Monson: Major League Baseball in Salt Lake City is a necessary thing
Saturday’s rare major-league game in Utah might one day become a common occurrence.

By Gordon Monson

Tribune Columnist

Published: March 30, 2013 06:11PM
Updated: March 31, 2013 12:05AM

Saturday was an easy day to wax a little poetic about baseball. After a long, cold winter, when backs grew sore of shoveling snow and ice jams bored through shingled roofs and everybody needed to thaw out, all of a sudden, the sky was blue, the temperatures were warm and the cathedral that had sat empty and dark for so long was green and full again.

For the first time in nearly half a century, two major league teams played on the block of 13th South and West Temple in Salt Lake City, on ground where a whole lot of prospects on their way to the bigs had stopped over and where legends such as Babe Ruth had put on exhibitions.

And that’s all this was, too, an exhibition game between the Seattle Mariners and the Colorado Rockies, the latter of which have tried to plant roots — and pick up fans — in this market for a long time. If the Angels hadn’t already staked their Triple-A claim here, the Rockies would have.

The Mariners won, by the way, 4-3.

But nobody gave a flying long ball about that.

Everybody on hand knew that, competitively speaking, the outcome of this game didn’t mean much. It wouldn’t have meant anything to the players, really, had it not been in such close proximity on the calendar to Monday’s opening day. But because of that, final preparations were being put in place for games that counted, so a bit of that care factor spilled over.

And the 15,411 people loaded into a sold-out Spring Mobile Ballpark sat in the sunshine and basked in baseball’s wonder.

It mattered little that some of them, especially the youngsters who ran around the berm, carrying their mitts and wearing their caps, had no clue who to root for or, in some cases, who they were watching. They wouldn’t have known Troy Tulowitzki — who homered in the fourth inning to tie the score at 1-all — from Dirk Nowitzki. Still, those kids need some big-time baseball. The last thing on their minds was that neither the Rockies nor the Mariners are going to be anywhere near authentic contenders this season.

This was more a celebration of the game, played at least within shouting distance of its top level. Triple-A is fine, but … the bigs are the bigs. And that was good enough to fill every seat in the house.

As for the players themselves, one could imagine that they’d rather be somewhere else, playing a real game in their club’s hometown in a park three times larger. But they actually seemed to enjoy themselves here. That’s what they said, anyway.

Before the game, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said: “The players are obviously excited. It’s close to opening day. It’s a lot of fun to come out here and watch these guys play, and hopefully fans have fun, too.”

After the game, Rockies manager Walt Weiss quite lyrically said: “Beautiful place, great crowd, beautiful setting, great day.”

As for what happened in the game itself, if anyone who didn’t get to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience firsthand, maybe scarf a dog and throwback a beverage as balls blew through the thin mountain air, cares … well, it was decent enough.

Kendrys Morales crushed a solo shot in the top of the fourth. Tulowitzki and Todd Helton did likewise in the bottom of that inning. In the fifth, Justin Smoak smoked a long ball over the fence to tie things up. The Mariners got the difference-making runs in the eighth, and a Rockies rally fell short at the end.

Man, the whole thing felt good.

A wish for Salt Lake City, a community that is still growing and one day will be in a position, both population- and sponsorship-wise, to support Major League Baseball, is that a big-league team will move here. I once asked the late Larry Miller a question about whether that could happen. His answer was surprisingly optimistic. He thought that within the next couple of decades it might. Conditions would have to be right, but if they were, he said it would happen.

Of all the other main sports, beyond basketball, he said baseball was the best fit here.

Let’s hope so. Those fathers with the sore backs and mothers still thawing out could use it. And the kids running around out on the berm on Saturday wearing their mitts and their caps — and all those grins — deserve it.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.