BY CAROLYN LaWELL
DES MOINES, IOWA | Ask Sam Bernabe what department he interned in and he’ll respond, “Yes.”
He had the luxury of pumping stormwater out of the dugouts every morning, washing towels, cleaning the clubhouse, making sure all the equipment fired up, counting inventory for the novelty shacks, setting up the cages for batting practice. He did all of that before the game started.
“Any time that you can learn it all, I think that’s a great advantage for anybody down the road,” he says. “This business is about tolerance, being able to hang in there.”
In 28 seasons, he has proved he is both tolerant and willing.
Bernabe has gone from an Iowa Cubs intern to the president and general manager, from stadium maintenance and operations to chairman of Minor League Baseball’s board of trustees, and from picking up the umpires’ locker room to a member of the game’s rules committee.
“Common sense and doing the right thing will take you a long way,” he says. “If you use common sense, then you’ll be around for a long time.”
Bernabe has had aspirations to move to the Major Leagues. But while he was moving up the ladder, his wife, Mary, was forming her career as a lawyer, and they were settling in Des Moines, the city where they both grew up. With a family and careers, the time was never right and the personal and professional challenges in the minors had been, and still are, plenty.
Every day is different in baseball. Every day, Bernabe says, he learns how to be better. Every day, he tries to use common sense and do the right thing.
Sam Bernabe always assumes it’s a fan’s first game. He assumes they know nothing about the baseball business. So he does his best to answer baseball novice’s questions. These are his favorite questions and answers:
1. How long will the game last?
- It’s nine innings, usually 27 outs.
- No, how long? Can you tell me what time?
- No, ma’am, we can’t. We start at 7. It might be two hours, it might be two and a half hours, it might be three.
2. How do you get the field to look like that? Can I get my grass to look like that?
- It's real easy. There isn't anything out there that time and mone won't take care of.
3. Can you stop the game and shoot off the fireworks?
- No. No, we can’t do that.
Recently, he was standing on the field near the dugout, watching as fans filed out of Principal Park after fireworks. A father, standing with his two sons, asked Bernabe if there were any balls or bats left in the dugout. There weren’t. He asked if his son could stand on the field for a minute.
“Trying to run this business is like herding cats at times,” he says. “On the same hand, when you want them not to do something, then they all begin to fall in place, so you don’t ever do something that lends itself to one more person doing it or everybody begins to follow, and going onto the field would be one of those things.”
Most of the people had left, though, and Bernabe saw no harm in letting a kid step on the grass.
“I think the great mistake that a lot of people make in our business is that they begin to take it for granted,” he says. “They take all of the things that everybody covets beyond the game, those people in the game begin to take it for granted.
“It’s amazing how somebody’s face lights up or the dad that gets to take the picture of the kid standing on the infield when the guys are out there beating the hell out of the mound or the home plate area or are even beginning to mow. People just genuinely feel better when they’re standing on the grass, and I think we lose sight of that at times.”
It’s common sense and doing the right thing.
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Time for minor league trivia. Since 2004, the Cubs have played at Principal Park. For the 45 years prior to the name change, the stadium was named what to honor former Des Monies Register Sports editor? (Keep reading for the answer.)
A two-run, seventh-inning rally gave the Cubs a 5-4 win over the Nashville Sounds in the first game of a Friday doubleheader before they were shut out, 6-0, during the second game. In their win, four Cubs singled in the seventh to drive in the tying and winning runs. Shortstop Luis Valbuena and first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit solo homers in the fourth and fifth to keep the score close. In their loss, the Cubs reached base six times but were held scoreless by the Sounds, who piled up six hits and eight walks. The Cubs took four games of a six-game, four-day home series that included two doubleheaders because of storms that postponed games earlier in the season.
Since seeing the Iowa Cubs a month ago, five players have been called up to the Majors – most notably, Rizzo, who has batted .354 in 12 games with the Chicago Cubs. The other four are third baseman Valbuena, lefty Scott Maine and right-handers Rafael Dolis and Chris Volstad.
Want the answer? From 1959 to 2004, Des Moines teams played at Sec Taylor Stadium. Taylor was born Willis Garner Taylor, but he always signed his name Garner W. Taylor. He was instrumental in bringing baseball to the capital city after World War II, and under his leadership the Register was recognized as having one of the top Sports sections in the country.
And in random statistical news, as usual, a doubleheader means double the numerical fun. The first game started seven minutes late and the second game started four minutes late. The first pitches were a strike and a ball. Rightfielder Caleb Gindi led off both games, doubling and scoring in the first game, then striking out on a foul tip in the second game. The “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung in 1 minute and 28.6 seconds. And for dinner, we ate turkey wraps and potato chips. No hot dogs.
Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.