The Cokato Kernels, who play their home games at Veterans Memorial Park at Brooks Lake in Cokato, are looking to make a name for themselves in the North Star League after changing their name prior to the 2015 season from the Kings (a holdover from the team’s days in Kingston) to the Kernels, in honor of the community’s strong ties to corn agriculture.
Team: Cokato Kernels
Manager: Nick Corbin
Division: North Star League Central— Howard Lake, Rockford, Maple Lake, Delano, Hutchinson, Loretto, Mound, Maple Plain, Buffalo, Cokato, Dassel, and Montrose.
State Tournaments: None
Hall of Famers: None
Teams to beat: The team to beat in the NSL this season (2016) will be the Howard Lake Orphans, who made it to the semifinals of the 2015 Class C State Tournament. The Orpahs will be followed closely by the DC Saints, The Maple Lake Lakers, and Loretto Larks; all have great pitching staffs. Three additional teams in the North Star League consistently picked to end the season ranked fifth, sixth, and seventh are Delano, Hutchinson, and Maple Plain. The top seven teams get a bye into the Regional playoff tournament; 2015 was the first year that the Kernels cracked that top-7 ranking.
How 2015 ended: In the 2015 Region 12C tournament, the Kernels saw their season come to an end by losing to the Mound Mallards, 2-1. Dalton Asplin pitched 7 2/3 innings of relief, but it was not enough. Ethan Niemela had the only RBI for the Kernels.
Key losses from 2015: Losses from the 2015 Kernels roster include Nate Kaczmarek and Cole O’Brien.
Key acquisitions: The biggest acquisition is actually a returning player. Eric Pokornowski returns to the Kernels from a one-year retirement to greatly bolster the Kernels pitching staff.
Key returning players: Key veterans returning on the offensive side include Tom Halonen, Billy Aho, Isaac Nelson, Abel West, Garret Lueders, Nick Main, and Isak Haataja, among others. The pitching staff includes Vinne Pokornowski, Steve Schmitt, Dalton Asplin, and newcomer Derek Antil.
Being a young team full of talent and speed, but without the superstar players of other teams in the league, the entire team will have to step up and contribute. A complete team effort is needed for the Kernels to win – throwing strikes, playing good defense, and wreaking havoc on the bases.
Updates at the park: The Kernels continue to make a number of big improvements at its park in Cokato – Veteran’s Memorial Field. Grass was installed in the infield, and work is continually being done to improve the infield and outfield. For instance, leveling of the outfield and building a new outfield fence has been done, including a sloped portion in centerfield a la Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
An announcer’s booth and a deck above the first-base dugout are other improvements made in recent years. Soon, a new concrete slab will be poured for batting cages, and a sprinkler system will be installed.
In the near future, the team would like to build a grandstand that will be a monument to area veterans from each branch of the military. Many of these improvements are aimed at getting a region tournament to Cokato one day.