A prospect’s road to the big leagues can be long and hard. Their dream finally starts coming into view when they reach AAA.
For future Cubs, that stop is Des Moines, Iowa with the Iowa Cubs.

The longest tenured Cubs affiliate, Iowa joined the Cubs system in 1981. The I-Cubs are a member of the Pacific Coast League.  A “Who’s Who” of Cubs minor leaguers includes players from Greg Maddux to Mark Prior to Nico Hoerner.

The late Rod Beck famously lived in his Winnebago while coming back from Tommy John surgery and assigned to the AAA team.  Manny Ramierz spent time with the I-Cubs as a player/coach. Future Cubs managers Bruce Kimm and Mike Quade passed through Des Moines also.  The great Ryne Sandberg led the I-Cubs when he was working his way up the managerial ladder.

They play their home games at Principal Park, a stadium that was built after the demolition of most of the previous stadium at the conclusion of the 1991 season.

Players have come and gone but one man has remained constant.

Entering his 37th season with the team, that man is Sam Bernabe, the President/General Manager of the I-Cubs.

He very graciously gave CHISportsNation some of his time.

Explain your progression through your roles with the Iowa Cubs.

Was it always a dream of yours to work in baseball? What did it mean to you when you were named President/GM of the team? 

Bernabe: “I started playing baseball when I was seven. I stopped after my sophomore year in college. I then read about a masters degree program in sports management and lots of sports organizations were hiring interns out of those programs.

I graduated from the University of Iowa and enrolled in the masters program at Western Illinois University. As part of the program I did an internship with the Iowa Cubs starting in 1983. The ball club hired me as a full time salesman in 1984. I was named the GM in November of 1986.

The new ownership group buying the team in October of 1999 brought me into the group as a partner and named me President of the team. All of my steps forward in my career have been very humbling and gratifying.”

During your time with the organization, you have won multiple awards from the PCL, Minor League Baseball, Baseball America, etc.

Which award means the most to you?  

B: “Awards in our business usually come with longevity. If you hang around long enough you’re bound to be recognized for that longevity.

I’m most proud of the fact that our operation has done enough, in the eyes of the Chicago Cubs, to maintain our relationship and partnership since 1981.”

There have been several great players come through Des Moines.

Which one do you consider the best to be?  

B: “As you suggest there have been many great players come through the Cubs system in my 37 seasons. The list is long but the one player that always comes to mind as the most dynamic and gifted player, at the time he was here, is Shawon Dunston.”

Name a player that you thought would have a great career and didn’t make it.  

B: “When Brett Jackson came to DSM I thought he had all the tools to be a long time big leaguer.”

What prospects should we keep our eyes on this year?  

B: “Even though you got to see a little bit of both Nico Hoerner and Adbert Alzolay in Chicago last year I think both of those players are going to be really good and fun to watch.

Miguel Amaya looks really good as a prospect that will be able to help the big club soon. There’s lots of great young pitchers in the system that will begin to move up with more development time.  I’m very excited about the young Cubs that will be joining us soon!”

Can you tell us a memorable story from your time with the team?  

B: “Hector Villanueva played for us in the late 80’s as a catcher.  He was really fun to be around, a real character of the game and a really good guy.  I was watching him visit with a young fan in the bullpen during a game he wasn’t playing one evening. His interaction with the youngster was fun as he seemed to pay way more attention to the young fan then he did the game at that time. I then saw the kid go running from the bullpen. I didn’t think too much of it until a few minutes later when the young fan came back to the bullpen with a cheeseburger and a hot dog. Hector came back over to him and he traded the cheeseburger and hot dog for one of his bats. A deal had been made!”

This spring has been quite different. The Iowa Cubs should have begun their season on April 9.

How have you been spending your time without baseball? 

B: “I spend a lot of time on the phone doing Minor League business and Pacific Coast League business.”

What do you miss most about the games not being played during a time that they normally would be?  

B: “The noise! Crowds cheering, families laughing, interacting, the vendors in the stands yelling at the fans, a bat hitting a baseball, the umpires’ calls, and the roar of the crowd after an exciting win or after a Friday night’s fireworks show.”

What are you looking forward to the most when the season is able to begin?

B: “All of the things (previously mentioned) as well as watching families have fun. I also miss the game itself.”

Excluding Des Moines, what is the best PCL town to visit and why? 

B: “There isn’t a bad stop anywhere in the league. I think going to Memphis is a lot of fun. Great ballpark, great food and great music.”

For our readers that haven’t had the chance to visit Principal Park, what should they expect when they attend an Iowa Cubs game?  

B: “We try to make coming to the stadium as easy as possible.  Our business model is “Safe, Clean and Fun”.  I hope that is evident when someone new comes to the stadium.”

Do you have a message to relay to the fans?  

B: “Stay safe and healthy! Baseball will be back for all of us soon!”

Featured Image: Dylan Heuer/Des Moines Register
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