Smith’s Ballpark – Utah Utes
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Smith’s Ballpark-Utes Style
The Pac-12’s newest baseball program also boasts the conference’s largest baseball venue, though it isn’t the primary tenant. The Utah Utes play at Smith’s Ballpark, also home to the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. Though it’s probably unfair to compare the game day experiences of these two clubs, certain elements make it just about unavoidable.
Food & Beverage 3
Only one food stand is open for Utah games: the Grand Slam Grill. The featured items here are what you’d expect from somewhere with “Grill” in the name: chicken tender or cheeseburger baskets ($7.25), corn dog baskets ($6), chicken tender sandwiches ($6.25) burgers ($5.75), hot dogs ($3.25 regular, $4.25 jumbo), corn dogs ($3.50), garlic or cheese fries ($4.25, $3.75 for plain fries), chips ($2) and peanuts ($4.25). Drinks include Coke products (regular $3.25, large $4) and various bottled drinks ($3.75-$4.25).
For as much fun as Bees games are in this park, Utah games are alarmingly sedate by comparison. I went to two Utah baseball games in a month’s time, both against in-state rivals: BYU and Southern Utah. During the BYU game, the video board on the scoreboard was turned off, outfield fence advertising was non-existent, and entry to the grass berm beyond the outfield was blocked (somewhat unsuccessfully) by caution tape.
The Southern Utah game, meanwhile, was the opposite. The video board was used for player bios, the Bees’ standard outfield ads were present, and the berm was open. While this helped make the game less drab, the tiny crowd did not. Even ball and t-shirt tosses were done with minimal enthusiasm by those who tossed and received.
Both games featured something else lacking: the Ute logo. Signs on the stadium’s exterior tout Spring Mobile as “Home of Utah Baseball.” Inside, however, only a couple of promotion tables and handful of Utah/Pac-12 flags tied to steel gratings display the traditional drum and feather. Obviously, there is only so much branding the school can do because they’re sharing the park. Even so, there’s no debating the pride instilled by fans and alumni seeing logos and wordmarks in as many spots as possible. Otherwise, it just feels plain.
New developments nearby have helped spruce up this section of Salt Lake City, but it’s still somewhat warehouse-heavy. Going a couple of blocks east to State Street gives you plenty of eating options.
On the way to State Street, you’ll run into Big Kahuna Pizza. Its website touts itself as the “Best Pan Pizza In Town.” That’s obviously up for debate, but the uniqueness of many of their pies is not. Two specialty pies worth a try are the “Kanaka” (Kalua pork with BBQ sauce) and the “Pake” (sweet and sour stir-fry chicken).
If a pub’s more your style, Piper Down is the place for you. “Utah’s Premier Irish Pub” prides itself on being not just a great place to eat and drink, but to make new friends. There are plenty of choices on the menu. If you’re feeling Irish, you may like the Irish Nachos, which replace corn chips with fried potatoes and have corned beef as the protein. Leaning more American? You can build your own cheesesteak for just $7.
For info on other nearby food choices, including the great dive bar Lucky 13, check out the Salt Lake Bees review.
Heading into the game against BYU, I figured there would be a heightened atmosphere, even on a Tuesday night. The crowd, announced as 900, was decent for a college game here, but was about one-third to one-half pro-BYU. Overall, the crowd seemed smaller given the inescapably large number of empty seats around them. My second visit, pitting the Utes against Southern Utah, was even smaller. The box score says 425 fans showed up, a figure I would call more than generous.
Many of the fans wore Ute red and were somewhat engaged, but were often matched or exceeded in enthusiasm by fans of each visiting team, particularly during the BYU game.
College baseball has long been a hard sell in Utah. A season that starts in February prevents local teams from playing at home for at least a month, stifling crowd momentum. A look at UtahUtes.com shows a concerted effort to get fans out to the games. Most notable are coupons for up to six free tickets in exchange for basic contact information. Some are tied to specific events (Youth Day, Father/Son Day, etc.) but others appear to be valid for any game. This helped bring my family to the park, but also lessened the sting of having to leave early when my son got the sniffles.
Normally $6 for Bees games, the official lot across the street from the park is free when the Utes play. You won’t find parking attendants in this lot during college games but it’s still the best, safest spot around by a wide margin. The TRAX light-rail system also has a stop nearby, if you’re OK with public transportation.
While perhaps diminishing the park’s atmosphere, the smaller crowds make restrooms and concourses even more serviceable than they already are.
Return on Investment 4
Simply put, you can’t beat free. Easily accessible free admission and parking, not to mention plenty of free souvenirs (schedule posters, etc.) make for a thrifty family outing. The lack of additional frills and a merely moderate energy level keep me from giving a full 5. But if a more mellow baseball experience is your thing, you’ll love it here.
One point for the view. No matter what is (or isn’t) going on inside the park, the view beyond the outfield is stupendous, highlighted by Mount Olympus beyond dead center. Utah fans also get a glimpse of the Block U on Mount Van Cott beyond left field.
Even with a massive fundraising effort underway by the Utah athletic department, it appears baseball is far down the priority list for the school with the smallest athletic budget in the Pac-12.
Having been blessed with a more-than-adequate option in Smith’s Ballpark, the onus is on the school to make the in-game experience more compelling. Being consistent in use of the video board, keeping the berm open regularly, and doing all they can to apply the school brand within the park are small tweaks that can help.
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