In 2014, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox will switch conferences for the first time since 2004.
With the move of the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate — the Tucson Padres — to El Paso, Texas, the PCL underwent realignment of the Pacific and American conferences this past off-season to make traveling a little more feasible.
With the elevation of Security Service Field at 6,531 feet, it is the highest professional baseball stadium in the United States making it one of the more hitter friendly parks. Because of the realignment this year, the Sky Sox will have to adapt to seven different ballparks with a combined elevation lower than Security Service Field. The seven other American Conference ballparks sit at a combined elevation of roughly 5,000 feet — about 1,500 feet lower than Security Service Field — with all of them being far more pitcher friendly.
This will create a challenge for Sky Sox players on road trips after playing the past several seasons at some of the highest ballparks in the United States, including Aces Ballpark in Reno, Nev. and Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, N.M.
Over the course of the next seven weeks, we will take a look at the seven teams the Sky Sox will see a lot more often this year than years past.
The first featured team will be the Iowa Cubs — the Triple-A affiliate for the Chicago Cubs.
Like Colorado Springs baseball, America’s Pastime in Iowa dates back to the turn of the 20th century.
Pro baseball was first introduced in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1887 and over the course of time would come and go before settling in Iowa’s capital city in 1969 and has been the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate since 1981.
Iowa was part of the American Association before the league disbanded and was absorbed into the PCL in 1998.
Since its absorption into the PCL, Iowa has consistently been in the top half of the league in attendance figures and drew a franchise-record 576,310 in 2007.
Some players who might be on the I-Cubs’ roster in 2014 will be Mike Olt, Javier Baez and Matt Szczur. Each player ranks in the top 10 of the Cubs’ top prospects, according to MLB.com.
Baez is currently No. 1 on the Cubs’ prospect list, and might see time on the big league roster in 2014. The shortstop, who ranks as the 16th best prospect in baseball, had one heck of a 2013 and finished with 37 home runs, 111 RBI, 34 doubles and stole 20 bases in High-A and Double-A.
Olt, a third baseman and the Cubs’ fifth-ranked prospect, started last season in the Texas Rangers’ organization before being traded, along with RHP C.J. Edwards and RHP Justin Grimm, to the Cubs in exchange for Matt Garza.
Olt struggled last season hitting just .201, but did have 15 home runs, 20 doubles and 42 RBI at the Double-A and Triple-A level.
Szczur also might see time in the Bigs in 2014. The outfield prospect is No. 9 on the Cubs’ prospect list and spent all of 2013 in Double-A with the Tennessee Smokies. He hit .281, stole 22 bases and is rated to have plus speed and above-average fielding.
Marty Pevey will once again be at the reigns for Iowa entering his second year as manager for the Cubs, which marks the first time since Mike Quade managed the I-Cubs from 2003-06 that Iowa will have the same manager for consecutive seasons.
In his first season, Pevey led the club to a 66-78 record and missed the playoff by just four games.
Notable Alumni: LHP Vida Blue played for Iowa in 1970 prior to becoming a six-time All-Star, Cy Young and MVP award winner. RHP Eddie Cicotte played for the then-Des Moines Champs in 1906 where he won 18 games. Cicotte went on to win 209 games at the Major League level with Detroit, Boston and is most famous for his time with the Chicago White Sox where he was a member of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. After a Hall of Fame playing career in Chicago, Ryne Sandberg managed the 2010 Iowa Cubs to an 82-62 record. Sandberg is currently a first-year manager for the Philadelphia Phillies. RHP Greg Maddux recently was inducted to the Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best crafty pitchers in the history of the game. Prior to making the Majors, Maddux played for Iowa in 1986 and 1987 where he won 13 games against just one loss. Tony LaRussa, who also was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager, played parts of four seasons with Iowa from 1969-71 and in 1976.
Sky Sox head-to-head Record vs. Iowa: 68-75, 39-33 at home, 29-42 on road
Recent match-ups: Since 2011, the Sky Sox are 9-3 against the I-Cubs.
Total elevation in Des Moines: About 958 feet
Mascot: Cubbie Bear
Food item: Stand out item that looks worth considering is the Philly Cheese Steak Nachos.
Distance from Security Service Field to Principal Park: 740 miles
Memorable games - On August 28th, 2003, Sky Sox pitchers Jason Young, Chris Gissell and Tim Young combined to throw a two-hitter in Des Moines to beat the I-Cubs, 5-1.
On six separate occasions, Sky Sox players have hit back-to-back home runs against Iowa. The most recent being on May 10th, 2006. Ryan Shealy and Jeff Baker took pitches deep from Iowa’s Ryan O’Malley in the fifth inning. The Sky Sox won 2-1.
Below you can find the realigned divisions for the 2014 season. The teams who changed divisions are italicized.
Pacific Northern: Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, Tacoma
Pacific Southern: Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake
American Northern: Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Omaha
American Southern: Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Round Rock
Nashville will go to American Southern, and Colorado Springs will take Nashville’s spot in the American Northern.
Albuquerque will go to Pacific Southern and Fresno will take Colorado Springs’ spot in the Pacific Northern.
- Oklahoma City and Memphis switched divisions. Previously in the American Southern, OKC will move to the American Northern and Memphis will move to the American Southern.