Back in May of this summer, I heard that I need to mark my calendar for August 7th. After I heard why, I knew that The Iowa Gallivant needed to be in Cedar Rapids for what could turn out to be a once in a lifetime chance to see a tribute that was a long time coming. August 7 is Jon Jon Teig Bobble Head Night at the Cedar Rapids Kernels! Before we prep for the big game, we need to get to know Jon Jon. We got to meet Jon Teig and his father, Bob, in early June and we took time to dine at one of his favorite spots- Sushi Popo in Iowa City!
I met Jon and Bob for lunch and we got the day started with three orders of Jon’s favorite meal at Sushi Popo. Chicken and Broccoli with some delicious fried rice. It was my first time ordering away from the sushi menu and thanks to the Teig family, I have another dish I’ll be making room for when I return to Sushi Popo. As we devoured our meal, Bob and Jon told the backstory of Jon’s decent to stardom in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area. Both Bob and Jon loved talking about what he does for the Kernels team and how much they mean to the Teig family. Jon said, “My favorite part of being with the Kernels is the clubhouse. We tell jokes, play tricks on each other, eat meals together, and watch movies during rain delays.” Bob told me that “Jon is treated like one of the guys.” Bob was sure to put credit where credit was deserved. “I can’t tell you how much the University of Iowa REACH program means to us. It’s truly an amazing program.” Bob said as we talked about some of Jon’s most important steps in his life.
Part of the UI REACH program is to listen to the goals of their students and find out ways for them to achieve the necessary steps it takes for accomplishment. Jon was born and raised in Cedar Rapids and grew up as a loyal Hawkeye fan and it was in Iowa City where he became a graduate of the University of Iowa, the school he loved his whole life. Participating in the UI REACH Program gave him the skills and ability to succeed. He now lives in the same city of his alma mater with his roommate and best friend, Matthew, following his dreams and attaining a home in Iowa City and a job with the Kernels in his hometown of Cedar Rapids while volunteering with UofI baseball team. Jon sets a goal. Jon works his butt off to get the goal in reach. Jon takes the goal and spikes it like a football that just crossed the goal line. However, Jon needs to pay the bills too. Enter the next phase that inspired the recent spring loaded, bobbly promo.
Jon is now in his late 20’s and has been the CR-Kernels bat boy for 15 seasons. However, as much as we would love weather that would let us circle the pads year round in Eastern Iowa, even the most devoted of Kernels will need employment in the off-season. Well, as you can guess, Jon figured out another way to find a group of people welcoming him and recognizing the honor of calling Jon Teig a friend. And I guess you can play baseball year-round in places like Florida. But, we want Jon in Iowa. So consider that move a bad idea and we shan’t bring it up again.
Steve Wilhelm, Assistant Store Leader at Scheels and all-around great guy, sat down with me a week before the big night in August and couldn’t have been more excited for the upcoming promotion. “We know Jon Jon collects bobble heads and we knew what his reaction would be. We unveiled the picture and Jon yelled out SHUT UP!” Steve also said the decision to move forward on Jon’s promo was very easy and that his likeness may unofficially be the first Scheels employee to have their own bobble head. Another historic moment for Iowa! “Working with Jon has been a neat experience. The whole store has adapted to Jon and he is just one of the guys.” There’s that saying again! Don’t think for a minute that Scheels stopped with the bobble head when it came to supporting Jon’s night. You’ll see their support of Jon at the game.
It was time to hightail it to the park and get to the meat of this blog. Literally and figuratively speaking.
The folks at the Vet were expeditious all around. Just a couple minutes at the will-call booth. Never more than a minute or two waiting for a beverage and food from any of the Vet’s many venues. The only wait Kernels fans had to endure on this night was the one for autographs. An autograph from none other than Jon Teig. This was to be expected of course.
Jon Jon has his usual routines at the game. His team commitments go further than rounding up foul balls and assisting the players with their bats. Let’s see if we can keep up with just some of the items on his game day checklist. Get water cups ready, mix the Gatorade, get towels ready, manage the other bat boys, prep for mealtime, take a gander at game plans, stretch with the team, shag balls for batting practice, get balls to umpires, help his co-worker, Roady, with laundry, and restock bubblegum and, sunflower seeds. Jon told me, “They gotta concentrate on getting those hits!” As you can guess, this routine may have been a little altered on a day like this. The autograph session wasn’t the only celebrity obligation that Jon had this evening.
The fans filtered their way in to the Vet and soaked in the last bit of sunshine in the first few innings. The temperature yielded a perfect night for baseball and the buzz in the crowd was high pitched from the get-go. The cheers started early for Jon Jon and kept going all night long. The Kernels saw themselves in the hole after a couple early errors produced some runs for the visiting Bowling Green Hot Rods. “There’s some things that he does at the ballpark that are just……Jon Jon. People have gotten so used to seeing the little things he does in certain situations,” Bob said this to me over lunch back in June and I instantly figured out what he meant. Especially when shortstop, Nick Gordon hit a 2 run blast over the right field wall to tie the game up. The CR crowd stood up and hollered as he circled the bases. Jon Jon bolted from the dugout rose his hand and circled his his index finger around and around. The official gesture for a home run. Nick Gordon rounded third and was greeted by Jon at home plate and exchanged a smile, high-five, and a smack on the rear-end. “Just one of the guys.” I said to myself as I clapped from behind the dugout.
We were in the middle innings and Jon was busy with the game as he always is. Focused, driven, and ready for anything. We decided to explore the Kernels home. By exploring I mean finding something grilled and something sugary. The Vet, as do the majority of ballparks, had us covered!
“When the Kernels are winning, Jon has a little more pep in his step. You can tell what the score is by reading his body language.” Fatherly advice from Bob. I observed more of Jon then I did the actual game. Charlie kept me updated on the stats while I answered as many questions from Gigi as I could. My mother and I reminisced about our days coming to Kernels/Reds games at the old Vet. The Hot Rods eventually got out to a 5 run lead and I watched Jon’s demeanor.
The Kernels chipped away at the Bowling Green 7-2 lead in the late innings with a little small ball. Capitalizing on some of the Hot Rods errors, Cedar Rapids moved the base runners with fundamental sacrifice fly’s and knocking in runs with routine base hits. By the ninth inning, the Kernels were only down 7-5. The bases were loaded with Kernels with no outs. An extra base hit could win the game. Jon Jon was pacing and urging his teammates along. Unfortunately, the home team would leave the bases drunk and end the game with a loss. The scouts observed the Hot Rod closer get himself into a jam and pitch his way out of it. A tough pill to swallow, for the Kernels and what some would call a golden opportunity missed. But, not from my vantage point.
I know that Jon and the Kernels would have preferred getting the “W” on this night. However, it didn’t feel like a loss. Being from the area, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing dozens of games at the current Vet and old Vet. And in all of those years I can’t recall a more memorable game. I’ve witnessed some of the best modern day players cut their teeth in Cedar Rapids from both the home team and visiting squads. I watched many of the players from the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and 2002 Anaheim Angels championship teams make their professional debuts as skinny kids running out on to the field with CR’s factories and industry in the background. Friends, family, and thousands of memories for me prior to August 7th, 2015. Thanks to Jon Jon, Team Goodvin started a new list of Kernels memories from this night being our first trip together to the Vet. The history of our local minor league team dates back before the world knew what a bobble head was and nachos served in a helmet, which is awesome by the way! Each year, there’s a group of baseball icons enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. They all have their own story on how they got there. The individuals that they met and helped them along the way. I wonder what some of them think about when they see their hall of fame plaque for the first time. Who do they credit when they read over the list of teams they played for and mull over the stats and accomplishments that got them to legendary status. Maybe some of them have their own personal all-star teams and hall of famers that they house in their own mental Cooperstown. Maybe they think about former teammates, coaches and managers that were crucial to their careers. Old rivals that brought out the best in them. The announcers that called so many of their classic games and moments. Or maybe the season ticket holders they got used to seeing day after day. Perhaps there are some big leaguers that will observe their plaque and think of their days in Cedar Rapids, IA. And a smile will break open when they recall the young man that showed up to the ballpark everyday and exuded an unwavering work ethic and unconditional friendship to whomever put on the Kernels jersey. And they may tell the story of Jon Jon. The guy who worshiped Cedar Rapids baseball and would be there for every home game and cheered on their journey through A-Ball. It will be at that moment when Jon Jon himself makes it to Cooperstown. And when you wonder what he’s doing, just remember that it’s always peanut-butter-jelly time, fellas.
And now for a few very special thank yous…….
Thanks for reading! -Team Goodvin