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

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