The Ogden Raptors are the Dodgers’ Rookie League team in the Pioneer league. The Raptors are an advanced rookie team that became affiliated with the Dodgers in 2003. Prior to that, the Ogden team was an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ogden, with a population of about 83,000, claims to be the oldest settlement in Utah dating back to 1845 and has a long history with minor league baseball of over 100 years.
The Raptors are blessed to play in one of the most beautiful settings in professional baseball. In fact, Lindquist Field, which was built in the heart of downtown Ogden in 1997, was named the “Best View” by Baseballparks.com - not just in the Pioneer League but in all of Baseball. Digitalballparks.com gave Lindquist Field the same honor and also awarded it the 2007 Ballpark of the Year. Not alone in their assessment, a staff writer for Grand Slam Enterprises, Inc. also named the view beyond the fence as the best in professional baseball. The outfield fences are set against a breathtaking panoramic view the Wasatch Mountains, which majestically stand at 9,000 feet above sea level.
The Raptors have led the Pioneer League in attendance every year since 1997 and did so again in 2013 with an average attendance of 3,370. The continued yearly attendance is due to the historically strong fan base and is buoyed by the ownership’s efforts to thank the fans in a variety of creative ways. Since 1997 upwards of one million free general admission tickets have been given away at local restaurants, thus supporting the team and the restaurant industry. “There’s a million of them (tickets),” said Raptors president and general manager Dave Baggott. “That’s a lot of them. It’s an unprecedented program. No one has ever done it. I challenge any other company to donate $5 million (worth of product) to their communities.”
Baggott made another strong commitment to the fans in 2013.
“We want to celebrate the history of baseball in Ogden, and there is quite a history here,” Baggott said. “Our goal for our 20th year is to increase that fan experience and thank our fans for the support they’ve always given us.”
Two events of note were part of the 2013 Ogden Raptors promotions. One was to honor and recognize the Dodgers’ first stint in Ogden, then called the Ogden Dodgers. The Raptors had a poster giveaway night to honor members of the 1968 Ogden Dodgers team that included Steve Garvey, Bobby Valentine, Bill Buckner and manager Tommy Lasorda, who were part of a run that saw Ogden sweep four consecutive Pioneer League championships. Tommy won three of those championships with the Raptors from 1966-68 and 14 of the players he managed in Ogden went on to play at the MLB level. In 2009 his Ogden jersey, number 4, was retired, and Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey proclaimed July 10, 2009 “Tommy Lasorda Day” in the city.
The second event is a bit off topic but demonstrates the family-like atmosphere of baseball in Ogden. The Raptors honored Robbie Parker, who more than a decade ago served for three seasons as “Oggie,” the Raptors’ lovable dinosaur mascot. Perhaps it was not so much to honor Robbie but to help him and his family through a very trying time. Our hearts all broke with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, none more so that Robbie Parker and his family.
A decade ago Robbie Parker in his worst nightmare could not have ever dreamed of the horrific tragedy that his family would have to endure. On that fateful day last December, Robbie, his wife Alissa and their two other little girls would lose their adorable daughter and sister, 6-year-old Emilie, forever. On July 20, the Raptors remembered and honored Emilie and the Parker family by holding a special night in her memory.
“Our players are going to wear pink jerseys, her favorite color, with her name on the backs of their jerseys,” said Baggott. “We’ll auction those jerseys off for $500 each, and all the proceeds will go to the Emilie Parker Fund. We want to pay tribute to a fallen child who did not get a chance at life. This will help raise money for their other two daughters and allow their family to come out and enjoy a night of baseball with us and our great fans. It’s our small way of trying to help them overcome a terrible, devastating tragedy.”
Most of the Raptor players don’t live in apartments, hotels or dorms but instead live with a ‘Host Family.’ They move in with a local family while they play for the team. Each player, often more than one per host family, has a home away from home. The host family program gives the young players a stable environment in which they have the security of surrogate parents, eat well, get proper rest and share in household duties. I can picture a host Mom watching over a professional baseball player, seeing the needs of the young man, not the player. One can only imagine the lifetime bonds that develop among the players and their host families with whom they share their successes and more importantly the times when they do not succeed.
The Ogden Raptors do not play in a small town as I remember a small town. The Liverpool Larrupers did play in a small town of about 2,500 people in Nova Scotia, Canada in the 1950’s, a time when young players, mostly from New England, lived with host families. Ogden, with a population of around 83,000, is more of a small city than a small town, yet team management and the people of Ogden have managed to maintain that small town baseball atmosphere that I remember so well. Dave Baggott, twenty years as president and general manager of the team, seems to have a different philosophy regarding the fans that support the team. It isn’t ‘how can I get you into the stadium,’ but rather ‘what can I do for you once you have paid your $6 general admission and entered the stadium?’ ($5 for seniors and kids 4 to 11 and free admission for kids under 4).
This is how baseball is supposed to be.