MIDLAND, Mich. -- Efren Navarro can't wait to get home.
Don't misunderstand the 22-year-old first baseman. He loved every minute of his Midwest League All-Star Game experience. The UNLV product got a nice break from the daily grind of his first full season and a chance to get to know his fellow Midwest Leaguers in a relaxed atmosphere.
But here's the thing. Navarro is in the Angels organization and for this season, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is his home. His Kernels were on the road, first in Beloit and then in Kane County, from June 9 through June 15. They received word of the floods that forced his adopted home city to evacuate on Friday, the start of the series against the Cougars.
"When I found out, my mouth just dropped," Navarro said moments after his West All-Star team won an exciting game, 5-4, in 10 innings. "I feel so bad for Cedar Rapids. I hope they can find a way to stay strong and not let it affect the community."
At this level of the Minors, players aren't just in the community as players, means for entertainment. Navarro, like his Kernels teammates, live with host families, so this kind of life-changing event has had a decided impact in the Kernels clubhouse, even if it's been from afar on the road.
"Where I am staying, it's the highest point in Cedar Rapids, so my family was lucky," Navarro said. "But when it all happened, my friends sent me pictures."
Navarro has some experience with natural disasters, unfortunately. Hailing from Southern California, he's had to deal with his fair share of earthquakes. He also knows how important it is for the community to come together in times of need, which is why he can't wait to get home.
A debate can be waged over the impact of sports in situations like this. It's one I've considered over the course of my writing career, from the first Mets game in Shea Stadium following 9/11 to the Zephyrs committing to staying in New Orleans post-Katrina. I'm not trying to compare what's going in Iowa -- and the flooding has impacted other Minor League cities like Davenport, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits -- to those other tragedies. But baseball can help things return to normal, at least in a small way as it did in those instances.
Look at what happened in Davenport over the weekend. Even with the Mississippi River flooding and surrounding the ballpark, even with rain falling, more than 4,000 fans came to Modern Woodmen Park to watch the River Bandits. Navarro wants to get back to Cedar Rapids for the start of a homestand on Thursday to provide a needed distraction to the people of Cedar Rapids, if not more.
"People can come enjoy a game and talk about something else other than the flood," Navarro said. "The Kernels are really tied to the community. I want to go back and see what I can do."
What can baseball do to back up the Kernels' efforts? I must admit I found it a bit disappointing that there wasn't at least a moment taken over the course of the All-Star Game celebration here to reflect on what's befallen some of the Midwest League's communities. That would have been, of course, simply a gesture. What happens going forward, as the waters recede and the 25,000 people in Cedar Rapids who've been homeless since Friday try to reclaim their lives, will be more important.
League president George Spelius said there have been discussions with the National Association about plans to help in the relief effort, and it does seem that all of the baseball community will get involved. There was some talk that the communities in Iowa, still reeling from the floods, weren't quite ready to receive the help so many are ready to give.
When that time comes, I can only hope the Midwest League, the NA and all of baseball steps up and provides the support it can. Until that happens, I encourage all of you to get involved in some way. With the cost of the damage increasing daily, there is no donation that's considered too small.
Here's a place to start: The American Red Cross recently said its national disaster relief fund has been completely depleted and that it's been taking loans to help provide relief services across the Midwest. There undoubtedly will be other agencies and organizations lending a hand, but for now you can go to www.redcross.org and join with the Kernels to show what the extended baseball family can do in trying times.