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Meet the Kernels Catchers

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The Cedar Rapids Kernels opened their 2014 season with a split of their four-game series with the Clinton Lumber Kings. The weather over the weekend was tolerable, with highs in the mid 50s to around 60 degrees, but Thursdayís Opening Night was far from delightful, with temperatures in the 30s and occasional rain. On Friday, the weather forced the seasonís first postponement.

On Monday, the team boarded their bus for their first road trip. Theyíll play six games in Michigan before returning Monday, April 13.

Before they left town with their team mates, the Kernelsí three-man catching corps sat down for an interview.

Kernels catching corps, from left to right: Bo Altobelli, Michael Quesada and Mitch Garver

Bo Altobelli, Michael Quesada and Mitch Garver have several things in common. They are similar in age and each played some college baseball before starting their professional careers with the Twins.

In addition, each of the three hails from areas of the country that you would assume allows baseball to be played in more moderate weather than what welcomed them to Cedar Rapids last week. Altobelliís from Texas, Quesada went to school in California and Garver in New Mexico.

They were asked over the weekend if they had any prior experience playing ball in conditions comparable to what they faced in their first week of Midwest League play this season.

Bo Altobelli:
Itís a little different, especially coming from Florida up here, so thatís the major change. But it does get cold in Texas. We have played games in sleet and snow before, so Iím a little bit used to it. Of course, you prefer the Florida weather, which hopefully will come here soon.

Michael Quesada:
Being from California, this is as cold as Iíve had to play in, but itís a learning experience. You go up and down the (organizational) ladder, thereís cold places.

Minnesota, for example. Youíre not going to complain when youíre up there, are you? You might as well get used to it now.

Weíre not the only ones who are cold, everyone else is cold, too. So itís something youíve got to work through it and experiment with ways to stay warm.

Mitch Garver: Itíís very similar (in New Mexico). We get a lot of wind. We donít get a lot of moisture. Thereís no snow and sleet and rain, but when it does rain, thereís always going to be wind to accompany it. So the cold is familiar, but you can never really get used to it. Youíre always going to be playing in cold, so the first few months of the season, thereís an adjustment.

A year ago, Garver was finishing up his college career at New Mexico. He was asked what differences heís noticed as he enters his first year of full season professional baseball.

Garver: Itís just different doing this every day. You have to learn how to maintain your body and how you prepare each day is based off how you feel. If youíre feeling a little down one day, you might have to do something a little bit extra to get going.

Itís different from college because really baseball is the only thing you have to worry about. You have to worry about keeping your body in shape, showing up to the field on time, doing what youíve got to do to prepare.

Whereas in college, you had to take care of your social life, your emotional life, your school work and other factors that go in to it. Itís a more independent way of living and the competition obviously is better.

So does that mean you have no social life or anything like that when youíre playing professional baseball?

Garver: Youíve really got to balance things. In pro baseball, your social life is within the team. Itís kind of who you hang out with 24/7.

Both Quesada and Altobelli spent time in Cedar Rapids a season ago. They were asked whether they were adjusting their approaches this year as they return to open the season with the Kernels, but clearly hope to be getting considered for possible promotions to the next level.

Quesada: My adjustment is not worrying about it. I think I worried too much last year, putting pressure on myself with what to do. Itís a marathon, like Mitch said, itís every day. I think I played pitch by pitch every day like it was my last pitch and I think you have to pace yourself a little bit.

Thatís the adjustment Iím making this year is pacing myself throughout the year. I understand itís 140-some odd games, plus spring training. Iím treating my body a little differently, adjusting that way.

Thatís really the difference that I feel. After my first full season, I caught a lot last year and this year Iím trying to treat it as a marathon and not a sprint.

Altobelli: Similar to what they said, you canít worry about it because the moment you think youíve got it figured out, youíll find out youíve got no idea whatís going on as far as what they think youíre going to do and what you think yourself youíre going to do.

So you canít think about it. Youíve just got to go out there and play. Play how you want to play and the rest will take care of itself.

If the team wins, everyoneís going to be happy and, more likely, people will move up if you win. So just focus on winning and the rest will take care of itself.

The Kernels roster includes 13 pitchers, leaving room for just 12 position players. Three of those spots are held by these catchers. That means Kernels manager Jake Mauer has to ration out innings behind the plate among the three backstops. They were asked how it works out, splitting time among the three of them.

Altobelli: Every year of pro ball, weíve had three catchers where Iím at, so itís nothing new to me. But being here, we know Jakeís going to help us out the best that he can, DHing us, maybe getting time at first base, who knows.

Youíve got to try and stay focused, take some extra BP if you need it. At least weíre catching bullpens if weíre not playing, so the ballís still coming at us. So weíre still getting that feel down. Itís definitely difficult, but Jake does a good job of getting us in there and trying to keep us in a routine so credit to him for keeping us up to date with whatís going on.

Quesada: All of thatís out of our control. Itís up to Jake and the organization. Itís not anything we have any power over. All we can do is go out and play the best we can. If theyíre going to play us more, then they do. Jake, as Bo said, does a really good job of finding ways to get us in there somehow. Heís not going to shortchange us.

Garver, on the other hand, was catching almost every game during his college season a year ago.

Garver: Yeah, thatís right. Itís a long season. Itís longer than most people might think. Itís my first full season, so I guess I probably donít have a feel for it like these guys do, but 140 games is a long time and if youíre really only using one or two catchers, itís going to break down toward the end of the year.

I think having three guys is going to be helpful. You can stay fresh. You can get some days off, get some at-bats at some different positions where you donít normally play. It teaches you how to be a good baseball player. If youíre only playing one position, youíre not going to be as baseball savvy as you are if you can play multiple positions. They like to see how you can do at different positions and I think thatís a cool thing.
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