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.


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.



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