There’s nothing like fun at the old ballpark, as they like to say, but for many of us, attending Cubs games at Wrigley Field on a regular basis is simply not possible. Whether it’s because of the cost or the distance from Chicago, many of us are consigned to watch the Chicago Cubs on television most of the time.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun watching the Cubs in person. There are seven Cubs minor league affiliates in the United States and you can see them conveniently and affordably anywhere but in the northeastern US. Even if you can afford to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field, at a minor league game you will be able to get a much better seat, much closer to the action, for much less.
Minor league baseball is also great family fun as most parks have things for the kids to do if they get bored watching the game, as well as fun events between innings. My wife once won a game of musical chairs between innings of a minor league game. Pretty much every minor league team has fireworks promotions these days, usually on Fridays.
To help you out, here’s a guide to the Cubs minor league affiliates and how you can see them. I’m also providing a list of what top Cubs prospects that you’ll likely be able to see at each park, although obviously I can’t guarantee they’ll be on the team when you get there. But these are players whom I think have a very good chance of spending a good chunk of time at that affiliate.
Where: Principal Park, located at One Line Drive, Des Moines, IA, 50309.
What: The Cubs Triple-A affiliate is the highest level of the Cubs minor league system. Here you will be the most likely to see players who are going to play in the major leagues in 2018. Bench players and bullpen arms to be sure, but the quality of play in Triple-A ball is closer to that of major league baseball than you might expect.
When: The Iowa Cubs season starts on Thursday, April 5 and continues until Labor Day, September 3. The I-Cubs will host Oklahoma City on April 5 and Round Rock on September 3.
How Much?: The front-row seats right behind home plate are $30, but the rest of the park is between $8 to $14 and it’s not like there’s a bad seat in the house. Children 13 and under can get in for $5 to $14. Day of the game tickets are slightly more.
Who will be there?: They may not all be there at the same time, but pitchers Dillon Maples, Jen-Ho Tseng and Adbert Alzolay should be in Iowa this year. Hitters David Bote, Mark Zagunis and Jacob Hannemann should be there. Catcher Victor Caratini will be there if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. Fan favorite and champion stare-er Taylor Davis will be there.
Best Promotions: June 7: Taylor Davis “Staring Catcher” Bobblehead. June 21: 50th Season All-Time Team Card Set Giveaway. July 12: 1993 American Association Championship Replica Ring. Here are photos of some of the Iowa promotional items.
On the Road: The I-Cubs play in the Pacific Coast League, which means they play in three of the four US time zones. If you live in Colorado, you need to catch the I-Cubs this year as the Colorado Springs Sky Sox are moving to San Antonio in 2019. The I-Cubs play the Pacific Southern Division on the road this year, so you can catch them in Tacoma, Reno, Fresno and Sacramento this year. You’ll have to wait until next year to see them in El Paso, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
Website and tickets: www.iowacubs.com
Where: Smokies Stadium, located at 3540 Line Drive, Kodak, TN 37764. It’s about 20 minutes east of Knoxville.
What: The Smokies are Double-A, one level below Iowa.
When: The Smokies start on the road in Jackson, MS on April 5, but their home opener is against Jackson, TN on April 11. The finish at home against Pensacola on Labor Day.
How Much?: $10 to $11.50 on Friday and Saturday. $7.50 to $10 during the week. Day of the game tickets slightly more.
Who will be there?: Pitchers Thomas Hatch and Oscar De La Cruz. Adbert Alzolay may start the season there. Shortstop Zack Short.
Best Promotions: May 20: Ben Zobrist Bobblehead. June 10: Tony La Russa Bobblehead. (Hey, you can smash it if you don’t want it. Or sell it to a Cardinals fan.) June 16: Margaritaville Night. July 15: Kyle Hendricks Bobblehead. August 19: Roy Halladay Bobblehead.
On the Road: The Smokies play in the Southern League, which has affiliates in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. That includes Jacksonville, which is “easily one of the top ten swamp cities in northeastern Florida.”
Website and tickets: www.smokiesbaseball.com
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Where: Ticketreturn.com Field, located at 1251 21st Avenue N., Myrtle Beach, SC 29577.
What: The Pelicans are High-A, one level below Tennessee
When: The Pelicans open at home on April 5 against Frederick. Their final home game is August 30 against Buies Creek and they will finish on Labor Day at Frederick.
How Much?: $9 to $13. $2 more on the day of the game.
Who will be there?: Pitcher Erling Moreno. Pitcher Duncan Robinson could start the season there. Last year’s first-round picks Alex Lange and Brendon Little could finish the season there. Third baseman Wladimir Galindo and outfielders DJ Wilson and Chris Pieters.
Best Promotions: April 7: Brian McCann bobblehead. April 21: Star Wars Night. July 1: Halloween Night. July 21: Freddie Freeman bobblehead. July 29: Christmas Vacation in July (great tacky uniforms). August 11: “Turn Two” bobblehead featuring Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres.
On the Road: The Pelicans play in the Carolina League, with other teams in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.
Website and tickets: www.myrtlebeachpelicans.com
South Bend Cubs
Where: Four Winds Field, located at 501 W. South Street, South Bend, IN 46601
What: South Bend is low-A, one level below Myrtle Beach.
When: The South Bend Cubs start on the road in West Michigan on April 5. Their home opener is April 7 against West Michigan. Their final home game is August 31 against Bowling Green and their season will end on Labor Day at Great Lakes.
How Much?: $11 to $13. One dollar more on the day of the game. “Belly Buster Mondays” are $19 to $21 and includes all-you-can-eat hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn.
Who will be there?: Pitchers Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Brendon Little and Jesus Camargo. Erich Uelmen should see some time here. Shortstop Aramis Ademan. Catcher Michael Cruz.
Best Promotions: April 29: Stu’s Birthday Bash. May 23: Ian Happ bobblehead. June 7: Margaritaville Night. June 6 and 13: Jason Heyward bobblehead. July 12: Star Wars Night. July 26: Football Night. August 9: Harry Potter Night.
On the Road: South Bend plays in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League, so there will be lots of home games in Michigan, Ohio, Bowling Green KY and Ft. Wayne IN. In the Western Division, the Cubs play at Peoria, Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities and Kane County this year.
Website and tickets: www.southbendcubs.com
Where: PK Park, located at 2760 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Eugene, OR 97401
What: The Emeralds are the Cubs’ Short-season A affiliate, one level below South Bend.
When: As a short-season club, the Ems don’t start their season until June 15 when they will host Vancouver. Their final home game is August 27 against Tri-City and they will finish the season on Labor Day at Boise.
How Much?: $9 to $15.
Who will be there?: Pitcher Jeremiah Estrada and outfielder Nelson Velazquez. Other than that, ask me again after the draft.
Best Promotions: The Emeralds are one of 33 minor league teams participating in the “Copa de la Diversión” event, which is a season-long Latino outreach program. On every Tuesday home game (June 19, July 3, July 17, July 24 and August 14) as well as Saturday, June 16, the Ems will become the “Monarcas de Eugene” complete with some sweet butterfly-logo caps (that are for sale, naturally).
Other than that promotion, ask me again later.
On the Road: The Emeralds play in the Northwest League, with road games in Oregon; Washington (both eastern and western); Vancouver, Canada; and Boise, ID.
Website and tickets: www.emeraldsbaseball.com
Arizona League Cubs 1 and Cubs 2
Where: Sloan Park, located at 2330 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Mesa, AZ 85201
What: The Cubs are fielding two rookie league teams this year. This is the lowest level of the minors in the US, although there are two teams in the Dominican Summer League as well.
When: June 18 to August 27
Tickets: Just show up. There are no tickets, no concessions and no promotions. Just a bunch of guys playing baseball with scouts, front office types and obsessive baseball fans in the stands.
Who will be there?: Check in after the draft.
On the Road: All the same stadiums of the Cactus League Spring Training in the Phoenix metro area.
Website and tickets: None.