Buxton, Hicks Homer, Kernels Win 9th Straight

By Jeff Johnson and Scott Saville, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - There is nothing about 354 12th St. SW that seems out of the ordinary. It's a nice little white house inhabited by pair of brothers.

It also just happens to sit a sometimes uncomfortable distance beyond the left-field fence at Veterans Memorial Stadium and has become a favorite target for Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder Byron Buxton.

The teenage phenom nailed Eric and Bill Bagg's property for a third time this season, a lengthy blast that helped the Kernels past Lansing, 5-4, Tuesday afternoon, C.R.'s ninth consecutive win.

"Had no idea about that," Eric Bagg said early Tuesday evening. "I'm not a baseball fan at all. My brother is."

Buxton has four home runs this season, three at Memorial Stadium, all of which have been hit well enough to land on adjacent 8th St. SW and take one big bounce somewhere on Bagg territory. The first two balls actually landed on the home's slanted roof and rolled off, with Tuesday's hitting halfway up a front-yard tree.

For the record, it's roughly 50 feet from the back of the picnic porch that sits atop the left-field fence to 8th Ave., and about 65 to 70 feet from the edge of the street to the Bagg's house.

"I actually think we had one end up in our yard last night," Eric Bagg said. "We seem to get some from time to time during batting practice and stuff."

Bagg had no idea who Buxton was, had no clue he is quickly becoming one of the better minor-league prospects in the game and didn't know he signed a pro contract last year for $6.2 million.

"Maybe we should get a little something, something (for him hitting our house)," he kidded.

The Kernels are making a little something, something off Buxton's ever-growing popularity, especially among Minnesota Twins fans. His number "7" Kernels T-shirts have been quite the popular item since arriving at the souvenir shop at Veterans Memorial Stadium a week or so ago.

A mere $21.95 gets you a nice replica of his home white jersey. The original shipment of 48 is down to just one unsold.

"Don't worry, there are more on the way," assured Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson.

Now if only Nelson can somehow keep Buxton here in town awhile longer, power he obviously doesn't have. The 19-year-old leads the Midwest League offensively in multiple categories, including batting average (.392). He has four home runs and 21 RBIs out of the leadoff spot and has reached base via hit or walk in all 22 games he has played.

The Kernels hit the road for 12 straight and don't return home until May 14. At first blush, it's absurd to think Buxton won't be with the team then, but it's not unrealistic to think he could be with high-A Fort Myers if he continues this enormous early pace.

"I understand it," Twins farm director Brad Steil said of the promotion talk. "He's playing very well. There are still some things I think he can learn here. We'll just continue to evaluate it as we go."

"He's starting to get pitched backwards now, which is a good thing," said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer.

That means seeing lot of breaking balls and offspeed pitches at the beginning of counts.

"He's laying off those pitches," Mauer noted.

Dalton Hicks also had a prodigious two-run homer Tuesday, a first-inning drive that cleared the batter's eye in center field. He's believed to be only the third player in the ballpark's 12 years to accomplish that, with Kane County's Jason Stokes (2002) and Beloit's Kennys Vargas (last season) the others.

"Oh, 400-plus. That's all I know," Hicks said, when asked the estimated distance on his drive. "The wind was blowing out really hard. Those kind of shots, you don't really feel at all. Once I got it up there, the wind just took it."

Matt Tomshaw threw five shutout innings in a spot start to get the pitching win for Cedar Rapids, which plays Wednesday night at West Michigan. Lansing rallied to within a run in the ninth but reliever Tyler Jones got Christian Lopes on a routine fly to right with the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at first.

That tying run was Cedar Rapids Jefferson graduate Kellen Sweeney, who went 1 for 3 with a single and walk. The Lugnuts doubled the Kernels in hits, 10-5.
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