Principal Park (5-star TripAdvisor review)
Cubs v. Isotopes in historic park; Capitol dome; 2 Cub walk-offs in one day
Anyone who’s a fan of both the Cubs and “The Simpsons” has to take in an Iowa Cubs - Albuquerque Isotopes contest while in Des Moines. The games and Principal Park exceeded expectations.
Des Moines has a storied minor league history, dating back to 1887! Previous Des Moines minor league squads were called the Undertakers, Prohibitionists, Midgets and legendary Oaks. In 1890, fans were lured by free balloon rides. In 1930, the first professional baseball night game was played under permanent lights here. Legends of the game played in Des Moines: Eddie “Black Sox” Ciccotte, Vida Blue, Tuffy Rhodes. Most stars at Wrigley came through here, either as minor leaguers or on rehab. In fact, today’s Iowa Cubs roster includes 11 players we’ve seen in the Bigs (and several more we’ll see in September. See tomorrow’s stars today!)
At the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers since 1947, the stadium has been bedeviled by flooding. It was totally surrounded by the Great Flood of ’93, and 10 years ago set an all-time attendance record during a flood (zero).
What a sweet ballpark! Some tail-gating. Kids playing catch with bronze statues of other kids. Be forewarned…parking is nuts. Arrive early for the limited $10 spaces near the park. Avoid the $45 lots (are we back in Wrigleyville?) There’s a parking garage 4-5 blocks north. We know we’re not at Wrigley at the box office. We had OK seats in Reserved Grands for $7 one night, and amazing $16 seats six rows behind home plate the next day. This same view at Wrigley would run a few hundred bucks.
While retaining a retro feel, you can see the updates made over the years. Modest dimensions, especially down the lines (335’ to the “Fowl Poles”). There’s a giant mitt in left, similar to the one in San Francisco. Cool old-time hand-operated scoreboard, with a videotron stacked atop it and a baseball-shaped clock. Outfield walls are plastered with a dizzying colorful array of billboards (I half-expected to see ads for Old Gold Unfiltered, Falstaff Beer or Studebaker). But the dominant image is the majestic gilded State Capitol dome which can be seen from just about anywhere in Principal Park. Butterflies flit around the box seats.
The Iowa Cubs joined the tough Pacific Coast League in 1998, an old AAA league with legendary teams (Tacoma Rainiers, Nashville Sounds), and teams with cool names (New Orleans Baby Cakes, El Paso Chihuahuas). Which brings me to the Isotopes.
As any “Simpsons” fanatic knows, the Springfield Isotopes, Duff Beer, a rumored franchise move to Albuquerque and Homer’s hunger strike and were the focus of several episodes. Before tonight’s game between the Cubs and ‘Topes, clips from a “Simpsons” Isotopes episode aired on the videotron. Excellent, Smithers! (It was haunting, though, when the Principal Park hot-dog shooter blasted dogs high into the stands (we all know what happened to Maud Flanders.)
Speaking of dogs, the food at Principal Park was affordable and tasty. We enjoyed the array of local Iowa craft beers (“Confluence”) and minor league schticky stuff (Baseball Bingo, Giant Soybean race…)
The capper: my pal Joe and I got to witness two Cubbie walk-offs in the same day! First we saw Victor Caratini win it in the 9th at Principal Park, then went to the Waveland Tap (a great Cubs dive bar) and watched Jason Heyward’s Grand Slam walk-off on TV. One of the best baseball days ever.