In My Eyes: Utah Sports Stories That Mattered In 2023

Jan 2, 2024, 2:11 PM | Updated: 4:31 pm

Smith's Ballpark...

The Salt Lake Bees grounds crew prepares the Smith's Ballpark field ready for play on July 20, 2023.

SALT LAKE CITY – Recapping 365 days of sport across the 45th state in the Union is no easy task.

The Utah Jazz, Real Salt Lake and the returning Utah Royals; the Utah Warriors rugby, Salt Lake Bees baseball, and Utah Grizzlies hockey. Six schools with Division 1 athletics programs, and more high school sports than one can consume.

Beyond the action between the lines, the sports landscape across the Beehive State began to shift in 2023.

Elected officials pursue hosting another Winter Olympics; Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith pursues an NHL franchise; for the first time since 2011, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah will start the 2024 academic year as conference rivals, this time in the Big 12.

These are just a few of the sports climate shifting developments in Utah during 2023.

Living out a young sports fan’s dreams in 2023

Much of the content generated by the sports journalism machine falls into a labyrinth of game recaps, ‘what’s next’ speculation, and celebrity sightings. The stories told are important to their subjects, but ultimately forgettable.

That former All-Star who retired hours before sitting down to talk about his unexpected decision to throw the spikes back on. A top-tier catching talent rehabbing in the minors gets called back to the big leagues during batting practice, minutes before sharing his journey as a can’t miss prospect.

In my experience, the stories that don’t get told are what keeps a writer hungry. The unknown tale about your next favorite athlete that captures the attention of one curious reader after another. It could be a quick ‘how do you do’ in the press box that triggers an idea. Maybe a tip from a connected source. Usually, it’s as simple as reading a line in a press release and saying to myself, “Huh, that’s cool. I’d like to know more.”

Occasionally, if luck and preparation intersect at the perfect moment, a writer gets to tell the story that matters to them.

RELATED: Two-Sport All-American Jordyn Adams Flashing Potential With Bees

In 2022, former National League MVP and Chicago Cub World Series hero Kris Bryant made his way to Smith’s Ballpark on a rehab assignment for the Colorado Rockies. This year, Mike Montgomery, the man who closed out game seven for the 2016 Cubs, ending 108 years of playoff ineptitude for the storied franchise, came to town as a member of the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

“Tired would be an understatement but at that point, you’re just kind of numb to everything. I remember seeing (John) Lackey and (Jake) Arrieta and they just looked at me like, ‘Mike, you got this’. They gave me that confidence.” — Mike Montgomery

Nearly seven years after throwing the most impactful pitch of his career, Montgomery shared some of his experiences in Chicago and how life hasn’t been the same since.

RELATED: 2016 World Series Hero Keeping Dream Alive In Minors

Big League Utah

Awoken by a message from my boss in early April 2023, “Urgent baseball-related press conference. Are you available?”

Hours later, hundreds were gathered at a site on the west side of Salt Lake now dubbed the ‘Power District’ for an announcement that shook the foundation of what many thought possible in Utah.

MLB To SLC: LHM Group Announces Attempt To Bring MLB Team To Utah

Led by Larry H. Miller Company CEO Steve Starks and the passion of Gail Miller, plans to seek an MLB expansion team were laid out.

“Big League Utah, a broad-based community coalition, said it believes Utah is the “Future of America’s Pastime” and has targeted a shovel-ready site for a new MLB ballpark at the 100-acre Rocky Mountain Power District on Salt Lake City’s west side.”

RELATED: Could MLB Be Part Of Utah’s Tourism Ecosystem?

SL Bees Announce 2025 Move To Daybreak

A new ballpark in Daybreak and the return of Delta Center to the home of the Utah Jazz injected a dose of nostalgia into the spring of 2023.

RELATED: Bees Move, Delta Center Return Mark Big Changes

In conjunction with Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall, the LHM Company announced plans to relocate the Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, to Daybreak, Utah.

“The Bees look forward to commemorating the next two seasons at Smith’s Ballpark before the current lease expires in Fall 2024. The team is grateful for the long-term legacy of baseball in Salt Lake City and for the incredible fans and surrounding community that support the team.”

RELATED: History Of The Salt Lake Bees, MiLB In Salt Lake City

In October, the Bees broke ground in Daybreak on a new ballpark. Officials announced a naming rights partnership with America First First Credit for the new ballpark.

Utah State Honors Coaching Legend

USU announced plans in December to rename the court at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum after all-time wins leader Stew Morrill.

The former Provo Bulldog led the Aggies for 17 seasons. It was a run that included 21 or more wins in 14 straight seasons from 1999-2013.

Morrill finished his coaching career with 620 wins against 294 losses. He was 402-156 with Utah State.

RELATED: Cache Valley Provided Unique Environment For Stew Morrill

The Aggie will honor Morrill at halftime of a February 10 game against Boise State.

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Brian Preece is a insider covering the Utah State Aggies and Salt Lake Bees. Follow Brian’s coverage of the Bees, Big League Utah, and Aggie athletics here.

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In My Eyes: Utah Sports Stories That Mattered In 2023