'The Streak': 25 years later, the Trappers' record-setting performance still stands tall

By Glenn Seninger

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Among the reminders of the 1987 Trappers season is the Sports Illustrated article, trading cards and autographed ball.Among the reminders of the 1987 Trappers season is the Sports Illustrated article, trading cards and autographed ball.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It's closing time at Frank's Corner Kitchen, and owner Frank Colston is cleaning up from a long day serving his local customers. It's been a while since anyone asked him about his playing days as a minor league catcher for the Salt Lake Trappers. It's just another late night for Colston, who owns this small, family restaurant and sports bar in Beckemeyer, Ill., a quiet Midwestern town where Frank grew up.

Tucked away in the corner of the bar, in a small display case, is a worn team photo of the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers signed by all his teammates and coaches from a historic winning streak — 29 games in a row. But for Colston, being a long way from Salt Lake City and out of baseball all these years hasn't dimmed the memories of that historic summer.

"Sports has a cruel way of dealing with retired players and with history," Colston says. "I can remember things from that season like it was yesterday, but it's hard to describe the magnitude and excitement of that experience to someone who never heard of 'The Streak.'

"Heck, I had to convince my own daughter that a bat I used and a baseball I signed is sitting in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. She didn't believe me at first. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."

For Colston and many others, time has passed but the memories and experiences are still very much alive from that unforgettable season. Taking a look back, for one short, 70-game season, the Salt Lake Trappers were in the center of the national baseball conversation.

Now, 25 years later, what has become of those undrafted, independent team players? How did that season change them? What impact, if any, did being a small part of baseball history have on them?

Gone is historic Derks Field, with its decaying concrete and cinder block outfield wall, replaced by the clean lines of structural steel, a grassy berm beyond the outfield fence and state-of-the-art architecture of Spring Mobile Ballpark.

"Derks Field was an amazing place," said Adam Casillas, who played outfield that year. "After that season, I realized how spoiled we really were. I always loved playing in Salt Lake City. I spent almost a decade in professional baseball, and there is no prettier ballpark I've played in anywhere."

For Casillas and the other members of that 1987 Trappers' team, the journey to Salt Lake City was an interesting path.

Making of a franchise

For many of the 1987 Trappers, it was their first taste of professional baseball. The Trappers were part of a unique fraternity of independently owned and operated minor league franchises. The pipeline for players into Salt Lake City was driven primarily by owner and scout Van Schley, whose baseball background was somewhat unorthodox.

In 1977, while living in Los Angeles as an aspiring artist, Schley, who had a passion for baseball, had a vision to one day own a franchise. Networking within the baseball community, Schley bought his first team in Texas City for $500.

He then went on to own teams in Canada (Victoria, British Columbia) and Utica of the New York-Penn League. But when the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A team, the Salt Lake Gulls, went bankrupt in 1984, and the opportunity to secure franchise rights in Salt Lake City came up, he jumped at the chance.

Schley also worked on investment capital for this new franchise. The Trappers' 16 owners included Phoenix businessman Steve Butterfield, Utah food broker Ron Sabala, longtime baseball executive Jack Donovan, and actor Bill Murray, who held a 5 percent share.

In 1985, Schley met Jim Gilligan, then Lamar University's head baseball coach, and hired him as the Trappers' pitching coach. He later contacted Barry Moss, who had spent 11 years as a player in the minors and wanted to get into managing a team. The two were assistant coaches in 1986; Gilligan took over as manager in 1987.

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