Janis and Thomas LaGray started attending minor league baseball games at the ballpark on 1300 South and West Temple not long after they married in 1977. It was called Derks Field then, and fans knew the team as the Salt Lake City Gulls.
Fast-forward to 2023, and the LaGrays are still supporting their favorite local minor league team. They may be called the Salt Lake Bees now and play at Smith’s Ballpark, but the memories endure.
Thomas LaGray recalled not many fans attending Gulls games due to losing records. But when the unaffiliated Salt Lake City Trappers arrived in 1985 and started winning games, the ballpark was packed, he said.
So it’s no wonder that when the news came that the team will move out of the Ballpark neighborhood into South Jordan’s Daybreak after this season, Janis LaGray felt sadness.
“I realize a lot of people are living out there now,” Janis LaGray said from her seat before Tuesday’s game against the Reno Aces. “It’s grown up so much and I can see that, too. But I hate to see it leave here.”
The Larry H. Miller Group, which owns Daybreak, told The Salt Lake Tribune that, according to housing market research tool Zonda, one in every six homes in Salt Lake County was attributed to the South Jordan community in 2022.
South Jordan is also one of the fastest growing communities in the U.S. Most recently, its population was estimated at 80,139 people. In 2010, that estimate was 50,418.
Residents in the Ballpark neighborhood have expressed worry about life without the Bees. But many still anticipate supporting the team once it moves to South Jordan.
The LaGrays, for instance, said they would “definitely give it a shot.” It depends on how accessible the new ballpark would be via TRAX, though. For what it’s worth, the Larry H. Miller company, which owns the Bees, has said that the stadium “will be built on undeveloped property between Mountain View Corridor and the TRAX line.”
Jon Bray, a Bees season ticket holder for the past 10 years, has the same stipulation for traveling to Daybreak.
“It’ll depend on whether TRAX runs late enough,” said Bray, who lives near the University of Utah. “That’s really what it comes down to is access from this part of town. … This is really convenient. Going to Daybreak is not so convenient.”
Other fans don’t care where the team is. Eros Arevalo has been going to the ballpark since the Trappers in the 1980s. He keeps score and goes to games with a glove. Baseball, for him, “is Americana.”
“I grew up in this field,” Arevalo said.
Arevalo lives in Tooele County. And while going to Daybreak would mean traveling a bit farther than he’s used to, he’s OK with it, he said.
Joan Francom attended Tuesday’s game with her stepdaughter and several of her grandchildren. One of the kids went up to a Bees team member and received a baseball. Francom has enjoyed the intimate setting Smith’s Ballpark and the Bees have allowed.
“The major league seems to be a little bit more stuffy and above everybody than these guys,” Francom said. “These are a lot more approachable.”
Smith’s Ballpark has a capacity of 14,511 fans. LHM officials have said that the new stadium in Daybreak will feature 8,000 seats.
While not a season ticket holder, Francom has been going to Bees games for the past 20 years. She loves baseball and is a New York Yankees fan, she said, and is another fan who will support the team from wherever.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Francom said. “I live in Lehi. I’ll go wherever they are.”
In 2022, the Bees averaged 5,873 fans per game, according to Ballpark Digest. They averaged 4,847 the year before. The 2022 figures are comparable to the Hartford Yard Goats (6,002), Iowa Cubs (5,913) and Toledo Mud Hens (5,842). The Bees ranked 18th across the minor leagues.
Smith’s Ballpark opened in 1994. That year, the stadium averaged 10,189 fans. The number of spectators has declined over the years.
The most avid Bees fans aren’t only going to keep supporting baseball in Utah once the team moves. Many also said they’d welcome a major league team coming to Salt Lake City. Just last week, the Larry H. Miller group announced its official bid to bring an MLB team to Utah.
“I’ve been hoping for a long time that we have a major league team come here,” said Kevin Smith, who does not consider himself a Bees fan per se but enjoys occasionally attending games at Smith’s Ballpark.
Salt Lake receiving an MLB franchise is not a guarantee. Expansion bids take months to iron out, and there are other cities vying for a team in the western part of the U.S.
Bray said if an MLB team does arrive in Salt Lake, he would “probably be a casual fan — not a dedicated season ticket holder as much as I am now.” The reason for that, he said, was money.
“I could never the afford tickets that I have at a major league level,” Bray said. “There’s just no way. I’m very spoiled.”
The LaGrays are a bit more optimistic about an MLB team. They said they would attempt to attend games. “I don’t see why not,” Janis LaGray said.
Thomas LaGray, a Baltimore Orioles fan, had a more specific hope for a major league franchise.
“Hopefully it’s the American League,” he said.
Tribune reporter Tony Semerad contributed to this story.