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04/16/2007 10:25 AM ET
Mehring Monday April 16th: Cedar Rapids

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The team hotel in Cedar Rapids has one of the best hotel restaurants in the Midwest League. It will stay open until the team gets back after games so that the players can eat. It has healthy sized portions. The staff always makes sure that your water glass is full and they will always check on you to see if there is anything else that you need.

The added bonus for me is that there are large pictures of downtown Cedar Rapids and life in east central Iowa from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. There are pictures of trolleys delivering passengers to work at a tall, pre-World War I banks and the Cedar River with an old fashioned bridge spanning the distance between the banks of the river.  One of neatest is of two workers in front of their ice delivery truck. (I almost said coolest pictures, but stopped myself). 

I have probably eaten in this restaurant three times per trip into Cedar Rapids since 2000 and have looked at each of the pictures, but I saw one today that I had never seen before. It was up at the by the front entrance. This is also known as the entrance that I never use. But, today I did and now I know a secret from the early history of baseball in Cedar Rapids and their strange obsession with an animal at the time. 

Belden Hill was the father of baseball in Cedar Rapids. He made it to the Major Leagues in 1890 and played 25 games for Baltimore of the American Association, but a broken leg ended his career. In 1891, he helped to start the Cedar Rapids Bunnies. The city went crazy for the team, and according to the picture in the restaurant, for cottontails, too. 

It seems that in October from the 1890's until an unknown point of the 20th century there was a carnival based on the baseball team. It must have been something else, but the picture had no details except for a picture of a downtown street strung up with lights like for Christmas and a few words about gala dances with gowns for the ladies and black-tie and tails for the gentlemen. 

There were some excerpts from a newspaper article about a game between the Bunnies and the Waterloo nine. Apparently, an incident occurred in which the Cedar Rapids fans in the seats along the third baseline were throwing bottles at the manager for Waterloo. The reporter wrote that while the incident was regrettable and wrong, the "corpulent" manager from Waterloo basically brought the treatment on himself for being a jerk. The Cedar Rapids paper must not have been delivered up to Waterloo back in those days. I wonder if that made it to the on-line edition. 

Then, there was a note about the odd pre-game tradition of releasing a cage full of live bunnies on the field before the first pitch of the game at the home stadium of the Rabbits. It makes me wonder if the Timber Rattlers could do that with a basket of snakes. On second thought, forget that. Bad idea; I never wrote that. In fact, I never thought that. 

The best part of that one picture in the hotel restaurant is a small drawing of a bunny that must have been used to help publicize the team and get people to come out to the games. The bunny had a phrase written, partially in German, on it. That phrase: See Der Rabbits. Cedar Rapids. See Der Rabbits. 

They did some strange things to market baseball back then.

CM

Missed a Mehring Monday?

Mehring Monday 4/9 : It's Not That Bad

Need more Chris? Read his Rattler Radio Blog.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.