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Feature Story

Take me out to the Ballgame

4/3/2019

Root, root, root for the Cubbies as the team begins the 51st season of Triple-A baseball in Des Moines; the I-Cubs home opener is scheduled for April 9 at Principal Park.

Sixteen of the 25 players on the Chicago Cubs championship roster played at some point for Iowa,
and that includes key components of the team, Albert Almora, Jake Arrieta, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber. Current top players in the farm system include top-pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay. Photo submitted

Enjoying fresh air and easy conversation while treating yourself to something tasty and listening to the satisfying crack of a baseball bat… Summer nights at Principal Park are electric.

The Iowa Cubs baseball team’s home opener is scheduled for 6:38 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9, at Principal Park. The Cubs host the New Orleans Baby Cakes — the Triple-A affiliate for the Miami Marlins.

Behind the microphone and calling the game will be Alex Cohen. The broadcaster is in his second season as the voice of the I-Cubs. After cutting his teeth calling games while attending Indiana University, Cohen went on to hone his craft at most every level of amateur baseball — he even did a stint in Australia — thus the Philadelphia native knows minor league baseball. He says the Iowa Cubs offer fans something special.

“There are other teams that have been around for a long time,” he says. “But the Cubs brand carries so much weight, especially in this part of the country. Just being able to come here (to Principal Park) and it’s July 3 and there are 13,000 fans and it is just rocking. The fans are so loyal and so dedicated, it is something I haven’t seen before. It doesn’t matter if the I-Cubs win 50 games or 90 games, you are still going to get close to 8,000 fans per night, cheering the team on, looking at the promotions, going out to the Cub Club, playing in the fountain. It’s the best fan atmosphere I’ve seen in minor league baseball.”

Last year was Iowa’s 50th anniversary celebration for Triple-A baseball in Des Moines. Coincidentally, the team won 50 games (50-88) and finished in last place in its conference of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).

“It was an up-and-down season,” says Cohen.

The goal of an affiliate franchise, generally speaking, is to support the big league squad. Sometimes that means winning games, and, at other times, that means working to develop talent with the intent of having your best players harvested.

Starting in 2015, Chicago has been positioned to win a big league title. Making moves to improve the team, such as acquiring closer Aroldis Chapman in 2016, comes at a cost of trading away prospects and weakening the win/loss records of the organization’s lower levels. Chicago has enjoyed three straight seasons with 90-plus wins, has played in three straight postseasons, and won the 2016 World Series. The team’s success has predictably left the farm system somewhat depleted.

“Aside from Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, most of the Chicago Cubs nucleus right now came through Principal Park,” says Cohen. The list includes Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and others.

STARTING PITCHERS

Rising star Taylor Davis is an I-Cubs fan favorite. Photo submitted

Cohen sees some future stars rising within the system, and he thinks the team will be improved in 2019. The pitching staff is what he is most excited to see, even though the PCL
is generally regarded to be a itter’s league.

“The rotation is fairly loaded,” he says, referring to rising star Adbert Alzolay, the organization’s top starting pitching prospect. The 24-year-old right-hander took the mound in Iowa last season and pitched well until suffering an injury that ended his season.

“He is a guy with top-end of the big league rotation stuff,” says Cohen. “In the game he was injured, he had a perfect game going through four innings. So you can see the stuff that he has. Hopefully Adbert will be back (to previous form) this season. … When he’s on, his stuff is unparalleled in the PCL.”

Other probable starting pitchers for Iowa include Duane Underwood Jr. and Alec Mills. Cohen says each looked dominant at times during the 2018 campaign. Underwood is one of the organization’s top-30 pitching prospects, and he says Mills pitched well enough to earn a big league call up to Chicago.

BULLPEN

Rising star Dillon Maples has been up and down between playing for Iowa and Chicago the last two seasons. He figures to spend at least some time with the I-Cubs this season. Photo submitted

Relief pitching also figures to be strong in Iowa this year, according to Cohen.

“We saw Dakota Mekkes last year here in Des Moines,” he says. “He has a sub-1.05 ERA over his minor league career. I think he’s (eventually going to be) a big leaguer.”

Joining the 6-foot-7-inch, 250-pound, right-handed Mekkes in last season’s bullpen were two other hard-throwing relievers with “back-of-the-bullpen caliber of stuff,” Dillon Maples and James Norwood. Maples led the team with 10 saves in 2018, and he posted a respectable 2.79 ERA along with 75 strikeouts in 41 appearances. Norwood struck out 21 during his 17.2 innings for Iowa. The trio of Mekkes, Maples and Norwood ended the 2018 campaign playing in Iowa, and according to Cohen, all three are likely to be back in 2019.

BATTER UP!

Offensively, Cohen is excited to see how the team’s middle-infield shapes up. Top prospects Trent Giambrone and Zack Short played Double-A ball last season, and they are expected to advance to Iowa.

David Bote made his MLB debut in 2018.
The rising star has played every position
except catcher at some point during his
minor league travels. The utility man is
fighting for a roster spot in Chicago, but, if he misses the cut, he will be a nice addition to the I-Cubs. Photo submitted

“They’ll be fun to watch,” Cohen says, noting their power-hitting abilities. “Giambrone is having a big spring.”

Giambrone primarily plays second base and shortstop, but he can field all four infield positions as well as man the outfield corners, making him a candidate to be a future big-league utilityman. The 2016 25th-round draft choice impressed in Double-A last season, and he is easily outperforming his draft position. Scouts say the 5-foot-8-inch scrapper makes hard contact to all fields and brings an aggressive approach to the plate along with underrated power.

“Mark Zagunis (outfield) is probably the surprise of the big league camp in Mesa this year,” says Cohen. Despite early spring training success, due to Chicago’s talent at the position, he will probably play for Iowa again in 2019.

In addition, the team will likely feature Ryan Court, who hit over .300 in the second half of last season in Iowa.

“He hit .400 in the month of July,” says Cohen. “They could have the combination of some really exciting young pitchers, a good rotation, and some experienced hitters.”

PLAY BALL!

STAR-SPANGLED SINGERS

The 45 RPM Quartet, a Des Moines-area barbershop and doowop group of vocalists, will be singing the national anthem on Aug. 21 at Principal Park. Band members include: Mike Dunn, Glen Geiger, Greg Long and Robert Uy. Photo submitted

In 1931, the United States of America adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” as its national anthem. Composed by Francis Scott Key, an amateur poet inspired by the sight of the American flag over Fort McHenry after its British bombardment, the patriotic song is performed before most modern athletic contests. The Iowa Cubs play 70 home games, which means they need 70 or so anthem performances. In order to fill those spots, the team held auditions at the ballyard in March.

While performing, vocalists must sing a cappella on the field (weather permitting) as if it were a real game with a live microphone.

“First is the audition,” says Robert Uy, of 45 RPM Quartet, a Des Moines-area barbershop and doo-wop group. “You go out to the field, and they hand you a mic. If you cut the mustard, you are selected to perform at one of the home games.”

The 45 RPM Quartet made the grade, and the foursome is scheduled to perform Aug. 21. The group has performed the national anthem for several years before games at Principal Park.

“It is probably one of the biggest audiences we sing for all year,” says Uy.

The 45s have used the experience to branch out. They recently performed at a Drake basketball game and other venues.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” says Uy.

BALLPARK DELIGHTS

The Slaughterhouse sandwich will be available at Principal Park this season. The sandwich features ham, brisket and pulled pork along with baked beans. The scrumptious ballpark treat could be a hit with fans. Photo submitted

Peanuts. Crackerjack. Hotdogs. The menu at the ballpark includes all the all-American staples fans have come to expect, but other mouth-watering selections are also available.

“Anytime I can get a tenderloin in front of my face, it’s pretty good,” laughs Cohen. The I-Cubs broadcaster is originally from the East Coast, but he is enjoying Iowa life, especially the Midwestern cuisine. His favorite ballpark treat is the Tilly Tenderloin from the Cub Club. “I could eat that every day.”

Another hot item to keep an eye out, according to Shelby Cravens, the team’s director of media relations, is the Slaughterhouse sandwich. The sandwich features ham, brisket, pulled pork and baked beans.

SCHEDULE

Bam. Pop. Boom. Bang. After watching the national pastime at Principal Park, don’t be shocked if you are awed by some postgame fireworks. The explosive and majestic light shows are scheduled for Independence Day, as well as after each Friday home game. There are many other fun reasons to attend as well, according to Cravens, but for her, it’s the on-field action that is the primary attraction.

“I’m a baseball fan,” she says. “I love the baseball part of it.”

But what if you have a friend in from out of town who maybe isn’t the biggest baseball fan? What would you tell that person to get them out to the ballyard?

“It’s fun, it’s for families, and it’s clean,” she says. “It will always be a great environment to watch the games.”

Regularly scheduled highlights at I-Cubs home games include:

  • Thursday Mug Club
  • Friday Fireworks
  • Saturday Pre-Game Catch on the Field
  • Sunday Kids Run the Bases
    Other promotions of special interest:
    The home opener at Principal Park is scheduled for Tuesday, April 9 against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. The first pitch is scheduled for 6:38 p.m.
    May 1, June 4, June 25, July 16 and Aug. 12: Five Dollar Dogs dates
    May 12: I-Cubs Mother’s Day celebration
  • May 18: The game begins slightly earlier than usual, 4:38 p.m., on Saturday, May 18, in order to finish in time for a post-game Movie on the Field. Fans are invited to stay late to watch “Field of Dreams” on the HD video board.
  • June 4 and Aug. 12: Dog Days – Bring your furry friends to the park
  • June 6: Kicking off Capital City Pride Fest celebration weekend
  • June 26, July 17 and Aug. 8: Kids Nights – Kids 13 and younger receive free admission with the purchase of a $5 adult general admission ticket
  • July 4: Fourth of July celebration
  • Sept. 2: Labor Day celebration
  • “The Iowa Cubs welcomed 463,399 fans to the ballpark in 2018,” says Cravens. “Our average of 7,356 ranked sixth in the 16-team league. We also lost a league-most seven openings due to weather, including two of our first five games and two of our last three.”
  • As the Triple-A affiliate to Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, the team plays in the Northern division of the American Conference of the Pacific Coast League.

SCHEDULE NOTES

“Just being able to come here (to Principal Park) and it’s July 3 and there are 13,000 fans and it is just rocking. The fans are so loyal and so dedicated, it is something I haven’t seen before. It doesn’t matter if the I-Cubs win 50 games or 90 games, you are still going to get close to 8,000 fans per night, cheering the team on, looking at the promotions, going out to the Cub Club, playing in the fountain. It’s the best fan atmosphere I’ve seen in minor league baseball.” — Alex Cohen, I-Cubs broadcaster

The Iowa Cubs begin 2019 by taking the field in Nashville on Thursday, April 4, before playing their home opener at Principal Park on Tuesday, April 9 against New Orleans Baby Cakes (Miami Marlins).

  • 70 total home games
  • 24 day games
  • 46 night games
  • 11 weekends of Fireworks Friday, Saturday Pre-Game Catch and Sunday Kids Run the Bases.
    The Cubbies play two nine-game homestands — May 11-20 and June 20-28. The team’s longest road trip is a 13-game stretch May 21 – June 2.
    Tickets can be purchased in-person at Principal Park or by calling 515-243-6111. For more Iowa Cubs information, visit www.iowacubs.com.
    New for this year, the team will be wearing different styles of jerseys on a handful of occasions. All sets of game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off during the game and proceeds will go to benefit the respective organizations.
    April 28: On Boy Scout Day, the team will wear Scout-themed jerseys
    July 27: National Wild Turkey Federation uniforms
    Aug. 23: On Susan G. Komen Night, the I-Cubs will be wearing pink jerseys
    “We have a lot of things for kids, and we have a lot of things for adults, too,” says Cravens. “There are so many little moments. People catching a flyball, there are so many little things like that that make people happy.” ♦

I-CUBS SKIPPER: MARTY PEVEY
On the bench and leading the I-Cubs for the seventh-consecutive season is manager Marty Pevey. This will be Pevey’s 36th season in baseball and his 23rd as a coach. Pevey notched his 1,000th career victory as a manager in 2018. The skipper is also the winningest manager in I-Cubs history. For the upcoming season, Pevey will be joined in the dugout by pitching coach Rod Nichols and hitting coaches Desi Wilson and Keoni DeRenne.

CHICAGO CUBS FARM SYSTEM
The Iowa Cubs sit atop the Chicago Cubs’ farm system, which consisted of nine clubs in 2018.
AAA Iowa Cubs
AA Tennessee Smokies
Adv A Myrtle Beach Pelicans
A South Bend Cubs
Short-Season A Eugene Emeralds
Rookie Arizona League Cubs 1,
Arizona League Cubs 2
Foreign Rookie Dominican Summer
League Cubs 1,
Dominican Summer
League Cubs 2

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