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Baseball in July: A Game of Contrasts

salt lake bees

Salt Lake City Bees vs. Sacramento Rivercats

Salt Lake City, much like the game of baseball, reveals itself in contrasts.

A growing and increasingly progressive city in a conservative state, Salt Lake cannot be defined by any one thing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, famously headquartered in the downtown and colloquially referred to as Mormonism, holds a firm but seemingly decreasing grip on the population, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The University of Utah boasts a spot on the top 40 medical schools in the nation and draws students from all over the world. The Utah senator Mitt Romney drew ire from the GOP for voting against the former president on several hot button political issues, including impeachment.

And yet, at the July 8 Salt Lake Bees game against the Sacramento Rivercats, none of those differences seemed to matter much. In fact, if anything, the contrasts of the crowd threw the unity of support for the hometown Bees into sharper relief. Even when their team struggled.

By the end of the second inning, the situation looked bleak for Salt Lake. Sacramento, the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, sat at a comfortable 6-1 lead.

The crowd, however, stayed patient. After a year of turmoil and quarantine, being back at the stadium garnered a sense of familiarity, if not outright relief. Besides, the sign leading to the main entrance of Smith’s Ballpark, home of the Bees, promises “the best view in baseball.”

Sometimes you just have to wait for it. The Bees, a AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, have been waiting a while.

They haven’t ranked first in their league since 2000, and they’ve never won a league title. After the Minor League restructuring last year, they ended up as the only major league affiliated team in Utah—or the entire Mountain West, for that matter.

Perhaps Salt Lake’s position as the last team standing in the region galvanized their supporters. The stadium can hold 14,511 fans. On Thursday, it appeared at least half sold out, with the green seats disappearing in greater numbers as they filled in toward home plate.

Or, perhaps the fans understood the best view in baseball to be literal. With the Wasatch Mountains as a backdrop and wisps of clouds smearing an otherwise blue western sky, the case could easily be made.

Regardless, Sacramento’s hot streak held. By the middle of the fifth inning, the Rivercats led 9-3, and the Salt Lake Bees looked beaten. Even outfielder Jo Adell, the Bees’ top prospect for the third season in a row, failed to make much of an impact his first couple at bats.

But by then baseball had already reminded everyone, as it usually does, that more than one thing can be true at once. Winning can matter—but it doesn’t matter most.

Sacramento’s left fielder Drew Robinson stands as a testament to that.

Everyone in the crowd, Bees fans included, applauded as Robinson approached the plate for the first time of the night. Just over a year ago, in April of 2020, Robinson tried to die by suicide. His attempt left him blind in one eye and his career in baseball a fading dream. But then Robinson battled back. He signed with the Rivercats in May of 2021. And tonight he reminded everyone watching, Salt Lake fans and Sacramento fans alike, that as powerful as the contrast is between winning and losing, it’s nothing compared to the contrast between despair and redemption.

Everyone cheered for Robinson. But, of course, more than one thing can be true at once. Everyone still wanted to win.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, the Salt Lake Bees remained behind 9-8.

The crowd stayed.

They wore BYU shirts and Mike Trout jerseys and halter tops. They drank beer and Dasani and Dr. Pepper. They applauded the bravery of one of their opponents and they came together despite their differences to support their friends.

Baseball reveals itself in contrasts. It’s a slow game until it’s not.

The bases were loaded. Jo Adell, who hit a home run in the bottom of the fifth, stepped up to the plate. The Rivercats’ Trevor Gott fired his first pitch to Adell. Adell, living up to his spot at the top of the prospect list, crushed it into left-center field. Two runners scored, and the Bees took the victory with a hard-earned comeback walk-off.

Most nights, it might be impossible to sum up the contrasts that make Salt Lake City in a book, much less a sentence. But tonight, at Smith Ballpark, just one word will do: win.

This is the second article in the ongoing series Baseball in July.

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