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Principal Park

By Steve Dunn

Located at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers in Des Moines, Iowa, Principal Park and its two predecessors have hosted professional baseball since Friday, June 20, 1947. One of the more unique games in minor league history was played nearly 61 years later at Principal Park on Saturday, June 14, 2008. With widespread flooding in central Iowa, the Iowa Cubs and Nashville Sounds played a Triple A Pacific Coast League game that drew an official attendance of zero.

“The only other time I can remember that a game was purposely played in front of an official crowd of zero was about three years ago in an Independent League,” then Pacific Coast League Commissioner Branch Rickey said at the time. “They did it for the publicity. As far as it being done out of necessity, like in Des Moines, ­I can’t recall that ever being done.”

Club officials were forced to postpone the previous night’s game when floodwaters started creeping onto the playing field from the outfield area that morning, eventually filling the visitors’ dugout. The next day the I-Cubs received permission from the City of Des Moines to play baseball as long as no spectators were on hand.

“The threat of flooding had subsided and it was a beautiful day. I said [to the city], ‘Listen, I’ll do a game. We don’t have to have anyone here, but I have to get these games in,’” I-Cub president/general manager Sam Bernabe recalled eight years later. “They said, ‘You can play as long as the only people there are the participants. You can’t have anybody else in the stadium. You can’t turn the scoreboard on. You can’t do any PA. You can’t do any [National] Anthem. You can’t play any music. And you can’t have any staff there.’ So there were basically six of us here with the two teams and the umpires.”

Starting I-Cub pitcher Sean Marshall compared the ballpark’s atmosphere to an intrasquad game. Teammate Matt Murton, who had one of his team’s seven hits, likened the experience to playing catch in the backyard. And I-Cub Josh Kroeger, who had a game-winning homer in the home team’s 5-4 victory, said the only other time he played in front of a crowd of zero was in rookie ball.

During the next day’s doubleheader, season ticket holder Grace Ann Powers expressed relief that Principal Park was open to the public for the first time in 15 days. “We need something like this to take our mind off the flood, if just for a few hours,” she said.

Although Des Moines is the smallest city population-wise to have a Triple A franchise, the I-Cubs and Principal Park continue to have one of the best attendance marks in Triple A baseball. During the 2017 season, 535,660 fans watched games at Principal Park, up 31,500 from the previous season. The I-Cubs have drawn more than 500,000 in 12 seasons, including a high of 576,310 in 2007.

“That was the year we had four more [home] dates than normal with an extra Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We bought four dates from the Edmonton ballclub because they had a festival that didn’t allow them to be able to play when we were there. In those four dates, we probably had 47,000 or 48,000 [people] alone,” Bernabe said.

Principal Park’s success is an example of a good working relationship between the City of Des Moines, which owns the facility, and the I-Cubs, who lease it from the city for $16,000 a year. The ball club is responsible for Principal Park’s upkeep, although the city occasionally has money in its budget for upgrades.

The ballpark’s status has been recognized by the rest of the country, too. Baseball America ranked Principal Park as one of the best minor league ballparks in 1996 and 1998. The stadium also was rated as the minor league facility with the best view. When fans look toward the center-field fence, they see the Iowa Capitol high on a hill.

Principal Park remains relatively cool on the hottest days and nights and is a comfortable place to watch a baseball game because the ballpark is located between two rivers.

The Des Moines Bruins shut out Lincoln, Nebraska, 9-0, in a Western League game at Pioneer Memorial Stadium when the first ballpark at the site opened on June 20, 1947. A crowd of 4,262 turned out for the first night game in Des Moines in 10 years. Bruin shortstop Roy Smalley smacked a home run and double to lead the home team’s offense. Des Moines starting pitcher Bill Bonness gave up only three hits, walked five and struck out six Athletics. Smalley went on to play in the majors with the Chicago Cubs among other teams.

For his heroics, Smalley received slacks and a tie from The New Utica and a dinner at the Des Moines Elks Club for himself and a lady friend. Bonness also got slacks from The New Utica, and four other Bruins who had hits were given ties from The New Utica.

In his account of the historic game the next day, Des Moines Register sports editor Garner “Sec” Taylor noted that the four ticket-sellers could not handle all of the late-arriving crowd fast enough to get all of them into the stadium before the first pitch. All of the ballpark’s box seats were sold by that afternoon.

Pioneer Memorial Stadium had a seating capacity of about 5,000 on opening night, including 2,184 in the bleachers, 2,000 in the grandstand, and 356 in chairs in the box seat area. The newly-sodded playing field had a crown for better drainage and was just about the right size for Class A baseball, Taylor said. The field was about 330 feet from home plate down the foul lines to the left- and right-field corners and 380 feet to center field. In addition to a substantial, well-built grandstand, Pioneer Memorial Stadium featured a concession stand, restrooms, clubhouses for both home and visiting teams, and an umpires’ room.

To help fans, the Des Moines Railway Company operated around-the-loop bus service to the ball park: taking the Seventh Street viaduct and turning east on Murphy to avoid a series of railroad tracks on First Street.

The Bruins actually played their first home game that season at Birdland Park on the north side of Des Moines on Saturday, May 10, 1947. A crowd of 2,200 saw the home team beat the Denver Grizzlies, 13-10, in 10 innings. After hitting a game-tying homer in the ninth, Bruin Clifford Aberson’s 400-foot blast with two on in the tenth inning provided the margin of victory. Additional bleachers were installed at Birdland Park for the opening game. There were no box or reserved seats.

On Tuesday, September 1, 1959, Pioneer Memorial Stadium was renamed Sec Taylor Stadium after the popular Register sports editor. Des Moines Mayor Charles Iles made it official by presenting a proclamation to Taylor in ceremonies that evening at Hotel Fort Des Moines. The festivities had to be moved from the ball park to the hotel due to rain. Only 698 fans showed up to see the abbreviated game’s 12 pitches.

After starting his career as a general assignment reporter with a Wichita, Kansas, newspaper in 1904, Taylor took over the baseball beat in 1909. One year later, he quit and became the baseball club’s secretary. The next year, he became the secretary of the St. Joseph’s, Missouri, baseball team and wrote for the paper in the offseason. Taylor started with the Register as a sportswriter in 1914, earning $22 a week.

He started writing his “Sittin’ In With the Athletes” column in the early 1920s and soon became known nationally, especially for his knowledge of baseball. Under his leadership, the Register sports section was considered one of the best in the country. He also helped bring pro baseball back to Des Moines after World War II. Taylor worked at the Register until his death on February 26, 1965, in a Miami, Florida, hotel room as he was beginning to cover spring training. He was 78 years old at the time. Photos of Taylor, his desk and his typewriter are displayed at Principal Park.

In early September 1982, the Des Moines City Council agreed unanimously to spend $300,000 to renovate Sec Taylor Stadium and to loan $100,000 to the club’s owners led by Ken Grandquist to help build a new clubhouse. Shortly afterwards, the ballclub’s board of directors voted unanimously to accept the deal. Then City Manager Richard Wilkey explained the city would issue $150,000 in general obligation bonds to erect new lights plus $150,000 in bonds for upgrades including new bathrooms, bigger dugouts, new fencing and screening, and better parking and grandstand facilities.

Before the crucial city council vote, it appeared the Chicago Cubs might move their Triple A affiliate to Oklahoma City, forcing Des Moines baseball leaders to come up with another major league affiliate such as the Chicago White Sox. In July 1982, the parent club’s general manager, Dallas Green, and Gordon Goldsberry made four recommendations concerning Sec Taylor Stadium: improve the lighting, build a new clubhouse, renovate the playing surface, and install a new fence. The latter two were already in the city’s capital improvement budget for the year.

Fortunately for central Iowa baseball fans, the upgrades were finished by the start of the 1983 baseball season. In fact, Eliot Nusbaum of the Register wrote on April 14, 1983, the new facilities “have elevated the stadium from the bush league to the major league in comfort. The real hit of the season is going to be the new clubhouse out in left field. The teams, both home and visiting, will enjoy twice as much space as in the old facilities.”

In addition, a new restaurant, the Cub Club, was built into the left-field wall. The old clubhouses were converted into concession stands and 96 new box seats were installed. The “new” Sec Taylor Stadium also featured three times as many restrooms and a regraded, leveled, reseeded, and resodded playing surface. The old 85-foot-high lights were replaced with 110-foot-high lights that produced three times as much light on the infield and twice as much light on the outfield. With the improvements, club officials hoped to increase 1982’s attendance from 203,169 to at least 250,000 in 1983.

The continuation of Triple A baseball in Des Moines was assured on Tuesday, August 7, 1990, when voters approved a $12.5 million bond issue to rebuild Sec Taylor Stadium and to upgrade the city’s parks and pools.

“I’m about the happiest guy in the city of Des Moines,” said I-Cub president Grandquist after hearing the news.

“This is a real victory for fans of the Iowa Cubs,” majority stockholder Dick Easter added.

The measure passed 12,497 to 9,415, or 57 to 43 percent. Voters in 60 of the city’s 99 precincts supported the issue.

A week before the referendum passed, the Register’s Randy Peterson put the issue this way: “It’s simple, if the referendum proposal is approved, the team stays … If it is defeated, strike three. No more Triple A baseball for Des Moines, at least under current ownership, without a new stadium.”

The city planned to use lodging taxes rather than property taxes to repay the bonds. About $6.6 million of the bond issue was earmarked for the $7.5 million stadium renovation and expansion. Team owners were to pay $875,000 to increase grandstand seating from 7,819 to 10,266 and to add skyboxes and elevators. The project also called for increasing the concession stands from five to nine and bathrooms from three to six for women and five for men. Sixteen new skyboxes and a bigger press box with a restroom also were part of the plan.

“When we get it done, it’s going to be fantastic,” said Grandquist, adding the team wanted to increase season ticket sales from 1,300 to 3,000 with a variety of new packages.

Demolition of the old stadium started on September 10, 1991. Construction of the new stadium began on the same site in October of that year. The first game in the new Sec Taylor Stadium was played on April 16, 1992.

On August 5, 2004, Sec Taylor Stadium was renamed Principal Park in recognition of Principal Financial Group Inc.’s $2.5 million donation for major ballpark improvements. The move coincided with the $26.5 million Principal Riverwalk slated for downtown Des Moines. Principal Park is on the south end of the Riverwalk.

The improvements included a new entrance and an elevated water fountain outside the right-field fence and the addition of a right-field seating area; a 20-foot-wide path allowing fans to walk around the outfield or watch the action from outside the outfield fence; and a new façade on the stadium’s north side to match the one on the west side.

Michael Gartner, majority owner of the I-Cubs, said his ownership group, Raccoon Baseball Inc., would spend $1 million for two new scoreboards – a video message board and a vintage scoreboard with numbers hung by hand after half innings.

The city also was asked to spend $1 million on new seats for the 11,500-seat ball park. Des Moines City Manager Eric Anderson said the city already had allocated $2 million in next fiscal year’s budget for stadium upgrades such as new seats. The city council could decide to move those projects up, he added.

The revenue from the stadium naming rights could have gone to the team’s owners. Instead, Des Moines received the money from the Principal Foundation.

“We thought that as good citizens in a downtown area that is changing dramatically, that having the money go directly back into the stadium would be the appropriate thing to do,” Gartner said. “It’s a way to get the city-owned stadium completed and guarantee that professional baseball will stay in Des Moines until at least 2022.”

The playing field at Principal Park is named after the iconic Register sports editor, Sec Taylor.

In 1995 a $2 million clubhouse expansion was completed. The project included new offices for the manager and coaches, an expanded training room, an indoor batting cage, a new weight room and family lounge, and laundry and storage facilities, plus 12 skyboxes in left field.

Five years later, 88 new Home Plate Club seats were put behind home plate and a $100,000 sound system was installed. In addition, the Cub Club was remodeled extensively and Principal Park was designated smoke free.

After the 2002 season, the playing surface was replaced with the same type of grass as Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The project lasted three months and cost nearly $1 million.

The clubhouse was improved again before the 2013 season. The locker, shower and restroom areas for both the I-Cubs and visitors were enlarged along with the I-Cub fitness room. The indoor batting cage also was expanded during the $1 million upgrade.

A new state-of-the-art video board was installed in right field before the 2015 season.

“The response to the new video board has been great. We’re thinking about putting another one in,” Bernabe said in early 2016. “We put a lot of replays on the video board – as long as they’re not controversial. The league office asks us not to show replays of controversial calls. Those guys [umpires] out there are doing the best job they can. So we don’t want to throw gas on a fire that doesn’t need to burn.”

On December 11, 2015, the I-Cubs announced they would extend the backstop netting to the far ends of each dugout to improve fan safety at Principal Park. The decision was in line with Major League Baseball’s recommendation that all stadiums of major league teams and their affiliates have extended netting by Opening Day 2017.

“For years, about a third of our fans have been watching games from behind netting, and it’s clear the netting does not interfere with the enjoyment of the game,” Bernabe said in the announcement. “In fact, most people forget the net is even there.”

The engineering for the backstop netting extension was complex and expensive, according to Gartner.

“Two new poles are anchored 30 or 40 feet into the ground just outside the stadium, one down each foul line, to support the guy wires that hold the screen and let it withstand the terrific pressure of holding up the additional 8,200 square feet of mesh extending the 100 feet to the ends of the dugouts,” Gartner explained.

A new HD ribbon video board atop the left-field seats and state-of-the-art LED lighting from Musco were added in 2017. The new video board provides more stats and information for fans and players, while the new lights provide brighter lighting for the playing field. The energy efficient lights also can “dance” to the music.

A new batting cage beyond the left-field wall was added before the start of the 2018 season. Coupled with the existing batting cage in the home clubhouse, the improved facilities help player development.

A standing-room-only crowd of 11,183 turned out on Wednesday, July 9, 1997, to see the only Triple A All-Star Game ever played in Des Moines. The contest featured the best players in the American Association, International League and Pacific Coast League. The I-Cubs were represented by outfielder Robin Jennings and pitcher Dave Swartzbaugh, the losing pitcher.

The all-stars representing the American League affiliates defeated their National League counterparts, 5-3.

Frank Catalanotto, a 23-year-old second baseman for Toledo, was chosen a “star of stars” after hitting a home run and double, driving in two runs, and scoring once.

“This was great, because I did it in an all-star game and a lot of my family was here,” he said. “By far, it’s the highlight of my season.”

Other MVPs included Magglio Ordonez of Nashville and Nate Minchey of Colorado Springs.

From the start of the game, fans could tell it wasn’t an ordinary regular season contest. The Canadian flag, representing the teams from Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver, flew above the center-field fence. Des Moines Mayor Bob Ray and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

The six-man umpiring crew included two Iowans: Bruce Dreckman of Marcus behind home plate and Pat Connors of Perry at second base.

Iowan Bill Fischer, the Richmond Braves’ pitching coach, was honored before the game with a group of 50 from Council Bluffs cheering him on.

“Bill goes to the Railway Tavern in the winter when he’s off duty,” a woman said. “He drinks a glass of water and visits with us.”

The Triple A all-star luncheon earlier in the day featured Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the major leagues. She was introduced by Branch Rickey III, grandson of Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey, who brought Jackie Robinson to the major leagues.

“I believe Mr. Rickey selected my father because of his character as well as because of his talent,” Sharon Robinson said. “[Rickey] saw a person who was committed to something beyond himself, someone who was committed to social change.”

On Tuesday, July 8, 1997, Todd Helton of Colorado Springs won the 12-man home run contest and received $1,000 and a contract from Louisville Slugger for his efforts. A crowd of 2,492 people watched Helton smash five home runs in the final round. Ivan Cruz of Columbus belted three; Paul Konerko of Albuquerque had two. Aaron Boone of Indianapolis hit two pitches over the fence in the first round, but he was shut out in the final round.

The 350 or so dignitaries at the two-day festivities included former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. The only tie Lasorda had to Des Moines before the game was I-Cub manager Tim Johnson. Lasorda managed Johnson in Albuquerque, the Dodgers’ Triple A affiliate, in 1972.

“I’ve been in some bigger cities, but never have I been in a place for an extended period of time where I felt as comfortable as I do here in Des Moines,” Johnson said.

The Triple A All-Star Game was not the only big news that day. In the afternoon, it was announced Triple A baseball would be realigned for next season, eliminating the American Association and putting the I-Cubs in the Pacific Coast League. The 30 major league affiliates would be split into two leagues – 16 in one league and 14 in the other. Thus, the I-Cubs would have to travel as few as 135 miles to Omaha, Nebraska, and as many as 1,955 miles to Calgary, Canada.

On Tuesday, August 21, 1984, I-Cub Reggie Patterson threw the first no-hitter by an Iowa pitcher at Sec Taylor Stadium in six years as Iowa beat Omaha, 2-0. Patterson nearly recorded a perfect game, walking Omaha’s Rondin Johnson with two out in the ninth inning after getting head in the count, 0-2. The only other Omaha runner to get on base was John Morris who reached first on an error by second baseman Trey Brooks in the second inning.

“I’m tired, but excited,” Patterson said afterwards. “I had all my pitches working. After six innings, I was thinking no-hitter.”
“Reggie had command of all his pitches – fastball, slider, screwball, changeup and knuckle-curve,” catcher Bill Hayes said. “Getting ahead of hitters is the key to pitching. We were able to set up his pitches. This was a lot of fun.”

Patterson threw first strikes to 27 of the 29 Royals he faced. He threw 114 pitches in all.

The crowd of 2,413 held its breath in the ninth when Patterson mishandled Jim Scranton’s bouncer back to the mound. However, third baseman Pete Mackanin grabbed the ball after it caromed off Patterson’s glove and threw out Scranton by a whisker.

The I-Cubs scored their first run in the third on a leadoff double by Shawon Dunston, a bunt single by Billy Hatcher and a ground out by Ricky Baker. Joe Hicks smashed his 30th homer of the season in the fourth inning to pad the lead.

The last out came on a fly ball to Hatcher in center field, with Patterson turning and staring in that direction.
“I was just thinking, geez, there it is,” Patterson said.

After walking four batters in the first inning, Iowa Oaks pitcher Jack Kucek appeared to be on his way toward an early exit on Friday, May 26, 1978. But after Stan Butkus started warming up in the Oaks’ bullpen, Kucek got a force out and retired the next 15 hitters on his way to a no-hit, 6-1 victory over Oklahoma City at Sec Taylor Stadium.

“I hope this breaks us loose,” an ecstatic Kucek said afterwards. “The way the guys played behind me tonight, anyone could have gotten a no-hitter.”

Not only did Kucek make history, but also the Oaks, then an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, broke an eight-game losing streak.

“When [Manager] Joe [Sparks] came out to talk to me in the first inning, he said I was standing up too straight,” Kucek said. “He said I should bend over after I released the ball.”

Designated hitter Jim Breazeale provided all the offense the Oaks needed with a mammoth homer to right in the third inning that gave Iowa the lead for good. Breazeale finished with three hits and two RBIs and scored three times.

Third baseman Kevin Bell and catcher Mike Colbern added back-to-back homers for the Oaks in the eighth.
“I’ve been coming out early every day for hitting,” said Bell, who entered the game batting only .204. “I was wondering when the first one [homer] would come. I hope this gets us turned around.”

Two fielding gems secured the no-hitter for Kucek.

In the third inning, left fielder Mike Eden made a diving, shoestring catch on Mike Anderson’s sinking line drive. As he caught the ball, Eden rolled over and held the ball high in the air as the umpire signaled an out.

In the fifth inning, Oak first baseman Mike Squires stabbed Bobby Brown’s line drive toward right field.

Other than those two plays, Kucek was in control most of the rest of the way. He struck out seven of the final 15 batters he faced. A crowd of 1,172 witnessed Kucek’s gem.

Coincidentally, former Oaks pitcher Silvio Martinez of Springfield threw a no-hitter against Omaha at Omaha the same night. Martinez retired the first 23 Royals he faced before Darrell Porter reached base on an error in the eighth.

Twenty-year-old Joe Kerrigan survived three Demon errors in one inning and pitched the first no-hitter at home in 10 years on Sunday, July 10, 1960. A crowd of 1,784 at Sec Taylor Stadium witnessed the masterpiece against the Cedar Rapids Braves.

In improving his record to 8-2, Kerrigan walked only one batter, leadoff man Hub Hubbard in the eighth inning. He struck out eight Braves to raise his season strikeout total to 101 in 88 innings.

Errors by Demon first baseman Jerry Reimer, catcher Bob Lipaki and shortstop Nolan Campbell gave the visitors a short-lived, 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. The Demons scored all they needed in their half of the inning on third baseman Fred Walters’ two-run smash over the right-field fence. Second baseman George Williams’ triple highlighted Des Moines’ three-run sixth inning. Williams added a two-run double in the seventh.

Center fielder Don Lightner snared Brave pitcher Hank Fischer’s drive in the sixth inning to keep the no-hitter intact.

The Demons won the first game, 4-0, on a five-hit shutout by 18-year-old Ray Culp.

Between games, Demon general manager Clay Dennis received an award as executive of the year in the lower minor leagues for 1959. Vern Hoscheit, the new Three-I League president, presented the honor on behalf of The Sporting News.

Vern Fear, 24, survived two errors and three walks to record a seven-inning no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader on Friday, July 21, 1950.

Although five Denver Grizzlies reached base, none got past first base. One runner was erased on a double play and Bruin catcher Bob Zuber threw out another on an attempted steal.

Fear contributed at the plate, too. His single was part of a three-run sixth inning that made the final score, 5-0.

Fear faced a formidable task in the seventh and final inning when three Denver hitters with .300-plus averages came to the plate. After running the count to 3-2, Denver’s Danny Holden flied out to right field. The next hitter, Pete Whisenant, was retired on a ground ball to short. The last batter, Moose Womack, who came into the game hitting .330, took three balls at first. However, Fear recovered and threw three straight strikes, with Womack swinging futilely at the last offering.

Iowa native Fear was making his first athletic appearance in Des Moines since he was a member of the Everly High School boys’ basketball team that reached the state tournament.

The Bruins won the nightcap, 6-5, in 10 innings.

Brushing off a leadoff walk on a 3-2 count, northwest Iowa native Elvin “Stubby” Stabelfeld retired the next 27 batters in a row en route to a no-hitter at Pioneer Memorial Stadium Tuesday, August 16, 1949.

The Bruins won, 7-0, cutting the Pueblo Dodgers’ second-place lead to 2 ½ games.

“Stubby, as placid all the way as one of the cows on his dad’s farm up near Aurelia, mixed his crackling curve with a down-swerving fast ball and a pitch that is known in the trade as a ‘slider,’ This is a junior-size curve, which darts just far enough to keep the hitters off balance,” the Register’s Bill Bryson wrote afterward.

Throwing his fourth shutout of the season, Stabelfeld only had two close calls when Pueblo was at bat.

“The fans had a scare when [Dick] Teed lashed a hard shot to the left of shortstop Frank Whitman who was playing despite a painfully swollen left forearm,” Bryson wrote. “An inch or so farther and it would have been a hit. But Whitman snagged it on the first vicious bounce, snagged it in the webbing of his glove, and threw Teed out.”

In the first inning, Bruin second baseman Danny Lynch speared a sharp grounder between first and second base and threw the runner out at first.

A crowd of 3,272 fans was on hand for Stabelfeld’s brush with perfection.

Making his third and final rehab appearance, Chicago Cub hurler Kerry Wood struck out nine batters in 5 2/3 innings in a 2-1 victory over Oklahoma City on Friday, June 24, 2005.

A then record Principal Park crowd of 13,669 saw Wood give up a homer to Jason Botts in the fourth inning.

“Today was a key for me,” Wood said. “During the last couple starts, I wasn’t locating the fastball the way I wanted to. My breaking balls had been good, my velocity was good on my fastball, but the location wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Wood’s 84 pitches included 58 strikes. He threw a mixture of pitches to the 22 batters he faced.

At times his fastball was clocked at 97 mph on the radar gun. When he left the game in the sixth inning, he received a standing ovation on his way to the dugout and another when he walked to the clubhouse down the left-field line.

Music – not baseball – was the reason a record 18,158 people came to hear the Dave Matthews Band at Principal Park on Friday, September 25, 2009. It was the band’s first performance in Iowa in five years.

“When the first menacing guitar strums of ‘Rhyme and Reason’ hit the cool autumn air, the crowd erupted,” the Register’s Sophia Ahmad said. “The song is from the band’s first solo album, ‘Under the Table and Dreaming.’ But on Friday at Principal Park, it was under the night sky and screaming.”

Lexi Short, 24, of Des Moines got hooked on the band in high school.
“I went to a live show and I was a fan ever since,” Short said during her seventh DMB show.

Apparently, the concert didn’t damage the playing field.
“It’s not ideal [for the playing surface], but it’s something that can be fixed,” Bernabe said 6 ½ years later. “We didn’t have any damage with the Dave Matthews show. In fact, you hardly knew there was a show.”

The single-game attendance record for Principal Park is 15,188 on June 8, 2007, when the I-Cubs hosted the New Orleans Zephyrs and a post-game fireworks show.

In December 2009 Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was named manager of the Iowa Cubs for the 2010 season. The popular former Chicago Cub second baseman led the I-Cubs to an 82-62 record, good for a first-place tie, and was chosen Pacific Coast League manager of the year. Sandberg continued his practice as a manager in the lower minor leagues by signing as many autographs as possible before home games at Principal Park. In early 2016 he was hired by Chicago to be a Cubs ambassador after a stint as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Two others have been named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year: Pat Listach in 2008 and Terry Kennedy in 1998.

Then Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack switched roles for an I-Cub game against Las Vegas at Principal Park on Monday, August 8, 2005. Instead of serving as chief executive of state government, Vilsack provided the play-by-play coverage on radio station KXNO-AM.

Principal owner Michael Gartner explained beforehand that first lady Christie Vilsack had arranged the experience as a Christmas gift.

“I made him [Vilsack] a certificate good for doing one radio game for the Iowa Cubs – under three conditions,” Gartner said. “He could not mention the Pittsburgh Pirates [Vilsack’s favorite team], he had to speak favorably of the Chicago Cubs, and he had to speak glowingly about the Iowa Cubs management.”

On Tuesday, August 9, 2005, it was back to business as usual as the governor toured a biodiesel plant.

Principal Park started hosting the Iowa High School Athletic Association state baseball tournament in 2005.

“The state [baseball] tournament should be in Des Moines,” Bernabe said. “There are a lot of upsides and a few downsides. I have to block the dates out of my calendar, which costs us premium dates. It’s a lot of wear and tear on the field and my staff. But it’s good for the town and the kids take great pride in being to play a game here.”

The 2018 state high school baseball tournament is set July 20-21 and 23-28.
Alan Beste, executive director of the IHSAA, commented, “We are extremely happy that we have been able to negotiate a contract with the I-Cubs that allows the state baseball tournament to be held at Principal Park through 2020. The I-Cubs organization is easy to work with and their staff does a wonderful job of providing and maintaining excellent facilities for the teams and spectators.”

Hall of Famers Greg Maddux [1986-87], Goose Gossage [1973], Tony LaRussa [1969-71 as player and 1979 as manager] and Sandberg [2010] have played or managed at either Principal Park or Sec Taylor Stadium.

The list of former major league stars with Chicago Cub ties that played in Des Moines after World War II to the present includes Rod Beck, Joe Carter, Shawon Dunston, Mark Grace, Rafael Palmeiro, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano.

Other former major league stars who played in Des Moines include Harold Baines, Bucky Dent, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Gene Tenace, the latter three with the Iowa Oaks when the franchise was affiliated with the Oakland A’s.

Nineteen former I-Cubs were on the postseason roster when the Chicago Cubs broke their 108-year-old drought with a World Series title in 2016. The list included 2015 National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, 2015 National League Cy Young Award recipient Jake Arrieta, Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Wilson Contreras, Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.

I-Cub fans also have seen ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte compete in the Pacific Coast League in recent years. His unorthodox delivery prompted minor league baseball to establish the Pat Venditte Rule, which basically says any ambidextrous pitcher must declare which hand he will use to pitch to a batter before the at-bat starts and to throw with that hand during the entire at-bat, unless he is hurt during the at-bat.

Although Des Moines has the smallest population of any city with a Triple A franchise, the I-Cubs have drawn an average of 486,988 fans since 1992. Last season the team’s 13-millionth fan came through the gates as 535,660 people came to the ballpark.

“The fan base is great. They buy in to what we do,” Bernabe said. “About 70 percent of our crowd comes from a 30-mile radius of the ballpark. The other 30 percent extends up to Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City and Chicago.”

What’s the secret to the success?
“I attribute it to consistency and making sure that when you pull into the parking lot, you know what you’re getting,” said Bernabe, who’s been with the I-Cubs since 1983. “It’s not hard. It’s priced right. The business model we use is safe, clean and fun. We have a lot of season ticket holders who have been with us since 1969.”

So whether they’ve been the home field of the Iowa Cubs, Iowa Oaks or Des Moines Bruins, Principal Park, Sec Taylor Stadium and Pioneer Memorial Stadium have played an important role in the history of minor league baseball.

No wonder Principal Park was chosen as the best local place to watch a sporting event in Des Moines monthly magazine Cityview’s Best of 2018.

The magazine cites “the pleasure of sitting in the bleachers and watching some of the world’s finest athletes working to make themselves better and get to the pinnacle of athletic achievement” as one of the reasons for the honor.


In 2019, the I-Cubs hosted their first PCL playoff games since 2008. After losing the first two semifinal games at Round Rock, they returned home and won two games by one run each to even the best-of-five series. However, they lost the decisive fifth game, 10-5, to the Express. Two days after winning the PCL American Northern Division, eight I-Cubs were called up to the parent Chicago Cubs. Cascade native Colin Rea was chosen the league’s Pitcher of the Year, compiling a 14-4 record and a 3.95 ERA in 148 innings. His 14 wins tied the club’s single-season franchise record.


In May 2019, the I-Cubs announced they planned to extend the netting from the end of each dugout to both foul poles for the start of the 2020 season.

President/GM Sam Bernabe said the move had been contemplated for quite some time.

“I remember having a conversation with Andy MacPhail when he was the president of the Cubs – that far back – about running nets down,” Bernabe told Register sportswriter Tommy Birch. “So we’ve been giving it consideration. It’s been on my radar for a long time.”

The I-Cubs extended the netting behind home plate to the end of each dugout in 2016 – one year ahead of Major League Baseball’s recommendation that all major league teams and their affiliates extend the netting by Opening Day of the 2017 season.


Principal Park remained silent through at least the first three months of the 2020 season due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic that shut down major league spring training camps in Arizona and Florida before the end of spring training. By Memorial Day, the club had lost 22 home dates on the current season’s schedule. The I-Cubs were scheduled to play 14 more home games in June.

Principal Park: News
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