Teams persevering through Iowa flooding

Nearby clubs able to minimize effects of severe weather

(Iowa Cubs)

By Bryan Smith / | June 19, 2008 7:34 AM ET

Record floods have ravaged towns in Iowa during the month of June, with rivers across the state reaching unprecedented levels and spilling into downtowns, farms and homes. While 20 levees have broken between the states of Iowa and Missouri, Minor League Baseball is pushing forward at areas across Iowa without more than a few minor hiccups and a minimal number of postponed games.

In Cedar Rapids, estimates at the damage done to the town have exceeded $1 billion, and while water has flooded the entire downtown, it never threatened Veteran Memorial Stadium. In fact, the National Guard, Cedar Rapids Police Department and the Cedar Rapids maintenance department used the stadium's parking lot as an operations command post.

After an eight-game homestand to start the month of June, the Kernels were lucky to be on the road and away from Iowa for the six games before the well-timed Midwest League All-Star Break. In all, it gave Cedar Rapids city officials time to assess the park, and ultimately, give the Kernels the green light for an eight-game homestand starting on Thursday night against the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Burlington is another town in Iowa that is witnessing the destruction of many downtown businesses. The stadium, however, which lies on a bluff, has been unaffected by flooding.

"People are really frustrated and struggling to find any good about what's going on," said Burlington Bees General Manager Chuck Brockett. "Minor League Baseball can be an area where people can take that three-hour time frame, go to the ballpark, and relax and get away from it."

Sandbagging efforts surrounded Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, as volunteers and employees did their best to slow down waters that would ultimately threaten, but not harm the home stadium for the Iowa Cubs.

Des Moines city officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of downtown Des Moines late last week. The Cubs' June 13 game against Nashville was postponed, and it looked like games in Principal Park would be on a significant delay. So in an act of stately support, the Quad Cities River Bandits stepped in at the suggestion of Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin and offered the services of Modern Woodman Park to the Iowa Cubs, if needed.

"We can certainly relate to the position the I-Cubs are in," said River Bandits Vice President/General Manager Kirk Goodman in a press release. "In a situation like this you just try to make the best out of an unfortunate set of circumstances. If we can help them and give our fans the opportunity to see Triple-A baseball up close, we are happy to do so."

The River Bandits were not off the hook themselves, however, as Sunday's game against the Beloit Snappers was canceled due to flooding. A constructed walkway built for the fans entrance was toppled by river water, and rather than increase the height of the walkway, Davenport city officials decided to utilize their assets at greater areas of need.

In April, the River Bandits saw their parking lots covered in water from the nearby Mississippi River, but because of built-in flood protection at the renovated Modern Woodman Park, the River Bandits were spared "half a season," in the eyes of team broadcaster Ben Chiswick.

On June 14, the Iowa Cubs received permission from the city of Des Moines to return to play in Principal Park, under one condition -- no fans were allowed in. With an official attendance of zero, the I-Cubs won, 5-4, in a game played to spare the team too many doubleheaders late in the season. I-Cubs starting pitcher Sean Marshall compared the experience to pitching in Wrigley Field, where the lefty has started 21 times.

"Instead of 42,000 screaming fans, we had eight screaming staff members, minus the screaming," Marshall said. "It wasn't bad, it actually kind of reminded me of an extended Spring Training game, since all you could really hear were players from the dugouts."

Since then, the I-Cubs have played six home games, including doubleheaders on June 15 and 16. Attendance has reached as high as 9,236 during the second game of Monday's doubleheader, and has not been lower than 6,000 since the Cubs opened the doors of Principal Park again. Clearly, baseball has become a needed distraction for a town that is largely under water.

The flood has also had an effect on players hailing from Iowa, but are unable to be with their family. Vero Beach pitcher Jeremy Hellickson is from Des Moines, Iowa, and was lucky enough to find out his family was above water and safe, their family home undamaged.

"Everyone is okay in my family, there wasn't any damage, but I've heard about just how bad it's been in Des Moines and Iowa City," Hellickson said.

Another concern for front office staff members and players has been the flood's effect on rented homes and the homes of host families for the Minor League players. On June 19, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Burlington pitcher Sam Runion and his five-bedroom rental home are above water and safe.

"Downtown Burlington is really taking a beating," Runion told the newspaper. "You can really see the effects of the water damage, but we're in a place with high enough elevation that I think we'll be fine."

Runion and teammates had a light workout on Tuesday at Community Field during the All-Star Break, and while the park is undamaged and the players' homes are safe, the Bees are faced with another issue.

"Our problem right now is the Mississippi River Bridge is closed to Illinois, and we have a home series starting the 23rd against Peoria," said Chuck Brockett. "Cubs fans might follow [Peoria manager] Ryne Sandberg, but they won't be able to cross the bridge. It will definitely effect the attendance for us.

Brockett also estimates that for the Peoria Chiefs, a drive that would normally take 90 minutes could now take three to four hours, as the team bus will be unable to take a direct route.

A unique subset of problems has surely been created by the record-setting flood of 2008, but with no postponements on the horizon for any Minor League team in Iowa, the focus returns to baseball and providing communities with a positive and much-needed distraction.

Bryan Smith is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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