Suplizio Field impresses on first day of JUCO

Suplizio Field impresses on first day of JUCO

Fans in the stands watch Game 1 of the 2012 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series on Saturday morning at the newly improved Suplizio Field. The environment at JUCO has always been tough to match, but fans and players have more to be excited about this year, playing for the first time at the pristine ballpark.



Jim Johns, 71, was a ball shagger at Lincoln Park — now Sam Suplizio Field — at the JUCO World Series in 1959, one season after graduating from Grand Junction High School.

Much has changed in five decades.

“They built a tower,” Johns said.

The wooden bleachers that at that time lined left and right field when the park was Lincoln Park are gone, and in their place, a city landmark has sprung.

The town’s sporting identity is its claim as host of the NJCAA Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, which began Saturday, as well as the posh stadium with box seats, an improved mezzanine and a towering press box and suites section that screams “big league.”

It’s classy. It’s even hip. And it’s Grand Junction’s.

“I’m so proud of Grand Junction,” Johns said during San Jacinto (Texas) College-North’s 5-2 win over Iowa Western Community College in the first game of the series. “If people want to know why JUCO is in Grand Junction, look at the crowd for this 9 a.m. game.”

From those such as Johns, who has been attending JUCO World Series games since the tournament moved here in 1959, to teenagers, Suplizio Field has become “the spot.”

“It feels like you’re in Denver; it’s classy,” 18-year-old Kelsey Slauson said.

Slauson and her friend, Mariah Miller, also 18 and from Grand Junction, said the stadium’s renovations have made the site appealing to the younger generation.

“JUCO is good for young people because at this time of the year it gives people under 18 something to do besides stay at home and wreak havoc,” Miller said. “My sister (Julia) had never been to JUCO, and now she’s coming.”

Suplizio, it seems to some fans, is a miniature replication of a big-league ballpark. Sure, corporate sponsorships ooze from the outfield wall ads. But the stadium is compact, cozy. Yet on Saturday, when winds were expected to reach 60 mph gusts, there was enough towering press box and surrounding stands and walls and trees to buffer incoming wind sheer.

“It’s awesome,” said Roger Davis, who said he’s been coming to JUCO since 1960. “I umpired a lot in Arizona at Triple-A ball fields, and this is equal to any of those fields.”

And San Jac and Iowa Western College got to break in the new digs.

“It’s clean looking; I love the mezzanine section,” San Jac coach Tom Arrington said. “You want to come to a tournament with a great stadium venue where everyone in the stands is comfortable.”

In seat No. 1 behind home plate, three rows up, was Johns. He said he paid $75 for the seat.

Before the renovations, Johns said he and friends and family would wake up at 6 a.m. before a game, bring the newspaper, maybe grab some McDonald’s Egg McMuffins, and head to the park by 7 a.m. to reserve the prime seats.

His JUCO roots dive back to when, in his first season as a ball-shagger, he kept a ball that was signed by the team from Paris, Texas.

“They had 11 guys,” Johns said, “and one had his arm in a cast. And they won the tournament. That’s my one memento.”

He added another of sorts on Saturday: Game No. 1 at the new Suplizio Field.

“Unbelievable,” Johns said.


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