Jack Roeder has no idea what the crowds will be like tonight—or for the remainder season—but the veteran Cedar Rapids general manager is confident that the Kernels returning to the field one week after historic floods first descended upon the city is the right decision.
Roeder is anything but oblivious to the destruction caused by the swollen Iowa River, which crested last week 10 feet above flood stage at roughly 32 feet and left 480 blocks of Cedar Rapids underwater, displaced 35,000 people, affected 10,000 homes and covered a 10-mile radius.
"It’s an unbelievable tragedy," said Roeder, noting that the river surged above 500-year flood plains. "I don’t think anyone envisioned it could come to 32 feet."
Yet amid so much tragedy, the Kernels will open their eight-game homestand as scheduled following the low Class A Midwest League all-star break, hoping to provide a temporary distraction for locals while doing enough business for the team to stay afloat financially. Roeder spoke with local officials earlier this week, and he said their support for the Kernels to play ball was almost unanimous.
"I think that is where the ballpark can come into play . . . We think it is a great place for people to escape for a couple of hours and take their minds off of what life has handed them," Roeder said. "We hope a Kernels game will be a rallying point for people."
The reality for the Kernels is that they still have a business to run, even if in dire circumstances. The current eight-game homestand was expected to be one of the biggest of the season, with group sales lined up in advance and hopes of filling the 5,300-seat ballpark each night. Many of those groups have since canceled and Roeder has since lowered their goals to drawing upwards of 20,000 fans over the stretch.
Yet it could have been worse for the Kernels, who were on the road when the floods hit and have not had to cancel any games as a result. Recent dry weather has aided the clean-up process and has been critical in the Kernels getting back to the field as quickly as they have. Roeder estimates that if they had lost the current homestand it would cost the team around $500,000 in revenue.
"The situation looks much better than it did a week ago," Roeder said. "I would have thought this upcoming homestand would have been canceled. The recovery has been good, we haven’t been fighting the rain . . . The general feeling is that it will be good to play baseball again. We went from sheer disaster in this homestand to something that could be salvageable."
The Kernels are starting food drive this homestand and are looking into partnering in a fundraiser. (Triple-A New Orleans, sympathetic to the flood victims in Iowa, have started a fundraiser to aid impacted communities like Cedar Rapids.)
Roeder is confident the city will come out on top.
"The resiliency of the people and the will to get things back to where they were and better (will be the difference)," he said. "It may take a couple of years, but I think it will be a better place because of the will of the people."
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