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Red All Over: The University of Utah baseball program needs an on-campus stadium

The Utes baseball program will relocate nine home games to Ogden due to Minor League Baseball COVID-19 protocols at Smith’s Ballpark.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah dugout keeps an eye on the game as Utah and BYU renew their rivalry on the baseball diamond as they battle it out at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

Last week, the University of Utah announced that its baseball program would relocate nine home games from Smith’s Ballpark, which they share with the Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, to Lindquist Field in Ogden.

This relocation is happening due to the difficulty of scheduling Utes and Bees games on the same day thanks to Minor League Baseball COVID-19 protocols. The main problem is that the normal turnaround time between a Utes game and a Bees game on the same day is increasing to allow proper time to clean and sanitize the facility, making it harder for two different teams to host games there on the same day.

Salt Lake opens its season with a 12-game homestand starting May 6, so Utah will host Northern Colorado in Ogden on May 8-10.

This all speaks to the fact that Utah could really use an on-campus baseball stadium. If it had one, the baseball team would not have had to relocate nine home games. In normal, non-pandemic times, it would not have to play second fiddle to its home stadium’s primary tenant. Furthermore, while showing off a Triple-A facility might play well with recruits and parents, showing off a campus facility would likely play better.

The extent of Utah baseball’s on-campus presence is limited to a practice field on Guardsman Way, across the street from the Eccles Football Center, which includes an indoor hitting shed. When cold or bad weather hits, the baseball team uses the indoor football facility. It cannot scrimmage there, so the usage is essentially limited to drills.

In April 2016, then-Utah athletic director Chris Hill told The Salt Lake Tribune there were early renderings for a 2,000-seat stadium that would be built in place of the Guardsman Way practice field. Hill estimated the cost to be $7.5 million, a number that would have been fueled by donors.

By the following spring, those baseball stadium plans had been buried underneath other athletic department business.

Four years later, as the pandemic forces the Utes baseball program to temporarily move from a home that doesn’t even belong to it, an on-campus stadium doesn’t feel any more likely.

Speaking on an athletic department-produced podcast in early February, AD Mark Harlan said the feasibility of an on-campus stadium was being revisited. That would seem to indicate that even if plans to build a stadium moved forward, a shovel entering the ground remains a long way off, and the opening of such a facility is years away.

For what it’s worth, in terms of athletics-related capital projects, a baseball stadium is likely No. 2 on the priorities list behind finally getting a $3 million renovation of the Dumke Gymnastics Center up and going. In a January interview with The Tribune, Harlan estimated that 80-90% of the necessary funding was complete, while calling the Dumke renovation “a key priority of our development staff.”

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• I’m saving most of the reasoning and nuance for later stories, but I think basketball coach Craig Smith’s Utah staff, composed of Eric Peterson, DeMarlo Slocum and Tim Morris is solid. Morris was a name that felt like it came out of nowhere, but he’s a young guy with ties in various parts of the country, including having played at both Stanford and Washington. Again, on paper, solid.

• Smith and Co. unofficially have two open scholarships for 2021-22, and there is a glaring lack of size and physicality on the roster. Size and physicality do not grow on trees at the Power Five level, so I’m not sure what the answer here will be. Smith’s teams at Utah State had a lot of size and were often physically imposing, but his first Utah team is not shaping up to be that right now.

Jon Wilner of The Mercury News reported earlier this week that the Pac-12 is considering co-commissioners, one person from the sports business world to help maximize revenue opportunities and the other to work with the 12 athletic directors. That is a shortsighted, frankly bad idea, which speaks to the apparent disconnect among the presidents/chancellors tasked with making this decision. One boss, one voice at the top delegating, and that one voice should be a college sports administrator, not a sports business aficionado like Larry Scott. We see how well his tenure turned out.

• Just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, in the eighth paragraph of a press release, the NCAA news-dumped that its president, Mark Emmert, had received a two-year contract extension through the end of 2025. You do not release news you view as positive and likely to get a good reaction at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday in the eighth paragraph of a press release.

• The more I think about it, the more I think it is going to be hard for quarterback Cameron Rising to beat out Charlie Brewer once fall camp arrives at Utah. By the time camp starts, Brewer will have been in the program for eight months. That’s eight months of reps, eight months of meetings, eight months of building rapport with his teammates, eight months of working with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Brewer looked in control, if not outstanding during the spring game with a limited playbook, which only fed the notion Brewer is going to wind up as the starter on Sept. 2 vs. Weber State.

Your questions

Q: “You are hired as Pac-12 commissioner tomorrow. What are your first moves?” — @Coreyc04

A: I have absolutely no experience negotiating media rights, so since that is among my primary objectives walking in the door, I am farming that responsibility out to professionals that are capable of getting the Pac-12 the best-possible deal.

Handing the media rights negotiations off to people well-versed is just an obvious no-brainer, but the Pac-12 apparently has yet to figure that out, as noted above.

My next move would be to move all operations to Salt Lake City, because I’m not moving anywhere. I’m in charge, so everyone can come to me.

Q: “John Cena is everywhere. Commercials, TV, movies. Great actor? No. Handsome? No. Charismatic? No. Unique? No. I don’t get it???” — @OuterDarknezz

A: You don’t think John Cena is handsome? Disagree. Definitely a handsome man, obviously with an incredible physique.

It shouldn’t be up for debate that Cena is a poor actor, but I can understand why people would find him charismatic. Cena spent years as a massive, global superstar in the WWE, performing in front of thousands of people every night and on national TV. You can’t pull that off for as long as he did in professional wrestling without some charisma.

That question went way off the rails. Good stuff.

Q: “Who is Utah’s current voice on the Pac-12 presidents committee?” — @TheUFanCast

A: Dr. Michael L. Good, CEO of University of Utah Health, is the school’s interim president following Ruth Watkins leaving earlier this month. As the interim president, Good is participating in the search process for the Pac-12′s next commissioner and has the authority to vote for the next commissioner on the school’s behalf.

I may be overthinking this, but I don’t know that this is a great situation for Utah, an interim president voting for the next Pac-12 commissioner, while the permanent president will arrive having had no say in the matter. Utah is not expected to name its next president until the fall, at the earliest.

Random musings

• Get Zach Wilson an offensive line, and let’s do the thing, Jets.

• On topic, NBA draft > NFL draft

• New favorite non-sports podcast: ‘Are You Garbage?’ Two northeast-born comedians, Kevin Ryan and H. Foley, interviewing other comedians, asking them questions about their childhood in an effort to determine if they grew up classy or trashy. Good laughs, and a lot of early and mid-90s childhood nostalgia.

• I’d get on board if a ‘vaccine passport’ were instituted in some fashion. It’s not a big deal, get over yourselves.


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