Anthony Lujan sat on the edge of his seat, two rows up from the first-base line at Smith’s Ballpark, intently watching the action at home plate. On his head was a bright red cap. On his left forearm was a large Salt Lake Bees tattoo — an interlocking “SL” filled with a honeycomb and a small bee.
Lujan, 40, may be the Bees’ biggest fan. And after a season without them, he couldn’t have been happier to be at opening day Thursday,
“There’s no place I’d rather be than here,” he said.
After months of uncertainty, the 2020 Minor League baseball season was canceled last June under the threat of the coronavirus. Some players were retained by Major League clubs as part of their 60-player bubble, others were sent home to wonder how long it would be until they could play again. And the fans? Well, they had to settle for whatever they action they could find on TV.
So when the gates to Smith’s opened, they came in droves, excited to get back to baseball and to feel some sort of normalcy again.
“I feel like, ‘You know what? It was time to come out,’” said Lana Emery of Sandy, who received tickets for herself and her husband, Doug, as an early Mother’s Day present from their son Braxton. “Nothing’s better than hot dogs and baseball.”
That appeared to be the consensus among the 3,200 people allowed into the ballpark. Though capacity was limited to roughly a fifth of the park’s capacity, cheers of “Let’s Go Bees” and guffaws at the umpire’s calls and a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” still rang through the stands.
The baseball came easy. With fewer fans in the park, spectators in the stands had unblocked views and those on the outfield berm had plenty of room to spread out in white squares painted on the grass. There were more foul balls to go around, though they had to clear a few extra lengths of new netting, and kids had plenty of space to play catch — a perk fifth-graders Brody Thompson and Jacob Esplin took advantage of in a strip of grass in front of the closed kids zone. They’d come from Spanish Fork with about six family members to watch outfielder Jo Adell, a promising MLB prospect, in action before he gets called up by the Los Angeles Angels.
The hot dogs and especially the beer were a little harder to come by. The lines for each beer stand stretched at least 20 deep. The concessions stands, meanwhile, looked eerily empty. A new system put in place to limit interactions and close quarters required fans to scan a QR code and order their food online. They were then texted when their order was ready for pick up.
That limited crowding and waiting but didn’t work for everyone.
Cathy and Keith Junior of Salt Lake City watched the game from their wheelchairs just a few feet from the Flashpoint Grill’s third-base stand. Cathy said they’d resigned themselves to going without any food or drink during the game because her phone won’t read QR codes and that’s the only way to place an order.
Neither that nor the risk of catching COVID-19 deterred the couple, however. Because she has a lung disease, they knew they couldn’t attend the games last year even if they had been held. Now that they’re vaccinated, though, they bought tickets for every game for a month.
“We’ve been cooped up for too long,” Cathy, 66, said.
That’s exactly how Lujan felt. He bought his four-pack of tickets for the opener — tickets were only sold in groups of two, four and six — within minutes of them going on sale. But when all of his friends and family except his mom, Lori, backed out at the last minute, he had no thoughts of selling the seats. Even if he had to go alone, he said, there’s no place he’d rather be on opening day.
Lujan looked out at the field again and grinned.
“It feels like where I should be.”