This is Twins Territory now.
“For the next four years, and, hopefully, for many more to come after that, the Cedar Rapids Kernels will be the Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins,” Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson announced during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
A jam-packed meeting room at Veterans Memorial Stadium burst into applause. Kernels President Gary Keoppel and Twins farm director Jim Rantz signed a standard Player Development Contract moments later, and the Kernels and Twins were hitched.
It’s a marriage both partners seem ecstatic about.
“We’re so excited to be here,” Rantz said. “The reason this happened so quickly is that (the Kernels) share the same philosophies as we do. We’re about community, we’re about players, we’re about facilities, we’re about geography, we’re about baseball. You’ll find out that we’re not a real high maintenance organization. We put the best players we have into a club, and we let them play.”
Twins Director of Baseball Operations Brad Steil contacted the Kernels via e-mail at 12:03 Sunday morning, the first day free-agent major and minor-league teams could directly communicate, to express an interest in coming to Cedar Rapids. Twins officials made a visit Monday afternoon to tour Memorial Stadium and talk to Kernels ownership, and the sides hit it off immediately.
Rantz, Steil and Bill Smith (Special Assistant to the President and General Manager) fulfilled a previously set-up obligation Tuesday to visit the Quad Cities River Bandits, who also are seeking a new major-league partner, but that was cursory.
“This is where we wanted to be,” Rantz said.
The Kernels decided to end a 20-year relationship with the Los Angeles Angels to find a regional affiliate. Keoppel said the club would keep its nickname and logo.
“We were happy with the Angels. They gave us good, quality players, good citizens,” he said. “But this was kind of a unique year. I don’t remember a year in recent past where there were so many teams (potentially) looking to other affiliates or not renewing their Player Development Contracts … The Cubs, Cardinals, Twins and Royals were available. We think we won the prize.”
Smith said he could foresee the Kernels receiving a coveted major league injury rehabilitation player at some point in the next four years, and Rantz added he feels fans from the Twin Cities will eagerly travel to Cedar Rapids to watch Twins prospects. He said the club’s annual “Winter Caravan” would make a stop in Cedar Rapids, featuring appearances from Twins players and/or coaches.
“There’s a lot that goes on in a working partnership between a major league affiliate and its minor-league club,” Smith said. “We want to be good partners. You will like seeing our players. The lifeblood of the Minnesota Twins is scouting and player development. If we’re doing our jobs on the scouting side, you are going to see a lot of good players come through here.”
The Twins spent the previous eight years in Beloit. Ironically, that’s who the Kernels open the 2013 season against.
“We’re looking forward to this four-year contract with these gentlemen, and hopefully a longer-term relationship,” Keoppel said.