Spring Mobile Ballpark, Salt Lake City, UTAH
Number of states: 31
States to go: 19
Number of games: 1
First game: July 4, 2010 (Tacoma Rainiers 10, Salt Lake Bees 4)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)
2010 brought about perhaps the most ambitious 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip in Hamann family history. The first couple of years brought us the nearest ballparks–Spokane, Tacoma, Salem-Keizer. One year we flew to northern California. But a friend’s wedding in Montana on July 12 led us to make 2010 a huge drive–all the way to Utah. Add a toddler to the mix and the desire not to drive more than 4-5 hours in a day, and you’ve got yourself quite a trip. It could have backfired horribly, but it actually went very well. Three days from Portland, we found ourselves staying in downtown Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from the gorgeous Spring Mobile Ballpark.
The ballpark’s location is as excellent as you’d want any ballpark to be. Since Salt Lake City has the fortune of being west of the mountains, unlike its unfortunate PCL cousin in Colorado Springs, there are gorgeous Rocky Mountain panoramas visible from every seat in the ballpark. The setting sun reflects off the mountains, making for an excellent distraction during the game. And its quick, accessible location from downtown SLC is also quite welcome–I was able to walk there from my hotel in about 40 minutes, but there’s a ballpark stop on SLC’s light rail system, so that walk wasn’t really necessary. While circumnavigating the stadium, as I like to do, wasn’t possible (maybe because of fireworks setup), there was still a good atmosphere set up for the July 4 game, with people lining up outside early.
My family was among those lining up early, since for the first time in my ballpark travels, I had secured general admission seats for a game. We didn’t know we would be doing this trip until all other seats for the big fireworks game had sold out, so we grabbed our baseball picnic blanket, a couple layers of clothing, sun goop, and a few toys for the boy, and prepared to set up for the game.
I knew that there would be a pretty big rush for the best spots in general admission, so we got to the ballpark early. Michelle put Steven on our monkey leash, which was admired by our line-mates. In fact, as she let him burn off steam on his leash, one octogenarian woman approached Michelle and complimented her on the choice to use the leash. She used to get a lot of lip from strangers back in the day, she said, so she was happy to see someone using it. (This was an especially refreshing compliment after a batty old bag said something shitty to us about the leash the previous day at the Boise Zoo.) Anyway, all was right with the world: we were at the front of the line, and I knew where I wanted to sit on the outfield berm.
But then something went wrong. About ten minutes before the gates opened, an usher came by to zap everyone’s tickets. Ours were invalid. Huh? I think they sent us multiple copies of the tickets and I printed out the wrong one. I was a little annoyed when she told us to go to the main ticket office to get everything straightened out, since we’d lose our choice spot in line that I planned ahead for. My wife–usually the one who gets upset at customer service–told me to chill out, that I could come back tomorrow if we got a lousy seat. So I said goodbye to my wonderful line spot and went to the ticket booth, who worked out the problem. We then got back to the back of the line.
Here’s where I became a big fan of the fine people of Utah.
While I was in the back of the line cursing my luck just a minute or two before the gates opened, incredibly, a woman came back to us from the front of the line and told us that nobody would mind if we went back to our previous spot. “You earned it…you were here early,” she said. Highly grateful, we went back there and offered to buy anybody who wanted it something to drink. Everyone declined.
Thanks, Utah. I deeply appreciate your generous spirit…and actively seeking us out to bring us to the spot I wanted.
We immediately zipped to exactly the spot I wanted…about halfway up the berm, about thirty feet off the foul pole. I figured that people would eventually edge in front of us, and they did…but from their spot, they had to peer through the fence. Had we been up higher, we would have had to deal with many, many people walking around, in, and out in front of us. Here, we almost never did. People mostly honored (though not always, as the photo shows) the edict to stay back from the wall, so the view wasn’t actually all that bad. But the atmosphere, not surprisingly, wasn’t too baseball-based out on the picnic blankets. And, while I’d be bugged by that in the stands, I was totally fine with that out on the grass. It was a carnival-family atmosphere there that was kind of nice, and while that might sometimes bother me, enough people watched the Bees get slaughtered that one could follow the game without appearing strange. It felt right to watch the ballgame surrounded by families hanging out together–I got the warm fuzzies.
Which led me to another realization. I can barely remember what I did on July 4th before Michelle and I began this tradition eight years ago. I seem to recall two ways to celebrate. One was watching while your crazy neighbor set off illegal fireworks while listening for the cops. The other was finding a sanctioned show, setting up a blanket, and killing time for several hours while the sun set, sincerely hoping that rain didn’t ruin everything. As a kid, I found those hours mercilessly boring. Really, going to a ballpark just gives you a game to fill all those hours in with. It was a nice feeling. And, this being Utah, there were a lot of kids around. Some watched the game, and some didn’t, but all were well behaved, perhaps because those who wanted to whale on each other were segregated off to the other side of the grassy hill, out of range of both the picnic blankets and the ballgame. So really, what the fourth of July general-admission ticket does is provides something to do for the waiting period before the fireworks. Sold.
The Bees did a fabulous job of providing stuff to look at between innings without negatively impacting the baseball experience. There was nothing to interrupt the baseball, which was particularly important at such a high level. And between-innings distractions were rather rare as well. It wasn’t until after the game that I realized how masterful the Bees were at handling fan experience. The fireworks didn’t get started until about 15-20 minutes after the final out. In most ballparks, they might play a little music, but they mostly just make you wait. At Spring Mobile Ballpark, instead, they had several fan-participation promotions during the gap. This shows such common sense that I can’t believe more teams don’t follow suit. At the moment that people might get bored, when there’s no baseball to be seen–that’s the best possible moment to do some silly promotions and put them on the scoreboard. It was a splendid idea and well-executed.
Speaking of promotions, this particular game featured a marriage proposal. Now, I’m 100% on record as being against a ballpark marriage proposal. But this one was a little, um, strange. There was a competition where two people had to sing the jingle for Whipple Plumbing (which is to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” with “Whipple” where “Day-O” would be…I assume it’s ubiquitous in Utah for everyone to know it). This man sang it (poorly), then a woman sang it and won. But then it became clear that the man and woman knew each other because then the promotions guy said “Well, there’s one more thing to do…” and then let the man propose to the woman, who said yes. I certainly wish them well…but I think they’ve set up a future problem. When people ask them how he proposed, they’ll have to use the words “Plumbing” and “promotion” in their response. In all honesty, even among ballpark proposals, this one is on the bottom side. Why must all of our important life moments now be public rather than private?
Beyond this man’s marriage proposal, there were a couple ofsmall irritants I found at the ballpark. While the stadium’s positioning next to the Rockies cements its local feel, I think they could have done better on the inside of the park to make this a place more definitively Utahan. For instance, they had many homages to baseball all-stars up throughout the ballpark. But there was no connection to Utah. I’d much prefer “Hall-Of-Famers from Utah” or “All-Stars who played in Salt Lake City.” As it is, it felt incongruous. More incongruous were the strange movie posters all around the joint. I don’t care how much money they get for the posters, they didn’t fit in. Additionally, they were for month-old movies that surely had already succeeded or failed at the box office on their own merits. Who would go to get some nachos and decide they needed to see a film?
Still, there was much to love about this place, and its high score is richly deserved. In fact, I loved it so much that I returned the next day, dropping $24 for a behind-home-plate ticket while my wonderful wife took care of the baby in the hotel. But there was a major test that night…the baby was majorly cranky, and when I got a text from wife-at-her-wits-end, I left the game in the fourth inning–before it became official. So I can only give myself credit for going to one game here, but I think I proved that, as much as I loved Spring Mobile Ballpark, I love my wife more.
I hope to return here. It was simply gorgeous.
Regional feel: 7.5/10
I’d like a little more in the concourse to tell me I’m in Utah: the baffling Hall of Fame baseball photos celebrate baseball history, but not local baseball history. Nevertheless, you just can’t argue with that mountain view.
Again, the view. The ballpark itself is not terribly unique, but it’s still lovely.
The Bees have mastered the art of well-timed promotions that do not detract from baseball. And the fireworks show is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Lovely view. Minor deduction for the ballpark itself being not gorgeous, but with the mountains, who cares?
Like the circumnagivability of the place, and the way they segregate those who want to whale on each other from those who want to watch the game. Would like a bit more local flavor.
Lots of great people. Wonderful human beings in the ticket line did my family and I a wonderful favor at absolutely no benefit to themselves. They made their city and state look wonderful.
Can’t argue with that first night there…a beautiful night, a fantastic pitching performance, and the best fireworks show I’ve seen at a ballgame (and I’ve seen a few).
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
The Rainiers’ Michael Pineda, a 21-year-old making only his 3rd Triple-A start, steals the show. He throws 6 perfect innings before getting knocked around a little in the 7th, but appears to be a stud in the making.
Chris Woodward and Mike Carp provide the lion’s share of the offense. Woodward gets three hits–two off battered starter Fernando Rodriguez–and Carp hits a mammoth home run over our heads in right field.
(Written July 2010.)