By Ashton Pollard
Jon Teig grew up as a Cedar Rapids Kernels kid. He spent his summers at the ballpark, chose the stadium as the location of his birthday parties and was occasionally a guest bat boy for the team, an opportunity he landed through a friend of his mother’s who was involved in the Kernels’ host family program.
When Teig was 13 years old, then general manager Jack Roeder invited him in for an interview. He was too young to make money at this point, but it didn’t matter to him.
“I always told them, ‘Jon would pay you to work here,’” said Teig’s father, Bob.
Once he turned 14 later that summer, the Kernels were allowed to pay him, which was a big lesson for Teig, known as Jon-Jon around the ballpark, at such a young age.
“You know, like any of us, you work and there’s a feeling of accomplishment,” his dad said.
But for Teig, the job was more than just a lesson in responsibility and a little summer spending money for a teenager.
Teig has autism. He is very independent, as he lives on his own in Iowa City and drives to work each day to both his nearby job at Scheels, a sporting goods store, and his job at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“[Jon’s] big thing is some cognitive things,” his father said. “His speech, some comprehension. Although, if you ask him about a Kernels game from 2012, he could tell you who hit a home run, probably. He just has a knack for those things. He’s always loved sports.”
In addition to the lessons that would be valuable to any teenager starting to work, Teig’s social skills have been significantly improved by being around the team, his father says.
“He has met players, and he’s not in awe of these guys. He doesn’t get autographs from these people because they’re just his friends,” Bob Teig said.
According to Jon Teig’s mom, Karen Wimmer, friends like the one who got him in the bat boy rotation, Jack Roeder, and Kernels players have been a collection of “guardian angels” watching over him, treating him just like any other person.
“He’s learned from players that he’s one of the guys. So, expect to be teased, expect to be punked, be the butt of the joke sometimes,” Wimmer said.
Teig’s relationship with the team is not one-sided. He has positively impacted the lives of so many people in Cedar Rapids.
“I just think he gets along with everybody,” said Tommy Watkins, who is now the first base coach for the Minnesota Twins but was previously the hitting coach for the Kernels. “He builds special relationships with everybody he comes into contact with.”
Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who played for the Kernels when the team was the single-A affiliate of the Angels, is one of those friends. Teig even went out to visit Trout in Los Angeles in 2012. When Teig attended batting practice before the game, he was the talk of the field.
“When batting practice was over, Trout saw Jon first,” Wimmer said. “[Trout] comes running in, running over to us. And then the whole infield comes in, and I hear the guy in the [tour] group next to us talking to somebody else. He says, ‘Who’s that guy? He knows everybody.’ They were talking about Jon.”
In 2015, Teig’s fame was taken to another level when the team had a bobblehead night for him, and he was able to sign them for fans as any professional baseball player would do.
While Teig is not alone in experiencing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, the change in his routine has been especially difficult. The 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled, and there are no bat boys in Minor League Baseball until further notice for the 2021 season, which began a few weeks ago.
“When he told me [this situation], I’ve never heard him sound so sad,” Wimmer said.
Thankfully, Teig has adjusted well and understands that safety is the top priority. When asked what he misses the most about not being allowed on the field during games, he said he is excited to rally the crowd again when the Kernels need a big inning.
“Get those players, get those bats and runs going,” he said.
Kernels general manager Scott Wilson, whose two sons have been Kernels bat boys as well, said he hopes Teig will be back on the field soon.
“A month, I’m hoping. I’m hoping MLB starts to reduce protocols. Most of the major league teams have hit the magic 85% vaccination that they wanted them to hit, then they promised us they would start to reduce protocols based on that,” Wilson said.
For now, count on Teig to enter Veterans Memorial Stadium the moment the gates open to fans and to be sitting in that front row cheering for the team. He is not interested in any other role at the park in the meantime.
“I just want to be the bat boy,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”
Ashton Pollard is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @ashtonpollard7.