A Night at the ballpark

Last week we took in a Salt Lake Bees game as a family to celebrate the boys’ birthdays. Before we moved to the Salt Lake area we were starting to make a habit of taking in a few Boise Hawks games every year. Now that we’re settled here in Utah and the new season has begun, we decided it was time to continue that habit.

We were impressed by Spring Mobile Ballpark, the home of the Bees. When I mentioned our plans to a co-worker they stressed repeatedly that it’s a nice, well-maintained park. I’ve never heard someone get excited about a ballpark before, so I was curious, perhaps even a little dubious.

Not anymore. Spring Mobile is a nice park. It’s also the largest park in the Pacific Coast League, with a capacity of 15,500. I never would have guessed. For a park so large it’s still rather intimate. We were in the upper deck, but had no trouble at all seeing. It seems like we could see even better than at Memorial Stadium in Boise, which seats only about 3000.

What impressed me more, however, was the design of the stadium. It’s a very open design. The main level concourse, which holds most of the concessions stands and amenities, wraps around behind the main level seating, and is completely open, so that you can still see much of the field while buying your peanuts and cracker-jacks. Stairs next to the main entrances to the main level seating lead up to the upper-level seating. At the very top of the stadium are private skyboxes.

Out beyond the outfield fence is the general admission area, a grassy hill where fans can go spread out a blanket and watch the game (and bake on hot days). There’s a little train for the kids to keep them entertained, and private picnic areas are available for group use. The seats in the main grandstand are not that much more than the general admission, but I suspect there’s an even more relaxed, festive atmosphere out there.

Everything is in good shape. The field looked immaculate. The bullpens are right along the sidelines beyond first and third base, and not enclosed at all, so you can watch them warm up the relief pitchers right along with the game. Considering the size of the lot, they make pretty good use of space.

One of the best features of the field is it’s open view of the Wasatch Front. We picked a beautiful night, one of the first warm, clear days after about a week straight of rainy weather. We sat on the first base side, nicely shaded by the overhang, looking straight at the mountains as the sunset turned them orange, then purple.

The park designers also took the expanse of the field into consideration when building the scoreboard. The main animatronic scoreboard is above right field, which for half the ballpark means you have to look completely away from action to check the count, the score, etc. So the designers added another scoreboard along the edge of the upper deck along the third-base side that showed the score, a few basic stats, and the pitch count. I don’t know if we had something similar on our side for the left-field stands to see.

As for the game…well, about all we could had asked is a bit more drama. We had no idea going in, but the Las Vegas 51s are eight games behind the Southern division leader, while the Bees are leading the Northern division, and are tied for 5th place in the league. The Bees shut down the 51s for all but one inning, while exploding out of the gate with a 3-run first inning, and adding to the score in four other innings, winning 10-2.

The kids enjoyed themselves, which was the main goal, of course. The weather, which started warm, got chilly rather quickly as the sun went down, but hey! It’s only April! I suppose one of the drawbacks of a larger park is that it’s harder for the mascot to get around. Humphrey Hawk would usually visit every part of the stadium during a game. We only saw Bumble Bee from a distance until after the game, when the kids got to pose for a picture with him.

On the other hand, as soon as the game was over the staff got set up quickly with cordone and a stoplight for traffic control, and let the kids out onto the field to run the bases. They do that at the Hawks games, too, but you have to be in position at the right time or you miss it. The Bees make it part of the event, and are prepared to accommodate all comers. We didn’t do it, but we might next time now that we know.

Even the parking wasn’t too bad. We were sure we needed to get there at least half an hour early, and so were nervous when we got there only 15 minutes before the start. But we found a spot, walked a short distance to the park, and were in our seats before the National Anthem. Traffic wasn’t all that bad getting out and heading home, either. Granted it’s early in the season, and still cold at night, so the stadium was maybe half full, if that. And some people probably left early since it was such a blow-out. But we usually had a much harder time getting out after a Hawks game.

All in all, it was a good night. The kids had fun, we didn’t have too much stress (okay, I enjoyed the game too), and we were home before Richard zonked out. I suspect we’ll be going again.

(Stay tuned as I compare/contrast our experience with the Salt Lake Bees with our upcoming night at the Real Salt Lake (pro soccer).)

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