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Provo finally gets its team

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The Mayor stepped to the microphone and shouted, "Are we ready for baseball in Provo?"

A few enthusiastic fans shouted back in the affirmative.

It was far from a deafening roar. Still, that's in part because with 15 minutes left before the opening pitch, the bulk of the crowd hadn't arrived. Even the Provo Angels — the first-ever professional baseball team in Utah County — were yet to take the field.

Soon, though, things were rolling. John Fogerty sang the baseball classic "Centerfield." Actually, he wasn't there at all, except on tape. But he sounded as though he wanted to be. The stands eventually filled, the first pitch was tossed, and the Angels' G-rated production was launched. The team mascot — a St. Bernard named "Charlie" — popped out of a box. In between innings the usual array of harebrained promotions were held: an eating contest, musical chairs and races with the mascot.

All that was missing was the opening-day skydivers.

"We wanted to do that, too," said Angels' publicity man Joel White. "But BYU wouldn't let us. Helicopter? Wouldn't let us do that, either. Fireworks? They probably wouldn't have let us."

Still, White wasn't complaining. The Angels are playing their first season in the Taj Mahal of college baseball stadiums, thanks to BYU's generosity. They will play at Miller Field this year, while their own stadium is being built.

"BYU has really been good to us," added White.

Whether that has anything to do with the Angels' look-alike blue-and-white uniforms is anyone's guess.

The Angels' first night was, by most standards, a success — if you don't count a 3-2 loss to Ogden. The late-arriving crowd eventually filled all but a few dozen of the 2,500 seats. The first hit came compliments of Angels' second baseman Maximo Pichardo. The first run, unfortunately for the Angels, came compliments of the visiting Raptors. During the seventh inning stretch, the crowd enthusiastically sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Then there were the usual multiple renditions of "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Professional baseball in Provo has been a long time coming. Amateur baseball, different matter entirely. Though rumors have cropped up over the years, the closest thing to a professional team in Utah County was decades ago, when a semipro team called the Provo Timps played here. Meanwhile, high school and college teams have thrived in Utah County. The BYU baseball team had no fewer than five future Major Leaguers on the same roster, back in the 1980s. Cory Snyder hit 'em into the Marriott Center parking lot when he was playing here. Wally Joyner made right field his own personal driving range.

Still, there was considerable skepticism that actual MLB-sanctioned baseball would work in Utah County. First, the Gulls/Trappers/Buzz/Stingers were less than an hour away up in Salt Lake. If you wanted to see the pros play, why not just drive to there?

The most vexing problems, though, were the twin bugaboos of alcohol and Sunday play. In most towns, beer is the No. 1 seller at the ballpark and Sunday is the top-drawing day. Not in Provo. It's nearly all conservative, LDS and doesn't drink anything more potent than Dr. Pepper.

Caffeine free, naturally.

How you gonna sell baseball without beer? Or playing Sunday games?

Nevertheless, that didn't discourage the owners, Rob Owens and Linda Gach Ray. They formerly had the club in Helena, Mont., where it was known as the Brewers. But the prospect of playing in a market of 300,000 people — about 10 times the size of Helena — was too tempting to resist.

They apparently figured what they lost in beer sales could easily be made in ticket sales and soft drink sales.

What's more, they decided to get creative. Instead of beer night, they could have root beer night. Instead of Sunday games, they could play doubleheaders on Saturday — all the better to bring along the family. And they could invite local celebrities. They already have Larry King, married to a Provo native (Shaun Southwick), scheduled as a special guest later in the year.

And you have to figure they're working on something with the Osmonds.

"Actually," said White, "we tried them. They're too busy in Branson."

A sure way to tell if the team is a hit: If they can talk The Natural himself, Robert Redford, down off his mountain.

Still, the Provo Angels passed their first big test. The weather was great, the game came off without a hitch and the house was full. The only thing they need to remember: in this town, winning is something they've gotten used to.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com