So I'm standing with my forearms atop the fence, less than 20 feet from the first-base coach, and wondering how to capture the atmosphere of Lindquist Field. And then a dinosaur waddles beside me.
The Ogden Raptors' venue is not quite a throwback to the Mesozoic Era in Utah, or even to the late 1960s, when future legends of the Los Angeles Dodgers roamed Ogden. But the ballpark that helped revitalize Ogden's historic downtown certainly has an old-time, unpretentious look and feel, with an abandoned building framing right field and the center-field fence inverted toward home plate.
The last official stop of the 2018 Fandemonium Tour — one more installment remains, not requiring a first-person narrative — brought me to Lindquist Field, where the Raptors have been the Pioneer League’s perennial attendance leaders since it opened in 1997. Kids periodically joined me on the walkway down the first-base line with wide eyes, as they marveled about being so close to the action. Later, I stood alongside the guys propping their beers on the concrete railing and conversing with the left fielder, almost directly below us.
General admission seats are $6, in the bleachers beyond the first-base dugout and the chairs down the left-field line. One theme of this year’s series is discovering how refreshing it is to stand and watch games at varied locations, after 40-plus years of sitting and typing on press rows. Whether standing at the top of Vivint Smart Home Arena, in the north end of Rio Tinto Stadium or in the student sections of Utah Valley’s and Weber State’s basketball arenas, I’ve enjoyed those perspectives.
Two of Lindquist Field's vantage points topped them all, even aside from the sight of Ben Lomond Peak that made two websites award the park for having the best views in minor-league baseball. Standing in back of first base gave me a great angle of two plays at home plate in the first three innings last Friday, plus an unusual play when Ogden first baseman Dillon Paulson cut off a throw from the outfield, then dived toward the bag as the Grand Junction runner hustled back.
The walkway is beyond the protective netting, but no more dangerous than other locations. Dave Baggott, the Raptors' president and public address announcer, reads a thorough pregame script, reminding fans to be aware of foul balls. In announcing the visitors' lineup, Baggott uses a style long ago credited to Cincinnati’s Paul Sommerkamp, who would repeat players' names for the sake of fans filling out scorecards. A core of longtime Raptors fans in the seats behind the plate joins in this nightly routine.
ABOUT THE SERIES
Fandemonium is an occasional series in 2018 about the sports fan experience in Utah. This installment: The Ogden Raptors, and the appeal of minor-league baseball.
Baggott: “Batting fifth, the right fielder, No. 16, Niko Decolati.”
Baggott: “Decolati, right field.”
Decolati made one of Friday's most memorable plays, a sliding catch near the line as he ran toward me. Nothing so dramatic occurred during the last few innings as I stood above the left-field wall, but I really liked that spot as well. The view is different than from the berm of Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City, with just a slightly elevated perch. Lindquist Field's standing area is about 40 feet above the field, but right atop the wall. That offers better depth perception of the action, while being close enough to yell at the left fielder.
During a pitching change, one fan atop the wall commended the Raptors' Matt Cogan, a 30th-round pick of the Dodgers, for going a month without an error in his rookie season of pro baseball. Cogan turned and smiled. “Don't jinx me,” he said.
That's what makes this stuff so much fun. I've learned a lot this year about the authentic fan experience, after decades of being spoiled with access to parking and food, climate-controlled seating and the opportunity to avoid traffic by entering venues early and staying late, in the course of doing my job. I have much more appreciation for what fans go through, as I've thought about what sporting events I would pay to attend in a future phase of life.
Minor league baseball is No. 1 on the list, because of its charm and affordability, regardless of the level (some parks in the Class-A Midwest League especially interest me). Watching the Raptors play for the first time in 15 years made me even more fond of MiLB. So did a recent conversation with Baseball Hall of Fame member Tommy Lasorda. At age 90, he treasures the three-year stint in Ogden that launched his managerial career in the late ’60s.
And I'll have Baggott's voice in my head as I look forward to my next visit to Lindquist Field, with only this regret: In the eighth inning, after I already spent my concession allowance, he announced that hot dogs were reduced to $2.
PIONEER LEAGUE ATTENDANCE
Pioneer League 2018 attendance averages:
1. Ogden 3,407
2. Idaho Falls 2,886
3. Billings 2,764
4. Grand Junction 2,344
5. Missoula 2,023
6. Great Falls 1,552
7. Orem 1,381
8. Helena 845.
Note: Salt Lake (6,332) ranks eighth in the 16-team Pacific Coast League.