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It’s time to play ball in Provo

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PROVO — Outside of Utah County, few people are happier about the Provo Angels' imminent debut than Ogden Raptors president and owner Dave Baggott.

Baggott knows minor league baseball is all about entertainment. And what's more entertaining than a good, old-fashioned rivalry between two in-state teams? The Pioneer League could witness the birth of one this summer between Ogden and Provo — at least that's what Baggott is hoping for. Until now, Ogden's archrival has been Idaho Falls.

In their inaugural game tonight at 7, the Provo Angels will face the Raptors at BYU's Larry H. Miller Field. Provo Mayor Lewis Billings is scheduled to throw out the first pitch for the historic occasion. The two teams will meet again Monday at 5 p.m.

How long will it take for this new rivalry to take hold? "By the time the first run is scored," Baggott says.

The contrast between the two teams' nicknames — Angels and Raptors — mirrors the differences between the two Utah cities and their respective images, Baggott explains.

"We're the black hat-wearing, blue collar beer-guzzlers," Baggott says wryly. "They're the white hat-wearing, hand-clasping do-gooders from the south, behind the Zion Curtain. We're the bad guys, and we'll play that role emphatically."

Raptors players, most of whom have no understanding of the complex social distinctions between Ogden and Provo, have already been indoctrinated. "We've told them about the bragging rights involved," Baggott says.

Saturday marks the first of 18 games between the two teams, including 10 at Ogden's Lindquist Field. Baggott can't wait to host those games against the Angels. In August, the Raptors will stage "Polygamy Night," with the first wife getting in at half-price and each additional wife only $1.

"We're also going to have a sign on the bullpen fence that says, 'Provo Relief Society,' " Baggott says. "The players won't have a clue what it means. We'll have fun with the rivalry. We're going to poke fun at Provo, you can bet on that. Once we get this rivalry going, there will be surprises."

Of course, it'll all be done in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Baggott is a good friend of Angels' co-owner Rob Owens. Owens also sees the establishment of a good-natured, adversarial relationship between the two franchises as mutually beneficial, especially when it comes to ticket sales. "It's a natural rivalry," Owens says. "They've been the league leader in attendance almost every year for the last four years. We'd like to knock them off their perch. It will be good to put Dave in his place."

Owens plans on mocking the Raptors eventually. "We don't have any promotions targeted at Ogden," Owens said. "But we'll come up with a couple."

Joking and antics aside, Baggott, who has been involved with minor league baseball for 14 years, believes baseball in Provo is a boon for the Pioneer League.

"Having Provo in the league has automatically upgraded the quality of the league as a whole," Baggott says. "It could be the marquee city in the league, along with Ogden. Provo and Ogden should be the dominant teams in the league."

Baggott is referring to dominance both in the stands (attendance) and on the field. Ogden is now the Milwaukee Brewers' sole affiliate in the Pioneer League. In previous years, Helena (the former home of the Provo club) was also a Brewers affiliate. "We should be an older team than we usually are, and we don't have to split the talent up anymore," Baggott says.

Meanwhile, the Angels are expected to be competitive right away. Manager Tom Kotchman guided his former team, the Boise Hawks, to 12 championships in 17 seasons.

"The Southern Division title should be between Ogden and Provo," Baggott says.

Regardless of which team proves to be the better one, there should be plenty of fun at the ballparks in Provo and Ogden this summer.

"We're trying to create more of a pride factor in our local communities," Baggott says. "The ultimate winner is the fan. Whatever it takes to get people entertained."

Baggott expects a few dozen die-hard Raptor fans to make the 80-mile drive to Provo for the opener tonight.

"Our fans' biggest concern," he says with a laugh, "will be how to sneak a Pepsi into the stadium."

Provo Angels home schedule

Stadium: Larry H. Miller Field (BYU)

Gametimes: Tuesday-Saturday at 7:05 p.m.; Mondays at 5:05 p.m.; Doubleheaders (2) begin at 6:05 p.m.

JUNE

16, 18 — OGDEN

19-21 — CASPER

25-27 — BILLINGS

28-30 — CASPER

JULY

11-13 — GREAT FALLS

17-21 — IDAHO FALLS

25-27 — IDAHO FALLS

28 — MEDICINE HAT (2)

30 — MEDICINE HAT

AUGUST

1, 4, 6 — OGDEN

10-12* — MISSOULA

25 — CASPER (2)

27 — MEDICINE HAT

28-30 — OGDEN

* The only Sunday home game (Aug. 12) will be played at Ogden's Lindquist Field.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com