Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Orem Owlz 5 at Ogden Raptors 14 (Pioneer League) - June 27, 2017


Ogden is about 35 miles north of Salt Lake City, making the Orem-SLC-Ogden trifecta a relaxing part of an otherwise taxing trip to the Pacific Northwest. With a full day, I stopped in at the Hill Aerospace Museum and Ogden's Union Station (four museums of its own) for a bit of tourism before heading over to Lindquist Field to see the Ogden Raptors take on the Orem Owlz for the second time in three days.



The ballpark, named for late co-owner John A. Lindquist (whose namesake business is a mortuary but they did not buy the naming rights), is located just a block north of historic 25th Street in downtown Ogden. The main gate is quite unique, with purple panels behind the stadium name on blue squares, and ticket windows just beneath. Oggie, the mascot who looks like he could give The Raptor (Toronto's NBA mascot) a run for his money, is outside to greet fans.



There are two types of ticket here: $12 reserved seats and $6 GA. This team draws amazingly well (averaging 3,450 in 2016) and when I arrived at the box office there were only GA tickets left. I wasn't planning to buy a reserved seat anyway, but was surprised at the support from the community.



Reserved seats stretch all the way from first base around home plate and down to the left field corner. As you can see in the shot below, taken during the game, most seats are actually filled.



There is a single general admission bleacher area at first base, and a small grass area behind the visiting bullpen where kids gather to chase foul balls.



There is also a deck behind left field known as the Tar Pit, but few fans use that.



You will notice that the sun sets behind third base, so sitting on the first base side will leave shading your eyes for much of the early part of the game. I moved around from place to place and found enough empty seats that were in the shade, so it wasn't a problem, but if you are a family of four, you might want to buy tickets in advance.



Much like Orem and Salt Lake City, the mountain backdrop here is spectacular. That's Malan's Peak, and there is a 5-mile hiking trail along it should you have time before the game.



The view from third base with the sun setting behind, leading to some difficult shadows on the field.



The shot below was taken just before the game is to start, as you can tell not only from the umpires standing at home plate, but the shadow has yet to creep into fair territory.



The scoreboard is beyond left field and has a small video board above the linescore.



Once the sun sets, the GA benches are quite nice as there is no protective netting. The seats past the third base dugout also provide a clear view.



The Raptors have been around since 1997 (and were originally based in Calgary from 1977-84), but Ogden has had pro ball before, including a star-studded Dodgers team in 1968. That's Bill Buckner, Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey, and Bobby Valentine in the shot below; the setting sun makes a good picture difficult with a phone camera.



There is also a Wall of Fame; Rickey Henderson played here when the Ogden A's were a AAA club in 1979. The A's became the Edmonton Trappers after being purchased by Peter Pocklington, and are now the Round Rock Express.



Current Dodger stars who got their start in Ogden are also featured along the concourse walls.



There is a sculpture atop the concourse wall behind home plate that has 9 players illustrating the various parts of the game. Once again, the sun made a good picture difficult, but I really liked this small touch that few fans will notice.



There are starting lineups, but they were not filled in properly: Orem was blank, and Ogden was incorrect. Thankfully I decided not to keep score on this night.



The high attendance was possibly due to the dollar taco promotion, which meant concession stand lines were long throughout the game, so I never did get around to enjoying the cheap eats. Good craft beer is also available, with 16-oz pours going for $6 and 24-oz for $8. I had to drive after the game, so did not partake in that either.



Overall, Lindquist Field is another beautiful minor league stadium that all ballpark travellers should visit. I am used to these smaller venues having lots of room, so it was a bit disconcerting at first to look for seats, but these are great fans who are fortunate to have a wonderful venue to enjoy the game. The sun can be a problem if you are not prepared, but now that you have read this, you will be prepared. So pay a visit to Ogden and enjoy a Raptors game!

The Game

This was my third time seeing Ogden and they have shown no trouble scoring runs, and that trend continued as they sent 10 men to the plate in the first, scoring 5. Raptors starter Edwin Uceta (below, being watched by former Expo pitching coach Bobby Cuellar) gave up no hits through three but was chased in the fourth as Orem scored 4 to make it interesting.



Ogden doesn't seem to like interesting games though, as they immediately responded with seven in the bottom half, including a grand slam by Luis Paz, to make it 12-4. I basically stopped paying attention around then, as Ogden romped to a 14-5 win. There were 12 total walks and four errors, another typical game for this level, but the game only took 3:07 for 330 pitches, a decent PPM of 1.764.



Notes

Torii Hunter Jr. (below) has just started his pro baseball career with Orem after playing college football at Notre Dame. He went 0-4, but is 7-19 overall in 5 games. It will be interesting to see if he can follow in his father's footsteps.



Before the game, I ran into Benjamin Hill, who writes for milb.com and maintains a blog of his own minor league roadtrips. He is quite well known among ballpark chasers, and we had a nice discussion about his work and current trip. He is doing a reverse of my Pioneer League jaunt, starting in Montana and moving south through Utah. It was great to finally meet him and see how much effort he puts into his job. Yes, he actually gets paid to do this! I'm not jealous.

Next Up

I'm heading to Montana for the Helena Brewers tonight and then Great Falls tomorrow as these two neighbours (90 miles apart) play a home-and-home series. Check back for updates as usual.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reno Aces 5 at Salt Lake Bees 6 (12, PCL) - June 26, 2017


With Orem and Ogden playing a four-game home and home series, I had Monday free. I could have returned to Orem, but with the Salt Lake Bees in town, I decided to revisit Smith's Ballpark and catch some AAA action for the only time on the trip.



The stadium is located just south of downtown and is easily reachable by the Trax light rail system if you want to avoid driving. Should you take the car, parking is $7 in the team lot, but there is street parking around. Take care to avoid the residential areas south of the ballpark; the best spot is on Main Street just a block east, where there are no restrictions after 6 p.m., perfect for a 7:05 start.



The box office is located next to the Home Plate entrance, and tickets range from $27 down to $11 for general admission. On Mondays, there is a family night promo where you can get 4 tickets and 4 hot dogs for $20 from Smith's, the supermarket that owns the naming rights. Some people try to resell those for $10 each outside, not a bad deal with the hot dog included.



Smith's, who bought naming rights in 2015, also sponsors the "Produce Race", where a cob of corn, carrot, apple, banana, and eggplant run along the warning track from center field to near home plate. Collisions are expected and usually one contestant will trip over the visiting bullpen, much to the amusement of the players there.



The stadium has two seating levels and the upper deck is mostly empty, so get the cheapest ticket you can and sit back and enjoy the view.



I was working my very occasional reporting job for this game, so did not have time to do much touring. I did notice a couple of past players who were now Angels along the wall.



There is also the Call-Up Worthy board, which has names going back to 1993. I was surprised to see Bartolo Colon's name here with the year 1997 as he did not play in the Minnesota organization (the Bees became an Angels affiliate in 2001). Turns out they are playing fast and loose with the term call-up; Colon made three rehab starts with Salt Lake in 2006. Another name I noticed was Shane Robinson, who made his MLB debut in 2009 with the Cardinals, but is now in the Angels organization and was in the starting lineup on this night.



Smith's Ballpark opened in 1994 and is one of the most scenic ballparks around, with the Wasatch Mountains in the distance, just like in Orem.



As the night progresses, the shadows on the mountains change as the sun sets. There were some rain clouds passing through that added to the scene; fortunately they missed the ballpark.



The lower level is not nearly as nice for the view, and if you are sitting far back, you will be under the overhang of the second deck, which doesn't make much sense when the weather is so nice.



Even the upper deck has shade if you want to stay out of the sun.



The seats might have been Kelly green once, but have faded over 23 seasons of Utah sunshine.



A night shot to complete the photo essay.



I last visited here in 2001 when the stadium was known as Franklin Covey Field and the team was the Stingers. Interestingly the promo on this night was 80's night, with the Bees wearing Salt Lake Trappers uniforms. The Trappers were a Pioneer League team that won 29 in a row in 1987 and are now the Ogden Raptors. I was glad to get back here and take in a game, and was fortunate that it lasted longer than usual. If you have yet to visit Salt Lake City, you should do so when the Bees are in town and check out Smith's Ballpark, which is not as boring as the name would suggest.

The Game

The Reno Aces (Arizona) were in town to face the Bees (Angels) and sent Frank Duncan (13th round, 2014, by Pittsburgh, now the D-Backs #24 prospect) to take on John Lamb, epitome of the AAAA pitcher (21-16, 3.75 ERA in AAA, 2-12, 6.17 in 24 MLB starts). In addition to Robinson, several other players were trying to get back to The Show, including Bees Michael Bourn, C.J. Cron, and Dustin Ackley, and Reno catcher Hank Conger, who was with the Angels from 2010-14.

The Aces scored three in the second, but the Bees came back with two in the bottom half, including a solo shot by Cesar Puello, once a top Mets prospect who has suffered both from an association with the Biogenesis Clinic that resulted in a 50-game suspension and injuries that have kept him from reaching the majors.

In the 4th, Puello singled, stole second and third, and scored on an Ackley single to tie the game. In the 5th, Salt Lake took the lead when Bourn homered down the right field line just 315 feet away. Another run in the sixth added some insurance but the Bees bullpen yielded a run in the eighth to make the home fans nervous in the ninth. With runners on first and second and one out, Jeremy Hazelbaker doubled. One run scored easily, but former Expo Mike Lansing sent Christian Walker, who was out at home! The game was tied, and sure enough, the Bees couldn't score in the ninth as we went to extras.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 12th. Most fans had left as it was past 11 p.m. with the game over four hours long. With Daniel Gibson on for his second inning of relief, Bourn led off with a single and Cron walked. After an infield fly, Bourn stole third and Puello walked. Nolan Fontana came up with a chance to win it and drove a liner to shallow center. Bourn, a speedster who led the NL in steals from 2009-11, challenged Socrates Brito's arm and slid home just in front of the tag to give the Bees the thrilling 6-5 win. An exciting ending to a game that lasted 4:16, with 416 pitches thrown for a PPM of 1.625, a rather slow-paced affair. With the perfect weather and wonderful view, I didn't mind at all.



Notes

The Bees moved here in 1994 as the Buzz, a nice touch with the NBA's Jazz also in town. Sadly, they had to change the name after they lost a dispute with Georgia Tech, whose mascot is also Buzz. Like any sports fan would confuse Georgia Tech with Salt Lake?

Fontana is one of my favourite players after I saw him play for the USA at the World University Baseball Championship in Japan in 2010. He is a Florida alum, so it was fitting that he got the game-winning RBI on the day the Gators won the first game of the College World Series. Fontana made his MLB debut back in May, but went 1-18 in a short stint, so hope he gets another shot soon.

Next Up

Back to the Pioneer League with Ogden tomorrow and Helena on Wednesday. As always, keep checking back for updates.

Best,

Sean

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ogden Raptors 9 at Orem Owlz 11 (Pioneer League) - June 25, 2017


After a brief foray into Colorado to start the trip, I returned to Utah for the second game in Orem. I took the southern route back, using I-70 for about 100 miles and then US-6 to I-15. Again the scenery is spectacular and I-70 has high speed limits and little traffic, making it a joy to drive. Once you get on US-6, the route becomes bogged down a bit with trucks and RVs, though there are plenty of passing lanes to minimize frustration.

Located about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City, Orem is the site of Utah Valley University as well as the Orem Owlz. In fact, the Owlz play out of Brent Brown Ballpark on UVU's campus, but they don't refer to it as that. In a dispute that goes back ten years, the team refuses to use the official name of the stadium, preferring to call it "Home of the Owlz". As you can see from that link, Brent Brown is not a baseball star, but a car dealer who purchased naming rights, so maybe Owlz ownership has a point, but it does seem silly. Interestingly, they don't have either stadium name on their tickets.

Anyway, I arrived at the ballpark before gates had opened and was a bit confused by the parking arrangements. The Owlz website says that parking is $5 (that comes with a $2 coupon that can be used at the concession stands) but there was nobody collecting cash. I parked in the UVU visitor lot, which has signs stating that pay parking is enforced till 10 pm, but the ticket booth was closed and there was no pay station. I decided to wait for a bit, and the arrival of other fans indicated that it was safe to leave the car there; I guess the parking charges apply during the week when the university is busier.



Tickets are $5 for GA, $9 for reserved, and $12 for premium, which are the first few rows of each section. There are no ushers checking tickets, but the stadium has only 2,500 seats and the team averages 1,500, so if you want a good seat without the concern of being kicked out, splurge for reserved.



As this is a college ballpark, it is pretty basic, with 9 sections of Kelly green seats from base to base, all protected by netting, and a berm down the left field line where kids scramble for foul balls. You can walk along the berm and take a picture of the entire seating bowl.



There are few amenities and I did not see any Owlz history on display. As well, there is no beer on sale as it a campus venue.



The only display related to the team are the Pioneer League pennants around the concourse for each of the championships the Owlz have won; 2005, 2007, 2009, and a fourth title last season. They also won in 2004 as the Provo Angels.



The lineup and standings are posted along a concourse wall. Rosters are available at the guest services desk, but are a buck apiece.



If you are there for a day game, make sure to get a seat under cover as the Utah sun can bake you in a very short time.



The highlight here is the Wasatch Range mountain backdrop behind the left field fence. Really one of the most scenic ballparks in the country.



Overall, Brent Brown Ballpark is really a college venue doubling as a minor league one. I've been to a few of these and they are all similar in that many of the typical minor league amenities are missing (especially beer). Still, the Home of the Owlz is worth a visit simply because of the beautiful location. If you happen to be in Salt Lake City in the summer, see if the Owlz are home and make the short drive to Orem to add this doubly-named stadium to your list.

The Game

It was my second day in a row seeing the Ogden Raptors (Dodgers) on the road. The Owlz are still an Angels affiliate, so it was a Pioneer League battle of Los Angeles. To give you an idea of the roster size in this league, only 2 Ogden starters from the day before were in the lineup on this day. Chris Rodriguez (4th round, 2016, Anaheim's #7 prospect) started for Orem against Osiris Ramirez. Neither pitcher did well, and we were tied at 5 in the fifth when the Owlz exploded for six runs, five of them off a woefully ineffective Conor Costello (32nd, 2016).



In the 7th, Austin Adams came in to the game for Orem. Adams has 53 games of MLB experience with Cleveland, but was dealt to the Angels this past offseason. He was injured while pitching for Salt Lake and this was his first rehab appearance coming off the DL. He quickly got two outs, but hurt himself again facing the third batter, and was removed, frustration obvious on his face. Evan Smith, a Blue Jays fourth rounder back in 2013, replaced Adams to finish the frame, but gave up three runs in the 8th as Ogden made it exciting. Zac Ryan came on for the save and gave up a walk and an RBI double before settling down to retire the next 3 batters as Orem won 11-9. A very typical rookie league game with 11 walks, a couple of hit batsmen, a balk, a wild pitch, and two errors. Brandon Marsh, the Angels #2 draft pick last year and their #3 prospect, went 1-5 with an RBI double.



Next Up

I'm staying in the Salt Lake City area for a couple of days, and checking out the AAA Bees tonight before heading to Ogden tomorrow. Check back for recaps.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ogden Raptors 9 at Grand Junction Rockies 0 (Pioneer League) - June 24, 2017


The Pioneer League is a rookie-level circuit, the same as the Appalachian League that I visited last year. The parks are usually smaller and simpler, without a lot of the features that you find in the larger stadiums. The season starts in mid-June and many of the players have just been drafted, so this is their first experience in pro ball. There are eight teams in this league, with four in Montana comprising the North Division, while the South has a team in Idaho Falls, two in the Salt Lake City area, and a geographic outlier in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Grand Junction is about 250 miles west of Denver, so I initially thought I would start my trip by flying there, but after some consideration I decided to fly into Salt Lake City and drive east, then backtrack the next day. As I would be taking the southern route back, I decided to try the northern route along US-40 and then CO-139 on this day. It is a very scenic drive that takes you through dinosaur country and provides plenty of stops to take pictures. There are few drivers along here as well, so you can really test your driving skill.



I arrived in Grand Junction and stopped in at my motel, which was a short walk from Suplizio Field. The ballpark is part of a complex that includes Stocker Stadium, which is used for football, on the other side. The two venues use the same concourse, which is quite unusual. Suplizio Field has been around since 1949 and has been the home of the Junior College World Series since 1958.



I walked over and arrived at the north gate (above), but most fans drive and park south of the stadium in the free lot. There are two types of tickets here: club seats for $11, and reserved seats for $9. The club seats consist of four sections along first base and are box seats with cup holders (below).



They are part of the Hamilton Family Tower, a tall building that was part of a renovation in 2012 and was just dedicated last month.





This area is significantly more comfortable than the reserved seats, because the tower blocks the sun that is setting behind it, leading to a strange shadow on the field (below) that is tough for fielders at times. The comfort factor has led season ticket holders to snap up nearly every club seat, so that only the reserved are available at the box office. You can't blame them, with game time temperature at 96 degrees; the seats in the shade were about 10 degrees cooler.



The reserved sections consist of benches starting at home plate and moving down the left field line. Most fans sit in the sections directly behind the plate and I was crowded in with families on both sides, so I moved over a couple of sections to give everybody a bit more room. One oddity here is that every second row of the benches doesn't have a seatback; savvy fans bring their own portable seat.



There is a section of seats in the outfield with numbers above that are related to the Juco World Series, but nobody sits here as it is looking directly at the sun for most of the game.



If you want a chance at foul balls, sit well down the lines where there is no netting. Few people bother to sit here because it too is in the sun for much of the game, so you should have a section to yourself.



The concourse is behind the grandstand and consists of several concession stands offering typical ballpark fare.



What impressed me the most was that all 16-ounce beers are only $3.50, including local craft options. I was quite glad that I had walked, and enjoyed a couple of good beers, including a local IPA.



Players walk from the clubhouse to the field through the outer walkway, providing autograph seekers with ample opportunity to grab a signature or two.



The scoreboard is accompanied by a video board that displays player stats, though no replays that I noticed.



Of course, there is a Road to the Show display, standings, and starting lineups around.



The feature I enjoyed most was the "Where Are They Now", which lists four players that have moved up in the Rockies organization. Hartford is their AA team and I just saw them last week, and in my honour, they discussed Drew Weeks!



There is also an area called Home Run Alley (oddly behind third base) that has a few names of those who were prominent in area sports.



Overall, Suplizio Field is one of the best ballparks I've seen at this level. It is big, has plenty of room, and of course, cheap beer. A great start to the trip, except for the game itself.

The Game

The Ogden Raptors (Dodgers) were visiting to complete a season-opening six-game homestand for the Rockies. In the previous 5 games, 109 runs had been scored, so I guess Suplizio is the Coors Field of the minors. Carlos Felix started for Ogden, while Justin Valdespina was toeing the rubber for the Rockies. Valdespina was not sharp, giving up a 2-run homer in the first to Brock Carpenter (20th round, 2016) and a 3-run shot to Romer Cuadrado in the second as Ogden stormed to a 6-0 lead. Felix lasted 5 shutout innings, and two relievers kept the Rockies off the board the rest of the way, while the Raptors offense added three singletons to win easily 9-0. A rare shutout for the home team who fell to 1-5 on the season, while Ogden evened their record at 3-3.

Notes

One of the promotions was Beer Batter, where if a certain opposing player struck out, Bud Light would be $2 for 10 minutes. Given that much better beer is only $3.50, I didn't see the point of this, but fans cheered when the designated Raptor struck out and dutifully reported to the concourse for their extra-cheap beer.



There is a bar called Wrigley Field just a few minutes from the ballpark. Definitely a good spot to stop in on the way home, especially if you are staying within walking distance.

I was surprised at how many of the players are undrafted free agents of Latino descent (about half I'd estimate). It has to be quite the culture shock to be plunked in a small town like this and I wonder if teams are doing enough to help them out. Most of these players have no shot at the big leagues and are essentially just organizational filler. With Roberto Osuna's recent admission of anxiety, I think we might see more attention paid to the treatment that these foreign minor leagues receive.

Best,

Sean