Gerber, rf, 4 0 1 0, Scivicque, c, 4 0 0 0, Stewart, lf, 3 1 0 0, Pankake dh, 3 1 1 0, Kengor, 1b, 3 0 1 0, Contreras, 3b, 4 1 1 1, Gonzalez, 2b, 3 0 1 1. Totals 31 3 5 2.

KERNELS (2): Valera, 2b, 3 0 0 0, Gordon, ss, 4 0 0 0, Corcino, rf, 3 1 1 0, White, 3b, 4 0 1 1, Wade, cf, 3 0 0 0, Paul, 1b, 4 0 0 0, Murphy, dh, 3 0 1 0, Navarreto, c, 2 0 0 0, Doe, ph, 1 0 0 0, Diemer, lf, 4 1 1 1. Totals 31 2 4 2.

West Michigan   000 030 000 – 3 5 0 
Cedar Rapids    001 100 000 – 2 4 0

Seaton, Moreno (7), Ravenelle (8), Jimenez (9) and Scivicque. LeBlanc, Bard (5), Landa (6), Anderson (8) and Navarreto. WP - Seaton (1-0), LP - LeBlanc (0-1). Sv - Jimenez (4). 3B - Gerber (2), Corcino (1). HR – Diemer (1). SB – Pankake (2), Wade (2), White (2), Valera (1). T – 2:53. A – 2,363.


Kernels brace for decisive Game 5

You wouldn't think 1,863 baseball fans could make so much noise at a ballpark, but the enthusiastic crowd at Veterans Memorial Stadium tried to will the Cedar Rapids Kernels to the Midwest League championship in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon with their lungs and hearts.

Unfortunately for the Kernels, beat-up catcher Brian Navarreto struck out with the bases loaded and now Cedar Rapids will face West Michigan in the fifth and final game of the Midwest League finals at the stadium Monday night at 6:35.

The Whitecaps escaped Sunday, 2-1, after the Kernels wasted a prime opportunity to win their first league title since 1994.

The Kernels wore somber but determined expressions as they filed into the clubhouse after the game.

"Keep your heads up, boys. Keep your heads up," Manager Jake Mauer told them, trying to maintain their focus and enthusiasm for one more ballgame. "This is why we're here. Nine more innings tomorrow. Up, Up, Up!"

Navarreto, the hero of the Kernels' Game 4 victory Saturday, sat quietly in the corner of the locker room Sunday, his head down while he studied his cell phone. Navarreto got walloped by a pair of foul tips in the top of the eighth inning, once off his head and once off his shoulder, yet stayed in the game.



Kernels win with dramatic 9th inning

For eight innings on Saturday, Game 3 of the Midwest League’s Championship Series was another pitchers duel as the Cedar Rapids Kernels and West Michigan Whitecaps had battled to a 1-1 tie headed to the final stanza. Then the offenses came alive.

When it was over, 1,707 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium, including Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, had witnessed a dramatic 3-2 walk-off Cedar Rapids win that gave the Kernels a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

West Michigan used a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a single to manufacture the lead run, taking a 2-1 advantage in the ninth inning and giving the Kernels just one more chance to avoid having to win the final two games of the series to claim a championship.



Mauer ejected as Kernels tumble

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. - For six and 1/2 innings Thursday night, the second game of the Midwest League Championship Series between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and West Michigan Whitecaps was exactly the kind of low-scoring pitchers duel that Kernels fans have come to expect in the postseason.

Kernels starting pitcher Sam Gibbons had held the Whitecaps scoreless until that point and Cedar Rapids had managed just one run.

By the time the seventh inning ended, the Whitecaps owned a 4-1 lead, Gibbons was finished for the night and Kernels Manager Jake Mauer was in the clubhouse after being ejected by plate umpire Richard Genera.

The Whitecaps held onto that lead to the pleasure of 3,336 home-town fans enjoying their final game of the season at Fifth Third Ballpark and knotted the championship series at 1-1. The two teams now pack up and head to Cedar Rapids for Game 3 Saturday and the rest of the best-of-5 series.



New MWL boss says league in good shape

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. - After serving as the general counsel for the Midwest League for more than 20 years, Richard Nussbaum is now completing his first year as president of the league. In January, he took over for George Spelius, who retired after running the league since 1987.

Nussbaum, who played baseball at Notre Dame in the early 1970s, thinks the Midwest League has enjoyed a good season and continues to prosper.

"I’m not sure it could have gone any better,” he said Thursday prior to the second game of the MWL championship series between Cedar Rapids and West Michigan. “Probably fewer rainouts for some of the clubs.

“We had great attendance league-wide. We continue to draw about 10 percent of the entire fan base of all of minor league baseball across the country. Ten percent of those fans come to MWL games, which I think is remarkable.

“We’ve had great play on the field," he said. "We have two teams in the championship that have worked real hard to get there and played really pretty well throughout the entire season. The facilities are good, the fans are great. I’m very happy with the way the first year went.”



Kernels pitchers shine in opener

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. - Anyone expecting anything but another pitcher's duel when the Cedar Rapids Kernels lined up to face West Michigan in the first game of the Midwest League Championship Series Wednesday night has not been paying attention.

The Kernels swept their way into the finals on the strength of their starting pitching and had arguably their hottest pitcher, Felix Jorge, lined up to start Game 1 against Spencer Turnbull, the pitcher that has ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization.

Turnbull, the Tigers' second-round pick in the 2014 draft, struck out five of the first 10 Kernels he faced, but Cedar Rapids touched the hard-throwing right-hander for three runs in the fifth inning and that was enough to claim the opener.

Jorge and two Kernels relievers shut down West Michigan, 5-0, before 2,802 fans at Fifth Third Ballpark.

Game 2 in the best-of-5 series is scheduled for Thursday night in Michigan, with Games 3, 4 and 5 scheduled for Cedar Rapids this Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The Whitecaps showed they can generate offense by scoring 14 runs on 22 hits in their Division Series-clinching win over Lansing on Monday, but they managed just five hits off Cedar Rapids pitching Wednesday.



Coaching staff feels at home in playoffs

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. - The Cedar Rapids Kernels have not appeared in a championship series since they claimed the Midwest League title in 1994, but the men leading the Kernels against West Michigan this week are no strangers to the championship series environment.

Manager Jake Mauer, hitting coach Tommy Watkins and pitching coach Henry Bonilla all have competed for minor league titles as players and/or coaches.

Watkins was part of the Appalachian League championship team at Elizabethton in 2000 as a player. A year later, Mauer’s Rookie team at Elizabethton fell in the championship series when he was a player as well.

“We lost on a balk," Mauer said Wednesday. "Unfortunate it ended that way.”

Watkins and Bonilla played for the Rochester Red Wings when they fell in the finals of the Triple-A championship series in 2006.


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Kernels Calendar

April 3
2014 season opener


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