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Home of the Owlz
Fun Timez at the New Nest of the Owlz
|First game: June 21, 2005|
|Capacity: 4,964 (2,464 permanent seats, plus an additional 2,500 general admission)|
|Architect: Elliott Mahoney Architecture|
|Price: $3 million|
|Dimensions: LF 315, CF 408, RF 312|
|Home dugout: 3B|
|Field points: Southeast|
|Playing surface: grass|
|Betcha didn't know: The site for this stadium is the college's old ballfield. However, nothing was retained from the old facility. Even the orientation of the field was completely changed.|
If you can overlook a few things -- like the lack of a certain sudsy beverage, the indiscriminate use of the letter "z" and the fact that the place has somewhat of an identity crisis -- then you'll love the brand-new ballpark in Orem, Utah.
Following the 2004 season, the Provo Angels of the advanced-rookie Pioneer League moved the team five miles away. What a difference that short distance has made! Although the team is still playing on a college campus (moving from Brigham Young University to Utah Valley State College), it's in a different city, in a different kind of facility and has incredibly better accessibility.
The team is now called the Orem Owlz -- yes, that's a "z" not an "s" -- and the facility is beautifully configured for pro baseball, which their former home was not ... with the exception of the beer issue (more on that later).
But there's this sticky matter of the park's exact name. The Parkway Crossing apartment complex agreed to pay Utah Valley State, which owns the ballpark, for the naming rights to the facility. That's why you've seen the park called Parkway Crossing Stadium in print and on the Internet.
However, according to the Owlz, the apartment folks haven't fulfilled their payment obligations. Therefore, the pro team consistently refers to the park only as "The Home of the Owlz." In fact, the top of the stadium's scoreboard was recently changed to display the college's name instead of the "naming rights" moniker. The college is continuing to insist on the Parkway Crossing name, however.
But no matter whether the confusion over the facility's name or the team's quirky use of the letter "z" trouble you, there's no denying that this is an excellent new ballpark. For years, Ogden's Lindquist Field has been the consensus pick as the class of the Pioneer League. I think Orem's new park really gives the Ogden Raptors a run for their money.
But why do I think this park is so outstanding, easily as nice as many at higher levels of the Minors? Well, let's take a look at its location, look and amenities.
On Deck -- The Setting
That five-mile move from Larry Miller Field on the campus of Brigham Young University to Utah Valley State accomplished at least one enormous achievement: far easier access for their fans. While Provo and Orem are adjacent towns, the location of the ballpark at BYU wasn't so easy to get to. My visit there a few years ago involved a great deal of traffic tie-ups, as you had to navigate through some very congested areas to get to the park, which sits almost at the base of one of the massive Wasatch Mountains that run along the eastern edge of the city (in fact, that range runs north all the way past Salt Lake City and Ogden).
The new Home of the Owlz is a little farther from the mountains, but tremendously closer to the main north-south route through the state of Utah, Interstate 15. Instead of winding through five miles of congestion on the way to BYU's campus, you simply exit I-15 at the University Parkway exit, and you're there. This, plus the increased visibility that comes from so much traffic passing right by the stadium, should make the team appealing to fans from a larger area.
And while Larry Miller Field's close-up view of one specific mountain is gone, the view of the extensive range of Wasatch Mountains more than makes up for it. Beyond left field and center field of the new park is a breathtaking view of the range that goes for miles and miles (see below).
While this is a view that is not to be missed, please don't ignore the view of the park from the left-field berm, especially as the sun is setting. Looking east past the park from this point allows you to see Utah Lake and a smaller range of mountains beyond. Make sure you bring a camera, because this is one sunset shot that you will not want to miss (see the photo at the top of this page to see what I mean).
One final benefit of the new setting: there are a number of restaurants and hotels right across University Parkway from the field (I stayed at the Fairfield Inn a quarter mile away). That was not the case at Larry Miller Field.
First base -- The Exterior
Because of the park's visibility from I-15, there's no missing the fact that a game is going on as you zip up the highway. What you see from there or from University Parkway is a good bit of the seating bowl, the gleaming roof and the unmistakable glow of the stadium lights.
What you see as you approach the park on foot from the parking lots, though, isn't as impressive (see below). That's because the lots and the entry gate are a good bit higher than the playing field, so not a lot of the facility shows.
What is visible is the concrete-and-brick back of the concession stands and restrooms that are along the main concourse behind third base. This is also where the ticket windows are located.
Second base -- The Design
Once inside the park, though, the excellent work on the design becomes evident. The main concourse is at the rear of the seating bowl, meaning two important things: you walk down an aisle to get to your seat; and the "open concourse" allows you to see the action on the field as you travel to the concession stand. The only exception to this is directly behind the plate, where the press box prevents you from seeing the game.
I found the "pitch" of the seating bowl to be perfect. It is just steep enough to give you a good view of the field over the heads of those in the rows in front of you. I now make a point of assessing this at parks after I found the seating bowl too flat at Greensboro's new park.
One of the best aspects of the park is the roof. A number of ballparks in the West have no -- or only trellised -- coverings of the stands or walkways. Not here. The V-shaped covering provides good protection from the sun and rain for a good portion of the rows as well as the concourse.
The credit for the design and construction (astonishingly thrifty at only $3 million, which is less that what Ogden's wonderful Lindquist Field cost eight years ago) goes to two local firms, Elliott Mahoney Architecture and R&O Construction. R&O also headed up the "design build" team behind the park in Ogden.
Third base -- The Essentials
OK, let's get this out of the way right off the bat as we discuss what the game-day experience is like at an Owlz game: they don't serve beer. It's a minor point to me, but to some people it seems to be life and death. Yes, I know that one reason that the team gave for wanting to leave the park at BYU was because they couldn't serve alcohol there. The team did hope that beer would be sold at their new home, but since they are merely tenants, they have to abide by the permits that their landlord, the college, has (or doesn't have). Vegor Pederson, the fine Media Relations Director for the team, told me they are working with the college on changing the rules for coming seasons.
But considering the size of the crowds so far during the team's first season here, people haven't been staying away because of the lack of beer sales. And since Mormons are in the majority in Utah County, where Orem is located, there has been no public outcry over this situation.
Now that we have the beer situation out of the way, let's look at the rest of the game-day experience, especially as it relates to the Owlz' rivals to the north, the Ogden Raptors.
Parking costs $2 in the college lots a short walk from the field. Tickets are certainly affordable. All of the seats directly behind home plate, as well as the first couple of rows down toward the dugouts, are $8. The rest of the seats (which are comfortable theater-seats with cup-holders, I might add -- no bleachers) are $5. General admission is only $3 for adults and $2 for kids. This compares quite favorably to the prices in Ogden. While the cost of the most expensive seats is the same, Orem offers the rest of the chair-back seats at $5, while the Raptors charge $8 for all of them. General admission is cheaper in Orem, too ($3 versus $6), although the Raptors offer quite a few spots on bleachers, while the Owlz offer only the grass of the berms. Advantage: Orem.
They charge $2 for a program at Owlz games. They are not the size you're used to, though. They are skinny enough to slide into your pocket. Note that there is no scorecard in the program (not that there would be room to write in one if there were!). I was flabbergasted when the Raptors charged me $5 for a program when I attended a game in Ogden the next day. Yeah, it's a decent program, but $5? Advantage: Orem.
The souvenir shop on the concourse behind home plate is very nice, especially considering that we are talking about short-season rookie ball here! The cute Owlz logo looks great on a variety of merchandise, and they had a pretty good variety. The prices are fantastic, too. Adult T-shirts ran about $15, and polo shirts were only $25. It's hard to compare the prices to Ogden, because there they don't put the cost on anything there. You feel like you're at a Mexican market. How much does it cost? Are you giving me your best price? There is certainly some cute Raptor merchandise, but not as much variety as I expected. Advantage: Orem.
While there is some excellent food in Ogden, particularly at the grill near the left-field foul pole, Orem comes out ahead here, too. At the stands on the main concourse, you'll find the standard hot dogs, corn dogs, burgers and pizza. To me, the best food was at the "specialties" stand down the third-base line. Here they feature chicken sandwiches ($5.50), grilled ears of corn ($2.50), my favorite ballpark food bratwurst ($5.50) and freshly grilled hamburgers. The larger of the two burgers, a half-pounder served on a deliciously different pretzel bun (see photo above), is the Owlz' signature food item. It's a feast on a bun, to be sure. It costs $6.50, and, yes, I gladly ate all of it.
And while there's no "real" beer served here, there is Apple Beer, and you should try it. Apple Beer is a local product that tastes like fizzy apple cider. This non-alcoholic beverage costs $2.50. In the area of concessions, the advantage goes to Orem ... unless your name is Homer Simpson and you can't live without beer.
The Home of the Owlz is incredibly, overwhelmingly kid-friendly. This is a good thing, since I don't believe I've ever attended a game where a higher percentage of the crowd was under 12! The young folks love Hootz (there's another indiscriminate use of the letter "z"!), the red owl mascot. There's also a beautiful playground (photo above), protected on all sides by netting, and a concession stand called Hootz Kidz Korner (more "z's"!) geared specifically toward the younger crowd. To be fair, Ogden has wonderful features for kids, too, as well as a well-established (and adored) dinosaur mascot named Oggie. Advantage: tie.
I'm happy to report that the on-field promotions that happen between innings at both Orem and Ogden are definitely not "over the top." They fit the wholesome family demographic well, and stay away from screaming on-field hosts (see the review of Greensboro's new park for an example of the annoying side of this ledger). Ogden has been at this game for a little while longer, and their use of music (especially the Jurassic Park theme) is really great. Advantage: Ogden.
Sliding into home -- Summary
Without a doubt, it's worth a trip to Utah to see the state's three affiliated Minor League teams in Ogden, Salt Lake City and Orem. I timed it so that I could see all three teams play in a weekend. The three parks all offer great views of the Wasatch Mountain Range (Ogden's is probably the best of the three) and wholesome family fun. With its great architecture, food, souvenirs and affordability, don't be surprised if you end up liking Orem's new park the best ... unless you simply have to have beer!