The Orem Owlz, rookie affiliate for the Los Angeles Angels, returned from a short season-opening series in Idaho Falls to begin a six-game homestand at Brent Brown Ballpark on Saturday night.
The Owlz, who split their series with the Chukars, were playing their first home game under new manager Bill Richardson, who took over for Tom Kotchman, Orem’s skipper for more than a decade.
Despite losing the game 7-3 to the visiting Grand Junction Rockies, the mood was festive and the stadium was crowded as fans filled the seats and lined the hillside along the third base line.
“The setting and surroundings are unbelievable here,” said Richardson. “The thin air, the mountains … just incredible. Opening night anywhere is opening night, and it’s a wonderful thing. I’m just disappointed we couldn’t win for the crowd tonight and fell behind early.”
Second-year pro Yency Almonte was the starting pitcher for the home team and found it a little rough going early on. He was removed after recording just one out in the fourth and his team trailing 5-0.
The bullpen did a nice job settling things down and gave the Owlz the opportunity to climb back in the game.
Richardson was supportive of his starter and proud of his effort. “Yency did a nice job out there,” he said. “You know, you’ve got a 19-year-old kid out there, under the lights, first game … some of it may have been a little calculated, but again, he made a lot of good pitches.
“The Angels' philosophy is when we get these guys out of the draft is to get them one inning,” Richardson said. “So now we’ve run everybody out there. It would be nice to get some matchups going out there early on, but it’s about development here, and we feel like we’re doing that.”
Down 6-0, the Owlz got their first run at home this year with a single from second baseman Kody Eaves, scoring left fielder Chad Hinshaw, who had singled and moved to third on a throwing error.
Then in the seventh, right fielder Ryan Bolden laced a deep home run to center field, giving the Owlz their second run on the night. “I knew I hit it pretty good,” Bolden said smiling. “The air is so different here than from Arizona, but I knew I got all of it.”
Orem added a run in the inning off a single by shortstop Jose Rondon that scored first baseman Raul Linares. The Owlz were beginning to get to the relief pitchers of the Rockies, but they fell just short by failing to keep the rally going.
Grand Junction added a run in the top of the ninth, then shut down the home team to put an end to a fast-paced home opener.
The appreciative crowd, despite the Owlz' loss, stuck around for a fireworks display after the game. Orem continues its home series against Grand Junction with games on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Kenny Bristow is the staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave and contributes to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.