AUSTIN FACER: The Sun is Setting on Smith's Ballpark for the Salt Lake Bees
To put the situation in baseball terms, the Nation’s Pastime is entering the 9th inning of its time in Salt Lake City.
According to multiple reports by various SLC media outlets, the Salt Lake Bees may not be long for the city it's called home since 1994 when eccentric former owner Joe Buzas brought a Pacific Coast League franchise to Utah’s capital city.
The team was known then as the Salt Lake Buzz, then later as the Salt Lake Stingers, and finally are the Salt Lake Bees now, but could they soon become the Daybreak Bees? If the reports are to be believed – and I’m of the somewhat informed opinion things have developed much further than the media is privy to – the Bees could soon pull up stakes in Salt Lake and head southwest to Daybreak in a couple of years.
The Larry H. Miller Group, which owns both the Daybreak community and the Bees, has been somewhat tactful about reports, saying it’s merely in the “planning stages” of how to handle the future of the franchise when the lease at Smith’s Ballpark ends in 2024.
However, I’m here to tell you there’s probably an above-90% chance it’s going to happen. My opinion is it’s more than a safe bet the 2024 season will be the last for Triple-A baseball in Salt Lake City. I would be shocked if the stadium’s lease between the city and the team’s ownership gets renewed.
I’m calling my shot right now: The Bees' first pitch on Opening Day 2025 will be at a brand new stadium in Daybreak.
It just makes too much sense for it not to happen.
Right now, the biggest factor driving the Bees out of Salt Lake is the state of their “hive” on 1300 South. Smith’s Ballpark, while boasting one of the best views in all of professional baseball when looking out into the Wasatch Mountains, is immediately surrounded by one of the worst neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley.
The Ballpark/Granary District is a dump. There’s no other way to say it.
If you’ve been to a Bees game lately, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The neighborhood, complete with a TRAX station, a pretty good place to get a burger (Lucky 13), and a 7-11 that bizarrely blasts opera music 24 hours a day, has been one of the hardest hit by SLC’s enormous homelessnewss crisis.
It’s not a safe space. The reason the 7-11 located kitty-corner from the ballpark has to play C-level opera music at all hours of the day is to prevent the unsheltered who wander the neighborhood from loitering and causing trouble in the parking lot. Several of the bordering homes resemble trap houses of the worst nature. Broken glass and dirty needles fill the parking lot across the street.
Not to mention, the ballpark itself is aging, quickly. While the mountain view is timeless, many aspects of the stadium are not. Amenities for both players and fans are severely lacking. The video scoreboard is one of the worst in minor league baseball. Both clubhouses likely haven’t been touched or remodeled since the park’s opening nearly 30 years ago and are filled with furniture from Deseret Industries. There are no strength and conditioning facilities to speak of. Rainwater also doesn’t drain very well off the field.
And not to beat a dead horse, but the poor conditions surrounding the park have also made their way into the stadium. Each winter, shelter-seeking homeless climb over the outfield fence and spend as much time as possible gathering warmth in the dugouts, tunnels, and even the luxury suites. Vandalism, trespassing, and destruction of property are staples of the wintertime at the stadium. Those in the know plan on this being a recurring problem at Smith’s Ballpark every off-season. It really does happen, even if you haven’t heard any reports about it, I promise it does.
The Miller Group, which pays a yearly rent to the city to be able to use the ballpark each summer, has likely had enough of the city putting little funding into the neighborhood or stadium itself. Not to mention, it’s not a stretch to imagine the LHM leadership sees a tremendous opportunity to boost Daybreak’s value and appeal by building a beautiful new stadium and hosting the Bees as a community asset.
Salt Lake City, to its credit, has submitted a proposal to clean up the ballpark area and make it a more amenable place for sports entertainment. However, at this point, it’s likely too little too late. I would be shocked if the Miller Group chooses not to take advantage of this moment. Think about it from a business perspective and you’ll know I’m right.
It would be to be very sad to see the Bees go. The land where Smith’s Ballpark stands now was also home to Derks Field for decades and an even older ballpark, Bonneville Park, way back in the 1910s. Many great ballplayers have stopped in Salt Lake City at one point in their careers. Countless summer memories have been made in the outfield grass that makes up the stadium’s general admission seating. At some level, professional baseball has been played in Utah’s capital city for well over a century.
However, just a few years from now, I forecast that that won’t be the case.
You can think I’m wrong or stupid, but I know I’m not either of those things. And I’ll expect an apology when an announcement gets made.