Dick Monfort believes Salt Lake City is fertile ground to grow the Colorado Rockies brand.
For the last handful of springs, Colorado ownership has visited northern Utah in hopes of increasing its fan base. That hope was the driving force behind Saturday afternoon’s exhibition game between the Rockies and Seattle Mariners at Spring Mobile Ballpark.
First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m., though fans with tickets can arrive at 10:30 a.m. to watch batting practice, a treat at 4,200 feet.
“We want Utah, specifically Salt Lake, to be Rockies fans,” said Monfort, Colorado chairman and CEO. “How do we build our brand here in Salt Lake? [The exhibition] is a perfect tie.”
Utah baseball fans certainly reacted, selling out the game within an hour of the Salt Lake Bees’ announcement, which was made in late November. Spring Mobile Ballpark holds 15,500 spectators.
“We had hoped for 5,000 [tickets sold] by January and then hope for big walk-up [attendance],” Salt Lake Bees general manager Marc Amicone said. “I was pleasantly surprised, we’re so used to walk-up with the Bees.
“This is like a concert.”
Monfort joked that maybe Salt Lake didn’t ask enough for tickets, which went for between $15 and $49 dollars.
“It goes to show that this is a good baseball town,” he said. “People do like to watch Major League Baseball and they like to watch the [prospects] come through.”
As for the game, fans can expect both teams to give their opening-day starters at one to two at bats, maybe five innings of work.
For the Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer, it will be a return to Salt Lake City and to the park he played as a member of the Salt Lake Buzz and as a visitor with Edmonton.
Cuddyer was part of the playoff run for the Buzz in 2000, getting all the way to the PCL finals.
“Albert Pujols walked us off,” Cuddyer said.
Both teams won’t spend much time in Salt Lake City, leaving immediately to prepare for the opening of the 2013 season.
Seattle opens in Oakland on Monday, while the Rockies head to Milwaukee and their Monday opener.
“It’s always exciting when you go to a new place,” Cuddyer said, mentioning the majestic snow-covered mountains which dominates the view toward center field. “Salt Lake is a city I loved. It has one of my favorite professional stadiums in all of the country. The snow on the mountains, that’s what is cool.”
The last time two major league teams played a game in Salt Lake City was April 4, 1970. The Reggie Jackson-led Oakland Athletics played the San Diego Padres.
Minnesota, Salt Lake City’s major league affiliate prior to the Los Angeles Angels, brought its big leaguers to play the Triple-A Buzz in 1995 and 1999.
The idea for Saturday’s game began two years ago as a conversation between Amicone and Colorado general manager Dan O’Dowd. Since Salt Lake City is in Colorado’s television market, the idea, Amicone said, seemed like a natural.
In the past, Colorado has closed out its spring training schedule in Albuquerque, Tulsa, Okla., and Las Vegas.
“We said, ‘By God, that’s what we’re going to do,’” Monfort said. “We’re fortunate to have good partners in Seattle.”
Teams who enjoy close regional ties, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, typically close out their preseason a game or series against each other. Colorado and Seattle have no such regional ties, making games Saturday’s in Salt Lake City possible.
“It’s an informal agreement,” said Ryan Adamack, the Mariners’ senior vice president of communications. “We always want to make sure we have an opponent to play. And it doesn’t matter where we’re going to play. Everybody just wants to get out of Arizona.”
The weather matters, too. And the forecast is favorable for Saturday.
“We want to create a better relationship with Salt Lake,” Monfort said. “Salt Lake is like our partner city, I mean it really should be. So we want to do anything in our power to build our relationship.”
Major League Baseball in Salt Lake City
1957 • San Francisco Giants vs. Cleveland Indians
1964 • Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox
1970 • Oakland Athletics vs. San Diego Padres
1995 • Minnesota Twins vs. Salt Lake Buzz
1999 • Minnesota Twins vs. Salt Lake Buzz
Mariners vs. Rockies
At Spring Mobile Ballpark
Saturday, 1 p.m.