Kernels Defeat Bowling Green For 3rd Straight Win

By Jeff Johnson (Story) and Josh Christensen (Video)

CEDAR RAPIDS – The tattoo on the inside of his right wrist needs an explanation.

There is a 'C' and a 'G,' with a number '17' in the middle. What look like curved stitches border the letters and number at the top and bottom.

"They are his initials and jersey number with baseball laces on the outside," Mason Melotakis said.

The tattoo, the only one the Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher has, is in honor of Chris Gavora. He was a high-school friend and teammate in Grapevine, Texas, who died as the result of a freak baseball accident in 2007.

Gavora was throwing batting practice in a cage when he was struck in the head by a line drive from another cage. The baseball somehow passed through two protective screens en route to hitting Gavora.

He died two days after being struck.

"I was a sophomore, he was a junior. We were good buddies," said Melotakis, the winner as the Kernels shaded Bowling Green, 7-6, Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium. "What happened to him turned my life around. I play baseball every day for him."

Melotakis was on the Grapevine junior varsity at the time and his team was playing a game that day, so fortunately he did not witness Gavora's accident. He said everyone was reduced to tears when told what had happened.

Grapevine has created the Chris Gavora Memorial Scholarship in his honor. After graduating, Melotakis went on to play college baseball at Northwestern State in Louisiana, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the second round last year and appears to have a legitimate career ahead of him.

The left-hander, making the tough conversion from college reliever to pro starter, went six innings Sunday, giving up just five hits and a pair of runs, both in the first. He's got a 7-3 record and earned run average of 3.83.

His peripheral numbers are respectable, too. He's throwing well.

Throwing well for Chris Gavora.

"Him dying changed my life 180 degrees," Melotakis said. "I just know that every outing, every pitch I throw is for him. He's with me."

The Kernels (56-35, 16-7 second half) got a two-run home run from "Hip Hip" Jorge Polanco to go ahead for good in the third, 3-2. He, Jonathan Murphy, Joel Licon and Jeremias Pineda had two hits apiece, with Murphy scoring twice and driving in two.

Murphy is hitting .344 in 10 games since being sent to Cedar Rapids from high-Class Fort Myers. He's the younger brother of Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets.

"He brings experience, defense, knows the strike zone," Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said. "He's a baseball player. Will he continue to hit .340? Probably not. But he's one of the, if not the, best outfielders we have. He probably throws the best. He runs well. He brings a lot to it."

Cedar Rapids built a 7-2 lead after six innings but had to hang on, as Bowling Green (53-39, 15-9) scored four times in the seventh and had the tying run in scoring position in that inning and the ninth. Michael Toles doubled to left with one out in the ninth but was thrown out trying to steal third on a bang-bang play by Kernels catcher Michael Quesada.

Tyler Jones got the final two outs for his ninth save. The teams conclude their three-game series Monday at noon.
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