SALT LAKE CITY — Major League Baseball wasn’t the only thing that returned to Utah on Saturday. The first exhibition game played here in 43 years — a 4-3 win for the Seattle Mariners over the Colorado Rockies at Spring Mobile Ballpark — also brought back some familiar faces.
“I spent a lot of time here, three seasons, and really enjoyed it. This was where I prepared and learned how to be a better baseball player,” said Seattle infielder Kendrys Morales, who played for Triple-A Salt Lake from 2006-08. “I knew I was one step away from the big leagues and I was focused on becoming a better baseball player during my time here.”
Morales added that it was nice being back, noting that he loves the ballpark and the people.
Former Salt Lake manager Mike Brumley (2002-04) also enjoyed the homecoming. He’s now the first base coach for the Mariners.
“It was awesome flying in,” Brumley said. “I’ve been back a couple of times to play in the snow and all that, but to come back downtown and come back to the ballpark brings back good memories.”
Brumley said that it was a great time for the Angels organization.
“We were building a future that they’ve enjoyed over the past 10 years,” he said. “There were a lot of good players and I loved the city. Salt Lake is one of my favorites places to come and all that.”
Brumley has been back before. He managed the Pioneer League’s Ogden Raptors in 2008. Two years before that, Brumley managed a series in Salt Lake for the Oklahoma Redhawks.
This trip back, he said, was especially enjoyable because of the good weather and packed stadium.
“It worked out great,” Brumley said.
Colorado outfielder Michael Cuddyer also enjoyed the surroundings. He played for Salt Lake in the 2000 Pacific Coast League playoffs.
“I love it. It’s probably my top two or three favorite professional ballparks in the country, including big leagues,” Cuddyer said. “The backdrop is the best backdrop in all of professional baseball. The stadium is great. The fans were great when I was here. I loved it here.”
Although his tenure in Salt Lake was short, Cuddyer came back to the city in 2002 with the Edmonton Trappers.
Returning again, he acknowledged, worked out well as both teams wrapped up preparations for season openers on Monday. The Rockies head to Milwaukee and the Mariners visit Oakland.
“It’s nice to be able to come here and play a game because it kind of still breaks the monotony of spring training and playing 50 days in Arizona,” Cuddyer said. “You get to come here and it’s exciting. The fans are excited.”
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a two-time all-star, also had positive things to say about the Salt Lake stop.
“It’s nice to come here, see the field,” Tulowitzki said. “I’ve heard great things. So yeah, I’m excited to be here.”
Both managers were also pleased with the situation.
Colorado’s Walt Weiss, who played at Derks Field in 1985 while with Pocatello in the Pioneer League, called it a “beautiful day and a beautiful setting here.”
Seattle’s Eric Wedge had similar things to say, adding it’s a great precursor to the regular season. The players, he continued, looked forward to a different atmosphere before getting things started.
The large crowd enhanced it all.
“It says a lot just about the fans here in Salt Lake and about baseball fans in general,” Wedge said. “When you come to a ballpark and you’re in a setting like this and you know that the fans are excited for you to come out, it makes it even all the more enjoyable and all the more fun for our guys.”
GAME NOTES: The first MLB exhibition game in Salt Lake City since Oakland topped San Diego, 6-4, on April 4, 1970, drew a sellout crowd of 15,411. The game featured solo home runs by Morales, Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and Justin Smoak. Wedge was part of the Colorado Rockies’ inaugural press tour that visited Salt Lake City 20 years ago. Former Salt Lake pitcher Joe Saunders (2005-07), who is now in Seattle’s starting rotation, did not make the trip — nor did Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.