Provo • Having scored multiple runs in three of the first four innings, Utah’s softball team was rolling toward a rivalry game victory over BYU on Wednesday night when both teams took a break.
No, tempers weren’t out of control. And there was hardly a cloud in the sky.
Blame it on a 26-minute sun delay.
Because the umpire, catcher and hitter were staring into a wicked west-setting sun, game officials called for the delay at 7:47 p.m. The game resumed at 8:13 p.m. as the sun was setting, and Utah went on to an 11-2 win.
Sun delays have been fairly common at Gail Miller Field since it was built facing a Northwest direction in 2001 in conjunction with the the baseball field — Larry Miller Field — that faces almost straight east. The facilities share the same press box, which explains why the softball diamond is configured the way it is, according to former BYU baseball coach Gary Pullins.
Salt Lake City architect Niels Valentiner designed it.
“The same guy who designed the Rome [LDS] Temple, which opened recently,” said Pullins. “Great guy, but he was obviously not a baseball or a softball guy.”
Pullins, who was on the committee when the construction plans were approved, said at the time most games were played in the day, so glare from a setting sun wasn’t a major consideration.
“We met on several occasions to discuss the angle,” Pullins said. “We were well-aware of it. But when the decision was made to [sandwich] the one press box with the two diamonds, that caused the sun issue. … Plain and simple, the decision was made by the fact that most of our ball games were afternoon games. Now, that has changed because we have lights.”
BYU’s website calls the entire complex “unique” and “the only facility of its kind” in college athletics when it was built.
It opened for BYU’s second season of softball and has been an issue ever since the last half of the season. The Cougars played at Harmon Park near the Seven Peaks Resort their first year as a sanctioned NCAA sport.
Matt Nix, assistant athletic director and events manager, said Wednesday’s delay was the fourth this season. It is usually only a problem for a four-week stretch between the middle of April and middle of May.
Before those days, “it is just a little bit of an annoyance,” Nix said. “But when it gets like this, we don’t really have a choice.”
Umpires and visiting teams are informed of the possibility in advance, but most are aware of it from past trips to Provo.
“It becomes just too dangerous to play,” Nix said.
By now, BYU is prepared for it, and dozens in the the “Ice Cream Night” crowd of a couple hundred were invited to dance on top of the dugouts. The Utes, gathered near the right field foul pole, also got in on the dancing, feeling good about their six-run lead.
Utah 11, BYU 2
• Ally Dickman goes 5 for 5 with a homer and drives in four runs as Utah (16-32) beats BYU (24-21) for first time since a 2017 NCAA tournament game
• Emilee Erickson goes 2 for 3 and drives in a run for the Cougars, who committed five costly errors and several base running blunders
• The game was halted a little before 8 p.m. for a 26-minute sun delay
As for the sun problem, help is on the way, courtesy of some BYU engineering students.
The BYU athletic department held a contest asking students to design a solution, promising a $1,000 prize for the winner, with a budget of $40,000.
Five finalists emerged last month, and got $150 each, then a plan from Jacob Parry, Trevor Boardman and Nate Lant was picked and will be just under budget.
Nix said BYU will install three flag poles beyond the fence in left-center field suitable for flags, but also to be used to lift a massive curtain to block out the sun, sort of like the nets that football teams use behind goal posts to stop footballs from being kicked into the crowd. The scoreboard is in right field.