With the Owlz – Day One

Chris Armstrong started Saturday night for Orem against Casper.

Explain to me why a 7:30 AM flight from Orange County to Salt Lake City is $200 but the same flight at 10:30 AM is $400 …

Anyway, I flew into the Salt Lake City Airport yesterday morning for my annual visit with the Orem Owlz.  Angels fans in Southern California should consider Salt Lake/Orem a weekend trip; it’s only a 90-minute flight, and if you choose the less ridiculous of the two aforementioned rates it’s fairly affordable.

The flight arrived early and, after baggage claim (always a heartstopper because I fear my camera gear won’t show up) and car rental, I had plenty of time to kill before a 7 PM game.

Worthless trivia time — the Rancho Cucamonga, Orem and Salt Lake ballparks are all on the Interstate 15 Freeway. You could leave The Epicenter, head north on the I-15, drive about 550 miles, take the Exit 269 off-ramp in Orem, and the ballpark is nestled against the northbound on-ramp. The stadium is on the Utah Valley State College campus. Head north another 40 miles or so and Franklin Covey Field is about three blocks east of the freeway.

I chose to pass the time at Thanksgiving Point, which is — well, I can’t think of a word to describe it, because it really doesn’t have a theme. It has curio shops, a country farm, a dinosaur museum, and a movie theatre complex. They also have a splendid garden where weddings are held. Click on the link, and if you can think of a word to describe it, feel free to post a reply.

Casper catcher Beau Seabury tried to sell it as an out, but the umpire ruled that Ryan Kennedy scored in the bottom of the 1st on a sacrifice fly by Efren Navarro to give Orem a 1-0 lead.

The movie theatre is run by Megaplex Theatres. Here’s a concept I’ve never seen before, but hopefully the other chains adopt it. When you walk in to buy your tickets, a touch-screen shows you a seating chart. Taken seats are red, available seats are green. You touch the seats you want, and tickets print out with that seating assignment. No more standing in line for hours for blockbuster films, no more worrying that someone will nab your seat if you slip out for a potty break. It makes sense; after all, we do it for sporting events and concerts.

After seeing a movie (Ratatouille), I stopped by the Orem Owlz’ office to pick up credentials and renew acquaintances. GM Zach Fraser and Assistant GM Sarah Hansen are two of the youngest executives in minor league baseball, but they’ve been with the operation since Provo Angels days. (The franchise played from 2001-2004 at BYU’s ballpark six miles to the east.) It’s always heartwarming to see friends I’ve made with our affiliates; Sarah was kind enough to say I’m “part of the family.”

Efren Navarro homered in the bottom of the 3rd to cut Orem’s deficit to 6-4.

Zach showed me a wall outside the weightlifting room where he’s posted 8"x10" photos from the FutureAngels.com Photo Galleries of Provo/Orem players who’ve gone on to the major leagues. They were kind enough to post a sign giving credit to me and the web site.

Then it was off to the hotel. The Cottontree Inn is next to the Provo River, which thanks to the drought is more like a creek, but there’s a paved path where I can go running, and the view here is stunning.

I also stopped to get insect repellant — more about that later.

Anyway, I returned to the ballpark around 4 PM. Not a lot of practicality went into designing the stadium. Staff parking is at the lower level, but if you enter through the office the only way to the field is to pass through the clubhouse and dugout. If you go up to the main parking lot and enter via the concourse, there’s no way down to the field. When I was here for their opening weekend in 2005, the college had a guy here sawing through the concrete wall next to the Owlz’ dugout so they could install a gate. To get from the concourse to the field, you have to walk down a steep grass berm to use the gate. Try doing that with heavy camera gear. (I did in 2005 and sprained my foot …)

So I chose the more horizontal route.  I knew the players would be out on the field for batting practice, so the clubhouse was fairly deserted.  The Angels-Yankees game was on; if you watched yesterday’s classic duel, this was around the 11th inning or so.  Anyway, I kept going, dumped my gear in the far end of the dugout (there’s no camera well), paid my respects to manager Tom Kotchman and pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman, and got ready for the game.

With the rookie teams in Orem and Tempe, pre-game preparation is a bit different because I don’t know most of the players.  So the first thing to do is get hold of a roster, and start putting numbers with faces.  Part of the fun of doing this site is knowing that, in the years ahead, some of these players and their parents will become acquaintances if not friends.  This is where it begins.

Like Southern California, Utah has been suffering through a drought.  A massive wildfire began Friday and spread yesterday through central Utah, cutting off the I-15.  (So forget that Rancho to Orem drive for the next few days …)  The temperature was about 100 degrees, but it’s not unusual here in the late afternoon to get storm clouds and the occasional shower.  The winds pick up too, and just before game time it was gusting pretty fierce.  A flock of seagulls circled nearby on the college campus; why, I’ve no idea, but what’s left of the Great Salt Lake is just a few miles to the west.

As the winds calmed down, the bugs picked up.

Mosquitos, gnats, dragonflies.  Creepy-crawlies.  You name it, it was airborne.

Despite the thorough spraying back at the hotel, I still got a few bites.  By mid-game, the players were using repellant too between innings, complaining about all the bugs out on the field.  The groundskeeper told me this was once swampland, so they were here long before we were.

The game was pretty typical Pioneer League fare.  The final score was 11-10.  It was a game both sides deserved to lose, but Casper deserved it more for poor fielding.  This is a very hitter-friendly league, so you really have to be skeptical about offense numbers.

I’ll try to post some video before heading to the ballpark.  Game time today is 4:00 PM MDT.  It should be nice and toasty … but I’ll gladly take that over the bugs …

UPDATE 11:45 AM PDTClick Here to watch video highlights from Saturday night’s Orem-Casper game. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required. (If you tried this link earlier and had problems, try it again, it should work now.)


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