Utah teams look forward to shorter bus rides
Yes, the minor leagues are not so fondly known as “the bus leagues.”
Long, overnight bus rides from one town to the next every two or three days is just part of paying your dues to get to the big leagues.
However, when the Colorado Rockies moved their Pioneer League Rookie-level team from Casper, Wyo., to Grand Junction, general managers in the other cities started getting out their mileage maps.
“On the seven-day forecast on the local news area map, we see Grand Junction,” said Dave Baggott, the president and general manager of the Ogden Raptors. “It’s part of our weather pattern.”
Being in that weather pattern will save his club about six hours round-trip each time it boards the bus for Colorado.
Ditto for Orem, which will be Grand Junction’s “travel partner.”
Brett Crane, the 26-year-old GM of the Orem Owlz, figures Casper is a 7 1/2- to 8-hour bus trip.
“We’re hoping Grand Junction will be about four,” he said of the trip from the southern edge of the Salt Lake City area.
Ogden is north of Salt Lake, adding about an hour to the trip.
Both Utah general managers have seen photos of Suplizio Field and are impressed with the facility’s upgrade, especially from Casper’s field. They’re curious to see how the city embraces the first-year pro club.
“We’re extremely excited,” Crane said. “The facility there, I haven’t seen it, just the photos, but it’s a first-class facility and a town that obviously supports baseball in how it’s supported the Junior College World Series.”
Baggott’s club has led the league in attendance every year since 1997 and has drawn more than 130,000 every year since 2004. He said if the fans support the club, “You could have pro ball there forever.
“With that stadium and the size they have, sooner rather than later they should lead the league (in attendance). We’ve led the league since 1997, and we’re proud of that. I’d be even more proud if another team beat us. That would be good for the league.”
Other than the name on the jerseys, not much will change for the clubs once they’re on the field.
“The atmosphere and the stadium will really change,” Crane said. “With the support Grand Junction will give them, it could certainly affect the way both teams are playing. I think the playing surface will be the biggest benefit as far as an on-field experience for us and the Rockies players.”
Orem drew about 2,700 a game last season, Ogden about 3,400.
Much like the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series crowds, Baggott said to expect Rockies games to be a social gathering place on a summer evening in Grand Junction.
“Expect to see a brand of baseball they won’t see at a college level,” he said. “The game is faster. They will see mistakes, but not many mistakes.
“The one thing they’ll see more than anything is the venue itself, and going to a Grand Junction Rockies game will not be so much of purity of baseball as enjoying the social aspect of the ballpark.”
Sure, it’s all about root, root, root for the home team, but many fans aren’t watching the scoreboard — they’re people-watching.
“We did a survey, asked 100 people immediately after the game who won, and 42 percent couldn’t tell us,” Baggott said. “You can’t promote wins and losses, but you can promote entertainment. They’ll do a good job with that.”