In which we are sent down to the minors

It’s a short trip–and, sadly, a relatively small drop in talent–from the Kansas City Royals to the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines, but the change in the atmosphere of the game is substantial.

Principal Field, the home of the Iowa Cubs, while a pleasant place to see a game, looks more like a high school or a recently built prison than a ballpark. The PA announcer rattled off sponsorships and announcements and greetings not just between innings, but between pitches. The players all look like they’re about fourteen, which makes Ryne Sandberg look like he was probably teammates with Wee Willie Keeler and Billy Sunday. The team showcased not one, not two,

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but three different methods of propelling objects (hot dogs, t-shirts) into the stands: a hot dog-shaped bazooka, a bat-shaped bazooka (with, oddly enough, a Royals logo on it), and the trusty ol’ human arm. A race among three grease-laden products that can be purchased at your local QT mart–a hot dog, a brat, and a taquito–involved much tripping and a headfirst slide. Meanwhile, some poor sucker encased in a giant, partially inflated vinyl slice of pizza wandered the aisles waving at people and trying to seem like his presence is a good reason for them to later buy a pizza at their local Casey’s. It’s minor-league baseball, and it was goofy and fun.

High points of the game itself:

* Iowa Cubs shortstop Darwin Barney has the best at-bat music I’ve ever heard: a smoothly funky bit from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark.” If the Cubs organization factors at-bat music into personnel decisions, you should look for Barney at Wrigley Field any day now.

* The game featured three plays at the plate. In the first, Cubs right fielder Brad Snyder was safe at home by a step, but later that inning left fielder Ty Wright was out easily, as was third baseman Marquez Smith in the fourth. I don’t think the third base coach was Wendell Kim, but the guy’s gotta be coaching somewhere, right?

* Speaking of base running, we saw two mistakes made by runners at second on balls hit to the pitcher. In the first case, the runner mistakenly broke for third and was out easily; in the second, he broke for third, but then the pitcher made his own mistake, tossing the ball to the third baseman rather than running at the runner to make him commit to a base. The runner got back to second safely, and we were reminded yet again that this wasn’t the majors.

* Omaha Royals first baseman Kila Ka’Aihue, who both has a great name and is an actual prospect, hit a long home run in the second inning, but it was dwarfed by the home run hit by Royals DH Jai Miller in the 9th, which disappeared into the night while still rising. The fireworks downtown started soon after that, and I can only assume that the ball, aflame from its fall back through the atmosphere, was responsible.

* The fireworks at the ballpark itself were brief, but solid, despite opening with Lee Greenwood’s godawful “God Bless the U.S.A.” A few songs later, they started playing “Born in the U.S.A.”, and just after I turned to Jim to point out that, yet again, someone planning a patriotic program had failed to actually listen to that song, the finale erupted, drowning out all other sound. Clearly, they had suddenly figured out their mistake.

Royals won, 6-3, and now we’re off to Minneapolis!

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