BYU played Utah in a major sport on Tuesday night.
The game took place in a spectacular setting, in a largely empty green cathedral with a stunning mountainous backdrop, against a deep-blue evening sky accented with high puffy clouds, the action on the field scattered throughout, the competition angry, the score close — at least for a long while.
And most of you didn’t even know it happened.
Had it been football, the cathedral would’ve been full. Basketball? Almost full. Soccer or volleyball? More full. In those first two, there would have been all kinds of run-up to the game. All kinds of emotion. All kinds of pub. All kinds of coverage. All kinds of anticipation.
Instead … ahead of this game, there was next to nothing, a few small reports here and there.
The Cougars went ahead and beat the Utes, by the count of 10-3, with 4,011 stalwart spectators, evenly split, at Smith’s Ballpark cheering this way and that.
Thing is, no matter how much noise there was or wasn’t, no matter how many fans were or weren’t in attendance, no matter how lopsided things got late, the rivalry pours into baseball, just as it does in those other sports.
There were no marching bands at the ball yard, no pep bands, no spirit squads, no Cougarettes, no cheerleaders, no Cosmo, although … Swoop was there.
Motivation was also there.
It’s always there between these schools. It could be pumpkin smashing, and it would be there.
“It’s a huge deal,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. “It’s one of the biggest games for us.”
Said Danny Gelalich, who drove in half the Cougars’ runs: “It’s a lot sweeter when it’s against the Utes.”
So, it is — for whoever wins.
The first-ever athletic contest between Utah and BYU, according to dusty records, was a baseball game — in 1895. That game ended in a scoreless tie and, more importantly, a bench-clearing brawl.
That’s how the Cougars-Utes sports rivalry started — with a fight.
Since then, all-time, BYU has won twice as many baseball games as Utah in hundreds of games played against each other. This season, the Cougars came in ranked No. 24 in the country, with a record of 33-14. The Utes arrived with a 12-31 mark, bolstered, though, by an 8-6 win over BYU earlier this season, a win that snapped a nine-game losing streak. They had lost 10 straight before Tuesday night’s game.
Early evidence of solid competition at Smith’s Ballpark, despite the obvious fact that these two teams play in different leagues, just as they do in every other sport, was apparent. The Utes are hopelessly out of contention in the Pac-12, and the Cougars begin the WCC tournament next week.
The game was knotted at 1 through the initial innings. Utah had a chance to get more in the second, when it loaded the bases and Oliver Dunn drilled a ball deep into right field, but it was caught, scoring the single sacrificed run, and that was all the Utes got.
In the seventh inning, BYU returned the favor, loading the bases for its hammer, Brock Hale, who proceeded to get struck out by Zac McCleve. Utah followed with a run in the bottom of the inning, to seize the lead. The Cougars leveled in the eighth, on a Casey Jacobsen RBI single, and went ahead for good on a grand slam by Gelalich, the first home run of his college career. Utah scored another run late, but fell further behind. Hale’s homer, along with Mitch McIntyre’s two-run shot — prepare the finest meats and cheeses — shut the door.
BYU plated nine runs in the last two innings.
Bottom line: This was a fine game for most of it, however disappointing it became for the Utes.
It’s a strange thing, why more people don’t get into local college baseball, or college baseball, at all. They do in certain pockets around the country, but not here, not really. Here, you’d think it was swimming and diving, or track and field, or cross country, or field hockey.
It’s not. It’s the national pastime, used to be.
The fictional character Terence Mann said in the film “Field of Dreams“: “The one constant through all the years … has been baseball.”
Constantly ignored at the college level, at least compared to the biggies.
Who knows why.
Maybe it’s the presence of baseball’s minor leagues, sucking away a large percentage of the best talent. Maybe it’s because there isn’t enough funding, there aren’t enough scholarships available. Maybe it’s the clink of composite bats. Maybe it’s the weather — people don’t want to watch a center fielder catching icy liners in a snowstorm, maybe you can’t play — or watch — the game with frozen baseballs. Maybe the game is considered boring.
It was neither cold nor boring on this occasion.
It was … cool and heated and fun and, at the very last, one-sided, but it deserved to be watched.
No fights broke out, but the game was worthy of the rivalry, still.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.