Twins' High-A affiliate harvests first title since '94

September 21st, 2023

The Cedar Rapids Kernels were the team to beat in the Midwest League all season. And the Twins' High-A affiliate made good on that promise by winning its first championship since 1994.

The Kernels defeated the Great Lakes Loons, 7-6, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the series after dropping the resumed Game 2 on Wednesday. In doing so, Cedar Rapids became the first team in the league since the 2018 Bowling Green Hot Rods to win its division in both halves of the season and go on to take the crown.

A second-inning grand slam by Emmanuel Rodriguez gave Cedar Rapids the fuel it needed to stave off a Great Lakes rally in the final frame.

"We go up, 1-0, and we had the bases loaded there and didn't get anything across, and we get the two outs and he has a big, big swing, hits a big home run for us," Dinkelman said. "It was awesome for him to have that moment and energize the team and stadium."

The third slam of the year by the No. 3 Twins prospect (No. 48 overall) bookmarked the year. Rodriguez hit a walk-off homer with the bases loaded in the team’s season opener on April 11, and another on June 1.

The Kernels have been regulars in the postseason every year since 2013, but they hadn't won it all in 29 years.

“We've been close a lot of times and in the playoffs and have a chance to play for a championship, and then to get this close but be one win away,” Kernels manager Brian Dinkelman said. “The fans were awesome tonight, so I know we're excited for the city of Cedar Rapids’ championship.”

The Kernels leaned on their discipline at the plate to secure the victory in the finale. Getting on base via the walk 10 times bolstered the fact that they only had five knocks in the game and hit .143 with runners in scoring position.

“I think it just goes back to the type of players and training that they've done all season. You know, not expanding the zone and taking walks whenever the pitchers aren't able to find the zone,” Dinkelman said. “They've had good at-bats all season. Take the free bases ... and let somebody have a big hit to bring the runs in.”

After defeating the Peoria Chiefs, 2-1, in the semifinals, Cedar Rapids hit the road to open the Championship Series at Great Lakes. A five-run ninth inning gave the Kernels the lead ahead of a homestand to close out the series. Game 2 was suspended Tuesday due to rain and resumed the following day. Dropping that contest, 4-2, to the Dodgers affiliate forced a seven-inning, same-day Game 3.

“Different circumstances than they were used to, you know, have the emotions of being close to winning, just falling short and then having to turn around (and play again),” Dinkelman said. “But the boys responded well [and] played hard like they did all season.”