Kernels' Clubby Whalen Goes from War to Pro Baseball

By Jeff Johnson, Reporter

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS — Nine years ago, Greg Whalen was a combat troop in Iraq. Thursday, he was a seamster at Veterans Memorial Stadium, repairing a pair of jersey pants for a Cedar Rapids Kernels player.

“I’ve been a big baseball fan my whole life,” the first-year clubhouse manager said before the Kernels’ 8-1 loss to Quad Cities on Thursday night. “I can’t throw 80, I can’t hit 80, didn’t quite get drafted. But I can’t think of a better place to come work than the ballpark. This is really, truly something I’d consider doing without pay — almost.”

The man’s gotta live and eat, right?

Whalen, 28, is a Dubuque native who joined the military out of high school. His unit originally was stationed in Kuwait, but kept creeping closer and closer to the Iraq border.

He knew something was up. Then the order came.

“It was a great experience. Something I wouldn’t want to change, but something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” said Whalen, who served two missions in Iraq and received a Combat Action Badge. “Definitely life changing. It got pretty thick from time to time … March 19, we crossed. April 7 or 8, we rolled into Baghdad. A pretty wild time.”

After leaving the military, Whalen began taking classes at the University of Iowa and is just a few hours shy of a diploma in economics. He was hired before this season started to take over Ron “Roady” Plein’s duties as home clubhouse manager.

His duties are extensive and his hours long. A typical day sees him at the ballpark by 9 a.m., and he won’t leave until midnight.

“Everything the players and coaches need, I try and provide,” Whalen said. “There is a wide range of things. From janitorial work to today being a (seamster). I’ll be a postman a couple days, an errand boy, a laundromat attendant. You name it, it’s part of this gig.”

It has been a blast, he said. Despite a poor season on the field, the players and coaches have been enjoyable to work with off of it.

The Kernels dropped to 47-75 overall, 15-37 in the second half. Starting pitcher Austin Wood (5-12) has thrown well the last couple of months but was touched for six runs in five innings.

The teams conclude their three-game series Friday night at 6:35.

“Going into this, it was hard having too many expectations,” Whalen said. “I knew I’d have a wide range of responsibilities. But I couldn’t have asked for a better situation than this one. Our record is poor, but the amount of fun we’re having … You could reverse our record and I couldn’t have more fun.”

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