Sunday, July 11, 2010

New Orleans Zephyrs 2 at Iowa Cubs 4 - July 10, 2010

When it comes to baseball, the state of Iowa is probably most famous for being the setting of the movie "Field of Dreams". But there's much more to it than that, including 5 full-season minor league teams. Only California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina have more, but those are all eastern states; Iowa combines scenic riverside drives which makes it a prime sports roadtrip destination.

With Minnesota opening Target Field this season, it made perfect sense to see all 5 of the Iowa teams in action. First up was the Iowa Cubs, AAA affiliate of the long-suffering Cubbies of Chicago taking on the New Orleans Zephyrs in some Pacific Coast League action.

Oh yeah, New Orleans and Iowa play in the PCL. The combined distance of these two cities from the coast is about 3,700 miles, but the PCL added teams from the American Association back in 1997 and kept their name regardless of its geographic inaccuracy.

Principal Park

Located in downtown Des Moines just north of the Mississippi River, Principal Park was originally known as Sec Taylor Stadium after a local newspaper's sports editor. The ballpark was renamed when Principal Financial Group bought the naming rights in 2004 but the playing field retains the original name.

The stadium was built in 1992, replacing an older ballpark that had become rundown. In that sense it is fairly generic, but its location and some other interesting additions make it a worthwhile venue for a visit. The stadium is located on the point where the Des Moines River splits which provides with some good views as you tour the outside. Make sure to take the time to walk around; there's an interesting sculpture next to the river which represents the seams of a baseball.

As well, the State Capitol (below) is in the distance and adds a unique element to the view. You might notice that there are some cranes in the photo below; the area east of downtown is currently undergoing a lot of construction.

Parking is a ridiculous $6 but there is plenty of meter parking nearby. The meters are free on the weekend and after 6 pm, so as long as you are not there for a weekday game, you should avoid the parking lot.

The park is divided into two sections with a walkway between them (above). Tickets are also slightly overpriced. The front two rows behind the plate are $25, which is the most expensive ticket I've seen in the minors. The other seats below the concourse are $13 while those above are $11. There are general admission seats for $8. It should be noted that these are all game-time prices, you can save a dollar if you buy your tickets 3 hours before the game. Apparently though, many of the seats are taken by season ticket holders; there were no pairs in the good seats for the game as you can see by the sign below. If you want to avoid the sun, sit on the 3rd base side for evening games. You can also stand in the walkway, but with over 10,000 fans in attendance, you will find your view blocked by those walking back and forth to their seats. You can try buying the cheap seats and moving up but there are sharp-eyed ushers who will ask you to show your ticket. I talked to one of them for a while though, and he eventually let me sit down close so I could take some pictures.

Once you're inside, you'll see the starting lineups and league standings. Around the inner concourse you will see banners for every AAA team, not just those in the Pacific Coast League. A good touch that is likely ignored by most fans.

The concession stands are named after historical Des Moines ballteams, such as the Bruins and Champions. The actual food is the same in each stand, but it's a nice idea. There were a few items that you might not see elsewhere; I had a tenderloin sandwich that wasn't that tender.

The scoreboard is quite large with a video display and text screen above the bleachers and a manual linescore.

There are skybox seats in the outfield and a members-only restaurant above left field. Also notable is the clubhouse being located in the outfield where both teams have to exit after the game. In the picture below, you can see the players wandering back to the locker room while the fans finish up their drinks in the restaurant above.

Overall, the interior of the stadium is nothing special. But its location and strong fan base make it a good place to watch a game. I'm coming back next week and looking forward to it.

The Game

Jay Jackson, the Cubs' #5 prospect according to Baseball America, started for Iowa. The Zephyrs started major-league journeyman Brian Lawrence, who is still hoping for a shot with the Marlins. That's Lawrence below - you might notice the uniform says NOLA - New Orleans, Louisiana obviously but quite a nice change from the typical city name that adorns most visitor jerseys.

Because both teams are NL affiliates, the pitchers hit. And got hit. Lawrence plunked Jackson on an 0-2 pitch to lead off the third. After Jim Adduci singled and Darwin Barney sacrificed, a Brad Snyder groundout scored Jackson with the first run of the game.

The Cubs added two more in the 6th highlight by a Bobby Scales (above) single. Jackson was pinch-hit for and left the game having tossed 6 scoreless innings yielding just 4 hits and a walk against 5 strikeouts. Not a dominating performance but one that should increase his chances of a call-up.

In the 7th Micah Hoffpauir singled home Barney who had doubled to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead. Reliever Jeff Samardzjia (above) was brought in to replace Jackson and kept the Zephyrs scoreless until the 9th. A single sandwiched around 2 walks loaded the bases. The fans grew restless. After a strikeout, Samardzjia walked in a run. The fans became agitated. Scott Maine came in to pitch and promptly walked in another run. The fans were suddenly very worried that their nice Saturday evening would be ruined by a lack of control. But Maine got Gookie Dawkins (below) to fly out and then struck out Danny Richar to preserve the 4-2 win.

The game was a fairly tame affair. Cubs' pitchers gave up 6 walks but only 1 scored. It was a game with manufactured runs and no homers, but not a pitcher's duel either.

Hector Luna watches a pop up

The scoreboard is dismantled seconds after the final out

Player to Watch

Jackson gets the nod for his 6 shutout innings. He's only 5-6 on the year but the way things are going for the parent club, they could use someone with a .500 record. That's him below.



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