On the Road: En Route to Omaha, a Pit Stop in Des Moines

To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On Wednesday, May 27th, I attended a Cedar Rapids Kernels game. The next morning, I checked out of my hotel and began the westward drive toward my next destination of Omaha. More or less midway between these two locales sits Iowa’s capitol city of Des Moines, the home of the Iowa Cubs. And, wouldn’t you know it? The Cubs were playing an afternoon game. I decided that it was my moral duty to attend.

Welcome to Principal Park, the home of the Iowa Cubs. (As you may recall, I visited here in 2010.)

002After making my way to ballpark’s upper level, I snapped this shot of downtown Des Moines in the distance.

003By the time I had arrived at Principal Park, the game was already in the fourth inning. My time in Des Moines was destined to be a mere cameo, as opposed to the leading roles I had become accustomed to elsewhere on this trip. Shortly after arriving I rendezvoused with I-Cubs “director of consumer experience” Scott Sailor, a gracious guy who, true to his nature, graciously led me around the ballpark through the remainder of the ballgame.

We began on the ballpark’s upper levels.

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A cadre of interns were working the new videoboard.

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I spent some time gazing upon the graphic scorecard art of former video intern Sam Thompson.

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Principal Park was just the second ballpark I’ve visited this year to have a pitch clock; the first was the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. In Jacksonville the pitch clock was operated by the PA announcer via a tablet computer. Here in Iowa, media relations intern Brock Borgeson (a relief pitcher at nearby Simpson College) ran the clock through this Daktronics console.

009Borgeson said that the pitch clock is a work in progress, as it is for all teams at this particular juncture.

“We kind of have to respond to what the umps want,” he said. “Do we stop the clock on balls in the dirt? Some say to start the clock when the pitcher gets the ball [back from the catcher], others want it to start once [the pitcher’s] on the rubber.”

Borgeson also said that the umpires often exercise discretion as to when, exactly, to start the between-inning pitch clock.

“Sometimes they’ll wave me off, to give players more time,” he said. “Like if the pitcher was in the on-deck circle, or the catcher was on base.”

After speaking with Borgeson, it was off to to the radio booth to do an inning on the air with Deene Ehlis (left) and Randy Wehofer. Friends of this blog are of course familiar with Wehofer, who is a movie star.

008Scott and I then headed down to the main seating area. The ballgame, between the I-Cubs and Tacoma Rainiers, began at 1:08 p.m. and had been cruising along ever since.

011Since the last time I visited, the Cubs have increased their craft beer selection by a considerable margin. 28 craft brews were available; Peace Tree “Blonde Fatale” had the highest ABV (8.5%).

012We then paid a visit to director of stadium operations Jeff Tilley, who was hard at work within his ballpark lair.

014Tilley coordinates travel arrangements for the team, and in the Pacific Coast League this can be a fraught process. While he’s smiling in the above photo, he probably wasn’t by the end of the day. The I-Cubs post-game journey to El Paso most definitely did not go as planned — read all about it in this MiLB.com article.

Did I mention that this game was flying right along? After emerging from Tilley’s lair, Scott and I found that it was already the top of the ninth inning. Brian Schlitter was coming in to pitch for the Cubs, who were losing by a score of 2-0.

016Schlitter has one of the most extreme beards in Minor League Baseball. It’s luxurious and silky.

024Scott and I soon moved to first row seats behind the third base dugout. I kept trying, and failing, to secure a shot of a rotating graphic which, apropos of nothing, wished me a happy birthday. Oh, well. It’s a new scoreboard, and it’s very nice to look at anyway.
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I also had missed this fourth inning graphic, in which a plug for this blog was incorporated into a between-inning contest.

IMG_1339Anyhow, yeah, there was a ballgame going on and this ballgame was in its waning stages. I’m not exactly sure what it was that provoked him, but at some point during the top of the ninth Cubs manager Marty Pevey came out and gave the home plate umpire a piece of his mind. He went from “perturbed” to “apoplectic” in approximately 15 seconds.

023Pevey’s intensely stated objections eventually led to his ejection.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Arismendy Alcantara and Adron Chambers both singled to start the frame. A light rain had just begun, and Scott suggested that we move to a dry location.

“Let’s go up and get out of the rain,” he said. “Unless you want to see this walk-off from down here.”

We hustled up the stairs, resolving to watch the game from a protected concourse location.

026And wouldn’t you know it? The very first pitch that we witnessed from this location was a three-run walk-off home run off of the bat of Matt Szczur. Scott Sailor’s words had proven prophetic.

The I-Cubs won, 3-2, in a game that took a crisp two hours and 15 minutes to complete. After waiting out a brief traffic jam in the parking lot, it was on to Omaha.

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Life on the road, you’ve gotta love it.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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