OREM — With the first pitch only a few days away, it's already quite obvious that minor league baseball in Utah County will have a whole new look this season.
"We have all of the right ingredients coming together for a very special baseball year," Orem Owlz co-general manager Zachary Fraser said.
When a group of Southern California self-professed baseball nuts, led by lawyer/realtor Jeff Katofsky, bought the Provo Angels last fall it would have been fairly simple to keep the same team name, same uniforms and simply move to the new stadium at Utah Valley State College. But with new ownership and a new ballpark, the owner group felt the time was right to make other major renovations to the Pioneer League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
Katofsky and crew immediately adopted the philosophy that a total new look and new attitude was needed to increase fan base and to secure the team a long-term future in Utah Valley.
"The owners are all basically baseball fans, and they want to provide the kind of experience that makes other baseball fans want to be at the ballpark," Fraser said. "They are doing a lot of things to make the experience of coming to a minor league baseball game much more enjoyable."
The most obvious change, other than the 10-year deal to play at the new stadium at UVSC, was a new team name with a new team logo — thus came the Orem Owlz and the Owl eyes logos. So far, that move is paying nice dividends as fans locally — and nationwide — are showing more interest and buying more of the team's apparel. Twelve youth teams nationwide have even asked to wear Owlz uniforms.
"It's quickly becoming one of the more popular logos in baseball," co-general manager Ryan Pace said.
Adding to the team's new identity, of course, is the new 2,500-seat fan-friendly UVSC stadium. The ballpark, with its close proximity to one of Utah's busiest freeway interchanges, should give the team more exposure. The owners have added a Jumbotron to the outfield scoreboard to enhance the ballpark experience for fans. Players will benefit from under-the-stands weight rooms and batting cages.
"If it's not the nicest ballpark in rookie league baseball, it's definitely in the top tier of ballparks," Fraser said.
Leaving behind the restrictions of the stadium at Brigham Young University will also help the Owlz. Mainly, the team now has control of concessions.
"That's a big deal because now we can do a lot more with what we offer the fans. If it's something that isn't going over too well, we can change it. If it's something the fans like, then we can do more to make sure it's available," Pace said.
Even though they now could offer beer sales, the Owlz still won't this season. However, they will gauge the interest this season and beer sales could be offered in future seasons.
One change the new owners didn't have much choice in is the scheduling of Sunday games. The past few seasons the Pioneer League has allowed the Utah Valley team, because it played at a BYU-owned stadium, to play Saturday doubleheaders instead of Sunday games.
This season the league will require the Owlz to play four homes games on a Sunday. The Owlz front office is not sure how those Sunday dates will affect attendance.
Another early move the new owners made was the lowering of ticket prices. Fans seem to appreciate the price break, with opening night this Tuesday and the first Friday night game expected to be sell-outs. The Owlz have almost tripled season ticket sales from last season. The Owlz have also enhanced the promotions schedule and will set off fireworks following seven games this season.
"Every single game will have either fireworks, a promotion or a giveaway," Fraser said.
Broadcasting Owlz games on local radio is another new move by the new owners. The broadcast team of Trevor Kelly and Joey Hurley, know as "The Wingmen," will give play by play of each game and have a game-day radio talk show on K-STAR 1400 AM. The new owners feel radio is a necessary aspect of professional baseball.
"How else can you build a brand identity?" Fraser said.
The Owlz will also target the Spanish-speaking fan base for the first time and have hired Veronica Legaspy as director of Hispanic relations.
"Baseball is really big in the Latin countries and we're trying to tap into that market and make that culture of great people around here excited about minor league baseball," Pace said.
Everything that goes into the new look and new attitude, however, without the same on-the-field product as in past seasons would likely make all of the changes fruitless. Since coming to Utah Valley five years ago the Owlz organization has won seven of eight mid-season division titles, played in four championship series and last season won the Pioneer League crown.
A big reason for the team's past success has been the stable leadership of manager Tom Kotchman, the winningest active manager in minor league baseball. Kotchman and his coaching staff, with the new addition of hitting instructor Keith Johnson, will again be at the helm of the Owlz team. From what the front office has seen, another talented crop of Angels prospects will report to the Owlz this weekend. First-round draft pick Trevor Bell, a hard-throwing righthander from Crescenta Valley High School in California, might even join the team for a few weeks this season.
"We're lucky that we're affiliated with the Angels. Because we've done so much to provide their players with a top-notch experience, they're committed to helping us put a winning product on the field," Fraser said.