CEDAR RAPIDS – One Cedar Rapids Kernels fan e-mailed Tuesday, saying he went out and bought a $70 Minnesota Twins pullover after he heard the news. Another said he was a Chicago Cubs fan first, but that he always liked the Twins, in particular Harmon Killebrew.
“This makes much more sense than being with the Angels,” said Bob Hoyt of Marion, who has done some public-address work for the Kernels. “I never thought it made much sense to be affiliated with a team that was 2,000 miles away. I just think it makes total sense to be affiliated with a team that actually has fans around here.”
That’s what the Cedar Rapids Kernels are counting on. Local Twins fans coming out to the ballpark a few more times a season, and maybe even some fans from the Twin Cities making the four-hour trip south to see their future big leaguers.
The Kernels will conduct a 1:30 press conference Wednesday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium to announce they have agreed to a four-year Player Development Contract with the Twins. The press conference is open to the public.
This officially ends a 20-year relationship between Cedar Rapids and the Los Angeles Angels. The Twins’ Class A affiliate for the last eight years has been Beloit, widely regarded as the worst place to be in the 16-team Midwest League.
Twins officials visited Cedar Rapids late Monday afternoon and met with the Kernels’ board of directors. Two sources said the Twins visited Quad Cities (also looking for a major league partner) Tuesday, before Cedar Rapids announced its press conference.
This partnership seems a perfect match for both sides.
“The stadium is 10 years old and seats 5,500,” Twins farm director Jim Rantz told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Beloit is still trying to get a (new) stadium. Cedar Rapids is another nice location for us geographically, and there are a number of Twins fans down that way.”
Kernels President Gary Keoppel told The Gazette on Sunday the Kernels were leaving the Angels because they wanted a regional affiliate in town. Cedar Rapids hasn’t had one since the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s.
Attendance has become stagnant at the newer Veterans Memorial Stadium, with this season providing the fewest number of fans at the ballpark since it opened in 2002. The Kernels hope a more visible major league affiliate will be a boon at the gate and overall.
“I think it’s great,” said Tom Kelly, president of the Kernels’ booster club. “I say that for a couple of reasons. One, I believe having a Midwest affiliate will really help the ballclub. You can market it as seeing the ballplayers here, then traveling four hours to see them when they’re in the major leagues.
“Two, like the Angels, I think the Twins have that philosophy of getting their ballplayers out in the community. That’s important here.”
Kelly said he thinks there could be a possibility the Twins send a major league player to Cedar Rapids for an injury rehabilitation assignment sometime. That never happened with the Angels because they had farm team right next door in the California League.
He also thinks the club should be able to peddle more merchandise since there are significantly more Twins fans in the area than Angels fans.
“I’m not saying anything bad about the Angels,” Kelly said. “But change can be good. I think this is great.”
The Twins are known for having a strong minor-league system, with this season’s Beloit team making the Midwest League playoffs with the help of third baseman Miguel Sano, widely considered one of the top prospects in minor-league baseball.
Elizabethton, the rookie-level team directly below Cedar Rapids in the Twins’ minor-league hierachy, won the Appalachian League championship this past season, compiling a 47-23 overall record, playoffs included. There is a possibility the 2013 Kernels could include teenaged outfielder Byron Buxton, the second-overall draft pick in the 2012 amateur draft.
Ironically, the Kernels open the 2013 season at home against Beloit.