Central Iowa Summer Sports Preview5/5/2021
I-Cubs, Iowa Barnstormers, Des Moines Menace. We can’t wait!
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez top the list of current Chicago Cubs superstars who have honed their craft at Principal Park as Iowa Cubs. Chris Mueller is a Major League Soccer player who donned a Des Moines Menace jersey before ascending to the pro level. And, of course, Kurt Warner quarterbacked the Iowa Barnstormers before becoming an NFL Hall of Famer.
Given central Iowa’s history of grooming up-and-coming athletic talent, the onset of summer spectator sports can lead local fans to ask: Which current I-Cub, Barnstormer or Menace player will be the next big thing on the national or global stage? But, just as local inquiring minds began to get curious last year about uncovering an answer to the aforementioned question, along came COVID-19 and… kaput.
Each of these proud franchises will soon restart competition while allowing varying numbers of fans to attend — hallelujah, keep your fingers crossed — but after a year of lockdown, you might find yourself feeling out of the loop. If so, welcome to CITYVIEW’s Central Iowa Summer Sports Preview. We’ll get you caught up by unfurling bits of need-to-know info, the best reasons to attend games, interesting items of trivia, and answers to pertinent sports questions. It all adds up to 30 talking points and a whole lot of fun.
#1. LOCAL SPORTS INFO YOU NEED TO KNOW
First things first, each of the three major central Iowa summer spectator sports will play in venues with a reduced capacity in order to allow social distancing, and each will implement a mandatory face-mask policy. But each of the three intend to play, and that should be the most important takeaway from this story.
#2. NEED-TO-KNOW I-CUBS INFO
Most of Principal Park’s standard offerings at I-Cubs games will be available when the team begins its 2021 Triple-A baseball season with a six-game homestand that runs on consecutive days, starting on Tuesday, May 4 and running through Sunday, May 9. Each of these games is against the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I-Cubs action includes 60 home games in 2021. Fans can expect 10 Fireworks Fridays, a Holiday Fireworks show (Tuesday, July 6), a Mother’s Day game (Sunday, May 9), Copa celebration days featuring Los Demonios de Des Moines and other yet-to-be-announced events.
Q: Crazy “8”s?… Why do all Iowa Cubs home games begin on the “8s”… 12:08, 1:08, 6:38 and 7:08?
A: Staying with tradition, the start times reflect the team’s partnership with KCCI Channel 8. The I-Cubs play home games at Principal Park in downtown Des Moines. Visit www.iowacubs.com for ticket information, official start times and updated information.
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Wells Fargo Arena,
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Home games are played at Valley Stadium, 4440 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines.
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The I-Cubs reported an attendance total of nearly a half of a million during its last campaign, and while limitations on capacity will likely hinder them from approaching that mark this season, the front office is gearing up to host as many as is feasible.
Under normal circumstances, Principal Park holds 11,000-plus, but, at least for May home games, that number will be significantly lower, according to Randy Wehofer, the Iowa Cubs vice president and assistant general manager.
“Conversations are ongoing with the City,” he says. “It probably won’t be less than 3,000. It might get to be as much as 3,500 or 4,000,” at least at the start of the season. Seating arrangements, attendance guidelines, ticketing procedures and COVID-19 protocols will be reevaluated regularly as the season progresses.
“We play through at least the middle of September,” Wehofer explains. “By the time we get to that point, there’s a path to the ballpark feeling like it always did, but I can’t just circle the exact date where we will make that transition, and it’ll probably be multiple transitions through the year.”
Other changes that fans should expect include metal detectors at all Principal Park entrances, digital ticketing and the transition to becoming a cashless ballpark.
To start the season, individual game tickets will be sold for one month at a time, and the team suggests buying tickets online — digital ticketing — before arriving. The ticket window will be open for people to walk up and buy tickets, but purchasing them ahead of time will ensure availability, which figures to be an occasional problem while capacity is diminished.
Due to pod seating, buffer zones and social distancing, season ticket holders won’t get pre-printed tickets for each game this season. Because it isn’t possible to put them all in their normal seats, season ticket holders will have first dibs at digital online ticketing.
After season ticket holders have had the chance to make their initial seating selections, ticket sales will open to the general public.
“It’s not full mobile ticketing,” adds Wehofer, “but it is an emphasis on the digital ticketing process.”
#3. REVERSE ATM NEED-TO-KNOW INFO
In an effort to become a “cashless ballpark,” Principal Park acquired something called a “reverse ATM,” explains Wehofer. “We will only accept debit or credit cards at ticket windows, the merchandise store, concession stands, etc.” But if someone arrives with only cash on hand and is without access to a credit or debit card, the park will offer reverse ATM machines. “If you come with a $20 bill, this kiosk, within three touches, will give you a $20 preloaded MasterCard debit card, and you can use that at the ballpark or anywhere in the world that MasterCard is accepted, and we have set it up so that we will absorb the fees. There will be no fees to the customer.”
#4. OFFICIAL FUN FACT
Now in its fifth decade, the Chicago-to-Iowa Cubs player development connection will continue. The I-Cubs accepted MLB’s invitation to the Professional Development League (PDL) this past offseason, ensuring the team will remain the Triple-A affiliate to Chicago through at least the 2030 season. Iowa has been a Chicago Cubs affiliate since 1981 and adopted the Cubs moniker in 1982, making it the third-longest relationship between a Major League franchise and a Triple-A counterpart. The new 10-year contract guarantees at least 50 years of collaboration. Adds Wehofer, “There is no reason to think that will stop there.”
#5. NEED-TO-KNOW INFO — left field lounge
Peanuts, Cracker Jack, hot dogs, heaping plates of nachos and a bevy of concession-stand succulence will be available at Principal Park with few differences from the norm. But food aficionados might be most excited to experience the premium offerings in the new Left Field Lounge.
“It’s not all you can eat, but it’s certainly all you can want,” Wehofer assures. “Unlimited Coke products, peanuts, popcorn, water and tea. Then you get to choose an appetizer. We’ve got a massive nacho tray and garlic fries…and you get to choose a couple of entrees. We’ll have tenderloin sliders and chicken and waffles and unique things that are only available there.” A set number of drinks are included with full bar service within the club, and there will be waitstaff there to serve.
#6. COMING SOON… 500
Marty Pevey returns to skipper the I-Cubs for his eighth consecutive season, making him the longest tenured and winningest manager in franchise history. With 479 I-Cubs victories, Pevey is in line to surpass 500 — barring major setbacks — at some point this summer.
The cagey manager has the ideal demeanor, mindset and temperament to mold Triple-A minds, as well as the communication skills to keep the guys motivated and the mental acumen to engineer tweaks and adjustments, according to Alex Cohen, I-Cubs play-by-play broadcaster.
“Whether it’s a veteran guy who’s been in the big leagues and going back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A,” explains Cohen, “or a young prospect looking for his first break, Pevey is the perfect type of manager for this level. As 2019 showed, it was one of the best seasons in franchise history.”
Going from worst to first and winning a division title, the I-Cubs of 2019 surpassed the expectations of many so-called experts as the team posted a regular season record of 75-65 before eventually being eliminated in Game 5 of the PCL semifinals by the Round Rock Express. Is 2019’s success a harbinger for more winning, or was the team’s dismal 2018 — when it finished with the worst record in all of minor league baseball — more in line with the team’s upcoming reality?
The 2019 squad boasted an abundance of talent, including stints from big league mainstays such as Craig Kimbrel, Carlos Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Willson Contreras and Ben Zobrist, as well as up-and-comers, Ian Happ, Carl Edwards Jr., Albert Almora Jr. and David Bote. But this season’s roster also figures to have enough talent to be competitive, according to Cohen. The team boasts some Triple-A veterans to pair with promising new names, plus, a bevy of up-and-comers could arrive in Iowa down the road to reinforce the team.
#8. WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Reigning PCL Pitcher of the Year, Colin Rea, has moved on, and so has infielder Phillip Evans, and outfielder Donnie Dewees is recovering from a torn ACL and isn’t expected to play this season. But this season’s I-Cubs roster is expected to feature at least a few of 2019’s fan favorites and familiar faces.
Pitcher Matt Swarmer, infielder Trent Giambrone and catcher P.J. Higgins were three key components to the success of the 2019 I-Cubs juggernaut, and the trio figures to be back in 2021.
The starting rotation could include Cory Abbott, a 25-year-old right-hander, who impressed in Double-A Tennessee in 2019 while earning honors as the organization’s 2019 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, plus Swarmer and possibly Tyson Miller, “a guy who finished the 2019 season…pitching really well in a (playoff) game against Round Rock in a really big situation,” says Cohen.
#9-#10. A PAIR OF POTENTIAL STARS IN THE CHICAGO CUBS SYSTEM
The following are a couple of the Chicago Cubs organization’s top prospects who you might see playing in Iowa… someday.
LHP Brailyn Marquez
H/W: 6-4, 185 pounds
2021 projection: Double-A, Tennessee Smokies
Overpowering opponents with a wicked triple-digit fastball and sharp slider, if the young fireballer perfects his changeup and two-seamer — two pitches he’s rumored to be working on — the organization could ditch the conservative approach and advance him to Iowa or even to Chicago this year. “Brailyn Marquez is one of the top pitching prospects in all minor league baseball,” says Cohen. “He could rise up through the organization very quickly.”
OF Brennen Davis
H/W: 6-4, 210
2021 projection: Double-A, Tennessee Smokies
“If you look at the dictionary of how a baseball player should be built, he is built that way, long lean, smooth swing, good arm, really quick, and he profiles as a five-tool player,” says Cohen, who also calls Davis one of the top positional prospects in baseball. Davis’ potential has scouts drooling, but he is still developing and hasn’t yet played pro ball regularly above the Single-A level. As such, the conventional wisdom is that Davis will begin 2021 in Tennessee.
#11-#12. A PAIR OF VERY RICH AND TALENTED TEENAGERS WHO COULD SOON BE FAMOUS
Their names are Ed Howard — a 19-year-old shortstop who inked a $3.75 million deal with the Chicago organization after being the No. 16 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft — and Cristian Hernandez — a 17-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic who cashed in this offseason by landing a $3 million bonus for signing with the Chicago Cubs franchise. According to conventional wisdom, neither Hernandez nor Howard figure to be ready in 2021 for big league action. Instead, the youngsters will likely start the season playing either Single- or Double-A ball. But if either of the dynamic duo does find his way to Des Moines this summer, you’ll want to witness it, because they could soon be headed to the top.
#13. WHAT TO LOOK FOR: PELICANS AND SMOKIES COMING TO PRINCIPAL PARK?
In case you didn’t know, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs is the Tennessee Smokies team, and the Single-A franchise is the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. It’s a virtual certainty that at least some players from the Smokies and/or Pelicans land in Iowa at some point. Potential up-and-comers who could arrive in Iowa sooner rather than later? Pitcher Kohl Franklin and Third Baseman Christopher Morel both have baseball scouts excited.
#14. WHAT TO LOOK FOR: NICO HOERNER SIGHTINGS?
This young middle infielder has a big bat and Chicago Cubs fans are expecting big things, but Hoerner was sent to Triple-A in the final days of spring training. If he begins the season in the minors, the expectation is that he won’t stay for long, so if you have the chance to watch Hoerner play here in person, it will be well worth the price of admission.
#15-#17. A TRIO OF REASONS TO GO SEE THE IOWA BARNSTORMERS
1. “It is high action fast-paced football,” says Juli Pettit, general manager of the Iowa Barnstormers. “Anyone who has never been to a game, once they get a taste of it, they keep coming back.
2. “Family atmosphere. It’s a great family outing, everyone loves it. Kids love it, parents love it, we have a great fan base and, within that fanbase, we have a wide variety of people who come to the games and love it.
3. “It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday night.”
#18. THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Promotional events, mutts in seats and other attendance-boosting themes at indoor football games.
More than a year has passed since the Barnstormers last took the field. Much has changed, but fans can expect the same fast-paced action and a similar fan experience as before, according to Pettit.
“Obviously, this past year has been very difficult on everyone, and, inevitably, there are going to be a few changes, especially early in the season, to look out for people’s health and safety, but I don’t believe that will affect the experience people have,” she says. “I think the fans are going to come back and have a great time.”
Popular events such as ’90s night, military night, first responders night and the halftime corgi chase will return, but the details were not yet finalized as of CITYVIEW’s press date.
#19. THE HIGH EXPECTATIONS? YOU BETCHA
“The Barnstormers won (the IFL championship) in 2018 and then lost in the final four (in 2019)…nobody played in 2020,” says New Head Coach Les Moss. “So, our expectations…. We’re coming in to win this thing.” The longtime tactician began coaching indoor football in 1989. Since then, he has added 13 championship games and five rings to his resume, plus Head Coach of the Year honors in 2010.
#20. MORE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Fortune favors the Barnstormers as expectations include physicality, discipline, bees swarming to honey, and another trophy.
“We’re going to be aggressive on offense,” says coach Moss. We’re going to take our shots when they present themselves. We’re going to be a good running team. We’re going to be a very physical team. We’re going to be disciplined. We’re not going to hurt ourselves with penalties, and then on defense… We’re going to fly around like bees to honey, man, we’re going to make some things happen.”
#21. EVEN MORE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Competition at every position, including with the reigning league MVP, Quarterback Daquan Neal.
“We’re fortunate we have three good quarterbacks,” says Moss. The coach looks to rookie signal-callers Trevor Knight and Vincent Espinosa to push Neal. “If you don’t have competition at every position,” says the coach, “then you’re fighting an uphill battle. … Whoever moves the offense, that’s the one that’s going to lead us out there for the first game.”
#22. AND NEW DUDS
The Barnstormers will sport new uniforms this season. The new design features the same colors as always while paying homage to the jerseys worn during the franchise’s early years when Kurt Warner was famously tossing touchdowns for the team on his journey to NFL super-stardom and eventually to the Hall of Fame. The new look reintroduces the wing on the jersey and the propeller on the pants.
#23-#25. A TRIO OF REASONS TO GO TO A MENACE GAME
1. A chance to watch the top collegiate soccer players in the country before they join the pro ranks. “This is your chance to see tomorrow’s future stars in American soccer,” says Charlie Bales, Des Moines Menace co-general manager in a nod to the 2016 Menace roster that included Chris Mueller, forward, who currently plays for both the Orlando City SC and the U.S. national soccer team. “You could’ve watched him play here for $5. Now he is one of the better players in MLS.”
2. Join in on the cheering, chanting, and singing with Menace supporter groups like The Society DSM and The Red Army.
3. Take part in family fun giveaways and contests to win prizes from the best restaurants Des Moines has to offer.
#26. THINGS TO LOOK FOR AT A MENACE MATCH
You probably won’t see a flock of unicorns at a Menace match, but witnessing a regular season loss by the team is almost as unlikely. Menace soccer hasn’t incurred a regular season loss since July 14, 2017. Granted, the team’s season was cancelled in 2020, but, if you tally the outcomes for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the Menace won 24, lost zero and tied 4. Maybe more impressive, the Menace outscored their opponents by a margin of 67-10 during that span.
#27. DID YOU KNOW
The Des Moines Menace plays in the USL League Two, which is commonly said to be the highest form of amateur soccer in America. Most of the roster consists of college players on summer break. In layman’s terms, it’s like a college all-star team. Unofficially, it is considered to be the fourth tier of competition behind Major League Soccer (Division I), USL Championship (Division II), USL League One and NISA (Division III). This league will feature 83 teams in 2021, split into 12 regional divisions across four conferences.
#28. MORE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Despite the Menace nickname and the team’s penchant for punishing play, the team is putting the safety of its fans first, according to Bales. “We’re going to make it as fun as possible while being safe.” Due to safety concerns and governmental regulations in regards to COVID-19, forecasting off-the-field promotions and activities is difficult, but Bales asks fans to remember that the best reason to attend a Menace game is the action between the lines. The team will be focused on soccer and aiming for a championship.
Can the Menace win the whole enchilada?
“Home games will be exciting,” according to Bales. “We attack and try to score a lot of goals at home in front of our fans. Our goal, as always, is to win a national championship while providing a platform for players to move on to the next level when they’re done with college.”
#30. MENACE FUN FACT
No known United Nations summit is scheduled in central Iowa this summer, but representatives from at least five continents are expected by Menace brass to converge on the pitch at Valley Stadium. Veteran Head Coach Mark McKeever is tasked with unifying a roster gathered from around the globe, as Menace players are expected to arrive from Italy, Canada, Spain, England, Germany, Argentina, Ghana, Japan, France, Brazil, Morocco, Norway and Austria. ♦