In most places, baseball in 1994 was tumultuous. The eventuality of the players' strike loomed ominously over each major league park. Baseball die-hards sought refuge in the minor leagues, particularly the beautiful, brand-new Franklin Quest Field in Salt Lake City, home of the expansion Salt Lake Buzz.
Neither the team nor the stadium currently bear the same name, but Spring Mobile Ballpark, home of the Salt Lake Bees, remains as much a crown jewel of the Pacific Coast League in 2011 as it has ever been.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
We'll start at "Fastball Snacks," where you'll find your peanuts ($4) and Cracker Jack ($2.50) among other classics like Wienerschnitzel hot dogs (reg. $3.25, jumbo $4, add cheese/chili for 75 cents), popcorn ($5 for a bucket), nachos ($4.75), churros and pretzels ($3.75 each). The most unique item here is a "chili pie", corn chips with chili and cheese poured over the top for $4.25.
Mexican fare is provided by Cafe Ole, charging $8 for taco salads, burritos or nachos grande. Brats and Chicago-style dogs come courtesy of Colosimo's ($5.75-$6.50). Papa John's does pizza for $6.50. The Grand Slam Grill is home to chicken finger baskets ($7), burgers ($5.75), corn dogs ($3.50) and garlic or cheese fries ($4), among others.
Hands down, though, the best food in the park is Tom's Smokehouse BBQ. This is a recent and flavorful addition to the park's left field pavilion. All your BBQ favorites are here: pulled chicken and pork, 1/4 chickens, ribs and brisket. Choose one (along with a side and corn muffin) for $9.25 or two for $10.50. Some are available in a sandwich for $8. My choice is the pulled pork - some of the best I've had in Utah.
The place for dessert is Russell's Ice Cream, where a cone ($5.75) is actually more expensive than a souvenir helmet cup ($5.50).
For the last few years, the Bees' commercial mantra has been "Classic Baseball, Family Fun." Both angles are meticulously covered from the moment you first gaze at the park. The brick facade and green iron gates evokes the feel of an old-time park. The video board and other scoreboards are simply classic. Another nice touch is the outfield berm, perfect for laying down a blanket or letting your kids run around and play while you enjoy a nice summer night.
The family fun starts with Bumble, the Bees' mascot. He does just enough to get and keep the fans' attention while not dominating the game or calling excessive attention to himself. There is a play area beyond left field, but the top kiddie attraction is the "Bumble Express," a small passenger train that gives rides to kids along the sidewalk behind the berm for most of the game. The rides, which once cost $1, are now free.
The ballpark is easily the nicest place in this largely industrial area of Salt Lake City. Most of your food choices are available on nearby State Street, but a rising star in the local food scene can be found just across the street. Lucky 13 is a dive bar that looks like a classy, modern log cabin, complete with a sizeable back patio. You cannot leave without trying one of their many burgers, all for under $10. There are also an artistic variety of fries (garlic rosemary, for example).
If you venture to State Street, you'll find good, old-fashioned food at Coachman's Dinner and Pancake House. You can't miss it, seeing as how its sign is one of the largest restaurant signs I've seen. Breakfast is the specialty, but its lunches and dinners are also quite hearty. Coachman's takes great pride in their spaghetti dishes, including my favorite, their steak and spaghetti dinner. Be aware, though, that Coachman's does not accept credit or debit cards.
The word I feel best represents Bees fans is "respectful." They respect each other by being courteous on the concourse and in the seats. They also respect their team by being consistently supportive, yet never too negative when things go south.
On this night, Scott Kazmir was making his final Bees start before being released by the Angels organization. Even though he had a rough outing, I never sensed overt negativity beyond a few scattered groans. No aggressive boos, no cat calls, no heckling. It was refreshing to be around fans who respect the game and their team enough to accentuate the positive in spite of difficult circumstances.
The official parking lot across the street costs $6. There are other nearby parking lots for around the same price. If you're adventurous (and cheap), there are a handful of nearby streets and alleys surrounding businesses and warehouses. Obey the posted signs and park here at your own risk. Another option is the TRAX light-rail system, which has a stop just a few blocks from the park.
The park's bathrooms are serviceable, but perhaps not quite as pristine as those of other Utah venues. There is ample concourse space, and good wheelchair accessibility throughout.
Minor league baseball is a great value almost anywhere, and Salt Lake City is no different. There really are no bad seats, but I always prefer a blanket on the gentle slope of the berm for $8. There are enough family-friendly aspects of the park to satisfy your little ones, but not so much that you'll feel like you're watching a game at Chuck E. Cheese's. The old saying rings true, "There's something here for everyone."
One point for the view. Almost every seat in the park offers a majestic view of the Wasatch Mountains, highlighted by Mount Olympus directly behind center field.
One point for the continual nods to baseball history. As you walk around outside the park, take note of the etched windows. Each one re-creates or memorializes an aspect of baseball history in Salt Lake City. Every so often, you'll find a plaque to help explain what you see. Once inside, you'll see pictures of hall-of-famers all through the concourse, adding to the historic feel.
One point for an innovative foul ball promotion. Normally, catching a foul ball is its own reward. At Spring Mobile Ballpark, you can show your foul ball to guest services and receive a coupon for a free Papa John's pizza. Where was this promotion when I was a kid? Maybe I can sneak in a ball I caught previously, but I doubt it.
One point for the friendly, attentive staff. There is a great sense of professionalism among the staffers, who do enough to keep things running smoothly without interfering too much. As soon as any foul ball lands, you'll see a staffer within seconds ensuring all is well in the area.
During that summer of 1994, I went to this park enough to see every team in the Pacific Coast League at least once. I was only 8 then, but still appreciated the beauty of the park and the great experience it provided. As I've continued to come here for the past 17 years, the park has maintained that same classic beauty. There have been tweaks here and there, but the organization has done so without robbing the park of what has made it special.
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135 West 1300 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
1301 South State St
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
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