General

Chicago’s best baseball? This summer, it’s in Iowa

PrincipalFrom the Saturday, June 28, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s 332 miles from downtown Chicago to downtown Des Moines, but from the doldrums that is Chicago baseball this summer, it’s a world away – and a worthwhile road trip.

Last weekend, my dad and I made the leisurely drive out to Iowa’s capital city in the hopes of finding a baseball team more compelling than either the Cubs or White Sox. We ended up finding just that in the Triple-A Iowa Cubs thanks to a roster now boasting the franchise’s top two prospects in third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Javier Baez.

Along the way, we also discovered a town even more fun than expected. And if you’re a baseball fan seeking an enjoyable “Chicago” version of the sport, here’s how you too can find it in the middle of Iowa.

Getting There

Getting to Des Moines is easy. Simply find your way to Interstate 80 and go west, young man (or lady).

After crossing the Mississippi River and zipping past Iowa City, you’ll eventually take I-235 West and wind your way through downtown Des Moines until you reach Principal Park, home of the I-Cubs, located at 1 Line Drive.

Several large parking lots ring the ballpark, but they seem to fill up quickly. Instead, I suggest seeking out the smaller pay lots downtown at the nearby intersection of 4th Street and Court Avenue.

At only $3 to $5, the prices are far different from Wrigleyville.

Staying There

As Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines offers a plethora of hotel options. We chose to stay at the Hampton Inn by the airport, which is located just a few miles southwest of Principal Park, and at $129 per night was $40 cheaper than its sister hotel in West Des Moines.

You should research all hotel options, but those near the airport seem to be a good place to land.

Sitting There

Situated at the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers, Principal Park offers a pretty setting for a ballgame with the downtown skyline looming to the north.

Take note, however, that for evening games, seats along the first-base line face into bright sunshine until dusk, while those along the third-base line are in a pleasant shade all game.

Budget-friendly tickets, which can be purchased at iowacubs.com, run from $7 to $12, and the team often offers 2-for-1 promotions for weekday games. Little kids will enjoy playing in the water fountain beyond right field, while adults should appreciate charming minor-league details such as the outfield scoreboard listing the teams as “OUT OF TOWNERS” and “LOCAL BOYS.”

Playing There

The baseball in Des Moines is fun, but there’s also more to Des Moines than just baseball. Just a few blocks from the Principal Park at the intersection of 3rd Street and Court Avenue, you’ll find the heart of the city’s bustling nightlife district featuring Johnny’s Hall of Fame (“a little slice of Wrigleyville”), Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Co. (good grub and craft beer), Mickey’s Irish Pub (spacious outdoor patio) and other hotspots.

On 2nd Street, I also highly recommend a visit to El Bait Shop, a delightfully quirky joint recently rated by Thrillist.com as one of America’s 33 Best Beer Bars. With more than 120 brews on tap and another 150 available in bottles, it’s for good reason.

And although we didn’t get to sample their fare, locals raved about the food at Zombie Burger and Jethro’s BBQ, both of which are located outside of the downtown.

Being there

In my book, you can’t have a truly good summer without seeing a good baseball game. And this summer, Chicago’s best baseball can actually be found in Iowa.

  • Danny Dowd

    Glad to hear such nice things about my town! I’d recommend eating on the rooftop patio at Mullet’s before the game. It’s right across the river and less than 5 minutes to walk to the park. Grab a few beers and sliders while watching the sun cast shadows across the beautiful downtown area. The capitol building is also stunning. The High Life Lounge is another close option. Once the game is over, take a stroll along the riverwalk; it goes right by the park, and walking north toward court avenue is beautiful and relaxing.

    I’d also suggest trying to find free street parking instead of paying to park in the lot, as Des Moines has relaxed parking rules to encourage downtown visitors. Not only do you save money, but you avoid the parade of cars leaving simultaneously. I haven’t ever paid for parking there, and it’s never more than a 15-minute walk, usually less than 10. Last thing I’ll mention is the Science Center is within walking distance, with the sculpture park a short drive beyond that.

    Thanks for the fun read, Dave!