CEDAR RAPIDS – Last season, it was Hip Hip Jorge. Thursday night, it was Hip Hip Haar-ay.
The tickets sold count was 1,072, but there couldn’t have been more than a couple dozen very hearty souls in the stands to see Haar waste a 0-1 pitch from Clinton relief pitcher Ramire Cleto well into the misty night and over the left-field fence. Former University of San Diego teammate Kris Bryant, a power-hitting prospect of uber proportions for the Chicago Cubs, would have been proud of this majestic drive.
“I hope so,” said Haar, a 24-year-old who was a 34th-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2012. “He hit third in the order, and I hit fifth. We were the first and third (base) combo.”
KGAN-TV personalty Jared Aarons began the Hip Hip Jorge chant in honor of Kernels infielder Jorge Polanco every time he was at-bat last season. Think it’s time for the Hip Hip Haar-ay chant after this one.
“Think that was a hanging slider he hit,” Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said. “Thank God he got it because that one had the makings of going a long ways.”
This certainly will not go down as the best opener Cedar Rapids has played defensively in its 100-plus year history. The error total was five, with all of them from the left side of the infield (third baseman Logan Wade and shortstop Engelb Vielma) and all of them throwing.
Hey, it’s hard to grip and properly throw a baseball when it’s 40 degrees and misting the entire game.
“You always give the boys the benefit of the doubt. But that wasn’t very pretty,” Mauer said. “They’re going to have to play in the cold in the big leagues. If you’re that uncomfortable, you’ve got to find a way. It’s not going to get warmer anytime soon.”
Clinton took a 2-0 lead with a run in the first against 6-foot-10 Kernels starting pitcher Aaron Slegers and another in the third. Cedar Rapids tied it with a pair in the fourth.
Joel Licon and Zack Larson had back-to-back doubles leading off against well-considered Clinton starter Edwin Diaz, with Larson eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly by Haar.
The Kernels took a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Vielma pulled a hard grounder past first base and into the right-field corner for a triple, scoring on a Zack Granite sacrifice fly to center.
But the lead didn’t stand or stand long. A pair of errors were key, including one on Vielma after an Aaron Barbosa infield hit that eluded Haar far enough to allow Zach Swank to score from third.
Clinton had runners on second and third with one out in the top of the 10th inning, but leadoff hitter Aaron Barbosa lined to left fielder Jeremias Pineda (playing shallow), who threw to second base to double up the baserunner there and get it to the bottom of the inning somehow still tied.
Mitch Garver led off the bottom of the 10th with a strikeout, with Haar following with his winner. He was mobbed at home plate by very happy teammates who surely wanted to get out of the cold and into their warm clubhouse.
“Taking the first pitch, trying to get something going there,” he said. “Then he hung a slider, and I hit it. It felt good off the bat. I knew by the reaction of (Coach) Tommy (Watkins) at first base that it went out … It’s going to be a fun year.”
“Got the first one out of the way,” Mauer said.