On the Road: Prelude to a Perfect Game in Cedar Rapids

To see all of my posts from my May 27,  2015 visit to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The penultimate stop of my second road trip of the season was Cedar Rapids, home of the Kernels. The Kernels play at an awkwardly-named facility by  the name of “Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium,” which opened in 2002 in the same location as the “old” Veterans Memorial Stadium (which opened in 1949). The ballpark is located just off of “Kurt Warner Way,” named in honor of the Cedar Rapids high school graduate turned Super Bowl MVP.

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I had never been to Cedar Rapids before — in fact, this was the last Midwest League team I had yet to visit — and I really didn’t have too much of an idea regarding what to expect. I guess, if anything, I was expecting a more sedate Midwest League atmosphere. More Clinton, say, than West Michigan. But the Kernels’ experience is fairly riotous — a blaring sound system, many theme night promos, and colorful, chaotic concourse signage.

007It was “Free Money Wednesday” on the evening that I visited, sponsored by a local credit union. It’s simple — upon entering the ballpark, fans are handed an envelope that contains anywhere from $1 (likely) to $100 (unlikely).

Here’s what my envelope contained:

The view from the concourse behind home plate featured blue sky aplenty. This was a recurring aspect of this particular trip. Maybe I got lucky as regards the time of year that I visited, but the early evening sky in these Iowa baseball locales was consistently beautiful.

008 As opposed to a simple “Road to the Show” wall, the concourse is bedecked with stars honoring alumni who have gone on to the Major Leagues. Like this guy, who you may have heard of.

010For the record, the Kernels are one of the only teams to offer “shots” as part of of the ballpark drink menu. I don’t think I’ve ever seen shots available on the concourse before, as these concentrated blasts of hard alcohol are usually only available in private group areas with a standalone bar. (And, no, I don’t know what a “Monster” is either.)

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And speaking of hard liquor: Prior to the game, I was delighted to hear an announcement to the effect of “Fans, while the pitcher is warming up in the bullpen, let us remind you to warm up with Cedar Ridge Iowa bourbon whisky.” If I hadn’t been on the job, I most definitely would have taken them up on this offer.

Some ballpark views, before the game began:

014 IMG_1306Beyond the ballpark lies an industrial facility of some kind. I neglected to find out what said facility is dedicated to the production of.

012In the midst of these idle pre-game wanderings, I came across the “Cedar Rapids Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.” It is located within an annex of the team store.

016As the above image illustrates, the Hall of Fame was not in a particularly photogenic mood on this evening.

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This didn’t come out either, but it was what I found to be the most interesting thing in the Hall of Fame: a 1940 letter from a local radio station requesting permission to broadcast Cedar Rapids Raiders games from within the ballpark. The belief at the time was that radio broadcasts would hurt ticket sales, so the team wouldn’t allow broadcaster Bert Puckett to call games from inside. Instead, Puckett called the action from a nearby rooftop.

020Here’s the team store, to which the Hall of Fame is attached.

024Broken bats will set you back a Jackson.

026I almost never buy items in team stores, as I have too much random swag as it is. But I made an exception on this evening, purchasing this shirt featuring the logos of all Midwest League teams. Why? Because, now that I was in Cedar Rapids, I had successfully visited all 16 Midwest League clubs. Career milestone!

025Did I mention that Kernels concourse signage is rather riotous? Check out these concession stand photos featuring piece-of-corn mascot Mr. Shucks.

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032At this point in the evening, the game was ready to begin. It’s funny how that happens.

034I think my favorite National Anthem performances are those sung by local youth choirs.

And with that it was time to, yes, play ball.

041When it comes to my Cedar Rapids experience, there are many more morsels, nuggets and, of course, Kernels to report. Stay tuned.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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