With the Kernels – Day One


Wil Ortiz turns a double play to end Clinton’s third-inning rally last night.

Not many people are loony enough to wake up at 4 AM PDT so they can take a cross-country flight and then drive 80 miles to make a minor league ballgame, but that’s what I did yesterday.

All the stars aligned, so my flights stayed on schedule, the luggage arrived when I did, the car rental company was efficient, and so at 3 PM MDT I headed east on Highway 30 for a long drive to Clinton, Iowa to document the Kernels’ game against the Clinton Lumberkings.

Alliant Energy Field — which was built in 1937, when I’m sure it was called something much different — sits on the Mississippi River. It’s one of the few remaining "classic" ballparks in minor league baseball. Only John O’Donnell Stadium in Quad Cities, built in 1931, is older in the Midwest League. The Clinton ballpark underwent a renovation last winter, but it’s still a tiny, quaint ballpark that retains the charm of a bygone era.

The charm was largely lost on the Kernels, who fell 12-6.

I did what photography and video that I could, but with intermittent showers all night I couldn’t expose my equipment to the elements and had to take refuge at the far end of the Kernels dugout.

I’ve written many times about how players are bred to be competitive, so they’ll find a reason at any time to compete. In the dugout last night, several water cups were lined up on the lip of the dugout behind the protective railing. A few players spent several innings trying to flick sunflower seed shells into the cups. When one shell actually made it into a cup, there was more celebrating than a goal at a World Cup soccer match.

Game time today is 2:00 PM MDT. It’s a commute game for the Kernels, which means they’re not staying in a Clinton motel but making the round-trip from Veterans Memorial Stadium via team bus. They leave the Vet at 10:30 AM for a scheduled noon arrival.

The drive is fairly straightforward, but much of it is two-lane highway or worse. You’ll be clipping along at the legal 55-MPH speed limit, round a turn and see a SPEED ZONE AHEAD sign followed a few yards later by a SPEED LIMIT 20 MPH sign. Yikes. This is farm country, so the highway passes through many small towns that don’t look much different than they might have been 50 or 100 years ago. The roads were laid out for horses, not cars.

One great thing about the Midwest is that you can hear baseball radiocasts from all over the Heartland. Last night I picked up parts of the Cubs, White Sox, and Cardinals games. Finally I came across the Cincinnati Reds broadcast from Dodger Stadium. It was interesting to hear their slant on SoCal life, particularly their contempt (which I share) forthe nitwits who bring beach balls to the game.

Anyway, more to come after today’s contest.

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