CEDAR RAPIDS — As much as he might crave it, it has to be difficult for Chad Christensen to be just “one of the guys” on the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
When you’re playing pro ball in your hometown, you’re more than that to the fans and media.
“That part really hasn’t been hard,” the former Cedar Rapids Washington prep said after the Kernels’ 4-3 win over Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “We have a really good group of guys. We’re getting closer to the halfway point (of the season) now, and there’s great clubhouse chemistry and everything. We’re all doing the same thing day in and day out. All of that part of it has been fun.”
Of course, it helps when you’re contributing to the cause, and Christensen has done plenty of that. He rocketed a solo home run directly over the 407-foot sign in extreme left-center field with one out in the eighth inning for the winning hit.
“I thought maybe it had enough. It felt good,” said Christensen, of a line drive that just seemed to keep going and going. “Just trying to get a good pitch, put a good swing on it. Not necessarily trying to do too much with it. Try to get a good pitch over the plate and put an aggressive swing on it.”
“I didn’t know if it was going to get high enough to get up above the stadium,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. “He hit it so dang hard. He got it just above the stadium and got enough back spin on it that it kept going. That was fun to see him do that.”
It has been fun to see Christensen be a hometown hero. He’s hitting .289, leads the team in stolen bases with 14 and has been so versatile defensively.
He didn’t even play opening night but has been the Kernels’ No. 3 hitter in the order for awhile now. That’s called making the most of an opportunity.
“He has been outstanding,” Mauer said. “We’ve asked him to play left (field), center, right, first. His approach at the plate has been the same, no matter where you put him. He has been every bit of what we hoped coming up here. To say he was going to be our third-hole hitter, maybe not, but he has definitely earned it. He gives you good at-bats, he can run, he can handle the bat, hit the ball over the fence. He has done everything we have asked.”
Who knows if the 23-year-old University of Nebraska graduate will ever make the major leagues. But to this point, he’s making the most of his shot.
He signed a ton of autographs postgame on the field with teammates, a regular Sunday promotion.
“There are quite a few people around town that I know,” he said. “I’m glad they come out to the games.”
Jared Wilson (2-0) threw two hitless relief innings for the pitching win for Cedar Rapids (27-30), with Todd Van Steensel throwing a perfect ninth for his fourth save. Starting pitcher Kohl Stewart impressed a crowd that included his grandfather and Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan with six very solid innings.
The 19-year-old right-hander, the fourth-overall pick in last year’s draft, rebounded from a rough previous start, allowing just five hits and one earned run. His fastball consistently was in the mid-90s.
The teams play the rubber game of their three-game series Monday at noon.
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