It’s Corny, But it’s Good: The Story Behind the Cedar Rapids Kernels

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At first, it seems like a cliché that a baseball team in Iowa would be named for corn. The city of Cedar Rapids has so much more going for it than just corn, right? It’s the second-largest city in Iowa, home to a significant art museum, historical sites like the famous Paramount Theatre and Roosevelt Hotel, and museums that feature Czech and Slovak culture and African-American history. It’s an important city economically speaking, and it’s home to industry other than corn, like avionics giant Rockwell Collins and the US headquarters of multinational insurance company Aegon N.V.

“Iowans tend to get the fact that everyone thinks of Iowa as being a flyover state and nothing but corn and farms,” said Andy Pantini, communications manager for the the Cedar Rapids Kernels, who has been with the team in one form or another for 21 seasons. “I think that we know that we’ve got a lot more to offer. You can be in Cedar Rapids and drive forever and not see a cornfield.”

However, with all of that being said, “It’s something that the community’s embraced,” Pantini said. “Whenever somebody says, ‘You should come up with something other than corn,” we say, ‘Okay, what?’ And a lot of times we really don’t get a response.”

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Indeed, according to IowaCorn.org, the state’s climate is perfectly suited for growing corn in terms of the length of the growing season, the amount of rain, and the particular qualities of its soil. Corn has been the state’s dominant crop for more than a century and a half, and Iowa’s corn crop has been larger than any other state’s for 20 years. According to Iowa Corn, “In an average year, Iowa produces more corn than most countries. For example, Iowa grows about three times as much corn as a country like Mexico.”

Via MiLB.com
Via MiLB.com

So ever since 1993, the single-A baseball team in Cedar Rapids, currently a Midwest League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, has chosen to embrace corn and base its identity on the important crop. But it hasn’t always been that way. Baseball in Cedar Rapids dates back to 1890, when the city was home to a team called the Canaries. Then from 1896 to 1903, there were the Cedar Rapids Rabbits, which led to the Cedar Rapids Bunnies, who played until 1932, and whose jersey might just be the greatest thing ever.

Subsequent teams included the Raiders (a couple of times), Red Raiders, and Rockets, and a laundry list of teams named after their Major League affiliates, beginning with the Cedar Rapids Indians in 1950, then transitioning through the Braves, Cardinals, Astros, Giants, and finally, the Reds.

In 1992, the Cedar Rapids Reds won the Midwest League championship. “They received a congratulatory letter from the Cincinnati Reds,” Pantini said. “Also in that letter, it said that they were going to move their affiliation to a different area.”

Tired of having to rebrand every time they changed affiliates, the team signed on with the Anaheim Angels in 1993 and held a name-the-team contest. “We really didn’t want to be the Cedar Rapids Angels,” Pantini said.

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The name Kernels won out, and in 1993, the team adopted the logo above, which was created by a local artist and used through the 2006 season.

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mqm1eoffo95gblcg29emlb7jfIn 2007, the team decided to refresh its logo. They went to Dan Simon of Studio Simon in Louisville, Kentucky, who came up with this guy, who I am distraught to tell you does not have a name. (The team’s mascot is Mr. Shucks, who is distinct from the logo guy and has nothing to do with corn.)

The logo features a baseball bat standing in for an ear of corn with an expression that I think can best be described as mob boss disdain. “I think what they were trying to do was create a little bit of toughness,” Pantini said. “It’s not trying to be menacing or inspire fear, but it’s just kind of showing a little bit of toughness within the logo, and hopefully it reflects a little bit on the toughness of the players on the field and what we try and do.”

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The team’s cap logo features the corn-bat guy (he really needs a name) with the corn husks peeling away to create the letter K.

In a state that was the setting for the seminal baseball movie Field of Dreams, in which a corn field was unceremoniously plowed under to make way for a baseball diamond, the Cedar Rapids Kernels have proven that baseball and corn can coexist in harmony. The Kernels’ nickname and logo embrace the most obvious aspect of the area—the thing you can see most clearly from the airplane window as you’re flying over Iowa. Even if corn is not the most exciting foundation for a visual identity, the Kernels current logo is just quirky enough to be fun and make it work.