SALT LAKE CITY — Marc Amicone has worked and played at numerous sports and loved them all. Put him in Rice-Eccles Stadium for football and he thinks it's Shangri-La. Park him in the lower bowl at a Jazz playoff game and he's happy as a pup. Even niche sports like swimming and tennis elicit a satisfied smile.
But baseball, he says, is a league of its own.
"Look at the grass," says the Salt Lake Bees' general manager, standing near the dugout at Spring Mobile Ballpark. "The smell, the feel …"
The season hasn't even begun and already he's waxing poetic.
"Fact of the matter is, you come and have a great time, whether it's a 15-1 or 2-1 game. You're outside, you smell the hot dogs cooking on the burners, the barbecues, the popcorn. I walk around the ballpark and see all the families on the berm. There are a lot of grandmas and grandpas, kids, families."
He then quotes a line he recalls, from an author that he can't: "The greatest memories of baseball aren't always on the field."
The Bees start the season today against Reno as part of an eight-game homestand. What you don't need to know is who will be the starting pitcher, catcher or even who's managing (ex-Los Angeles Angel Keith Johnson). It's not necessary to know that outfielder Jeremy Moore hit a league-leading 10 triples playing for Arkansas last year, either, or that there are seven pitchers who played for the Bees last season.
The main thing is that the newly installed field is raked and ready.
"Opening Day is Opening Day. There's no other sport that has that," Amicone continues. "This is what happens in summer in America."
A few feet away from Amicone, players are just finishing up team pictures, wearing their classic white Bees uniforms. Many minor league teams wear garish logos on their shirts or caps — what can you do when you're the Batavia Muckdogs? — but the Bees long ago decided to be subtle. When the late Larry H. Miller got the rights to the team nickname several years ago, he wanted the uniforms to closely resemble those he saw as a kid.
Classic uniforms don't necessarily mean the Bees are championship material. Last year's team finished a so-so 73-71, the previous year 72-71. Salt Lake hasn't won a title in the 11 years since Triple-A baseball returned to the city. Call-ups, injuries and other matters always factor in.
Although the Bees say they're focused on winning a championship, minor league baseball isn't just about that. As Amicone explains, it's the ballpark experience, too. Often that includes wacky promotions: Elvis look-alike nights, alien nights, ballpark wedding nights, Britney Spears Baby Safety Night, Frivolous Lawsuit Night, etc. Mostly the Bees stay away from such outrageous promotions.
"We're probably a little more traditional," Amicone says. "But we still have some fun, zany stuff."
They'll still have Ugly Sweater Night, the cowboy monkey and the human Slinky, but often the smells and sounds of the game are the better attraction.
"We're probably half-and-half (on promotions vs. game atmosphere)," he says.
Amicone has worked in marketing with the Jazz, as well as at the University of Utah, where he supervised men's and women's swimming, golf and baseball. He played baseball for the Utes in college.
"I love all sports," he says.
But he hastens to add that he prefers nothing more than being at the ballpark. To him, life without a roof overhead isn't a bad thing.
"I can't believe how many people have told me that their first date was here," he says, gesturing toward the stands, "or the number of proposals that have happened here."
That sort of stuff makes complete sense to him. After all, he, too, is married to the game.
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