SALT LAKE CITY — In the two decades since Triple-A baseball reemerged in Utah, a lot has changed. And a lot hasn’t.
Which is the good thing about it.
On one hand, the Salt Lake Bees, who open their season Thursday at Smith’s Ballpark, are playing in a town where pro baseball began in 1915. Community Park gave way to Derks Field, which ushered in Franklin Quest Field, which became Franklin Covey Field, which became Spring Mobile Ballpark, which became Smith’s Ballpark, just last month.
Whatever the name, it’s been pretty much the same time and place throughout the years.
But there have been changes, too. Salt Lake teams regularly switched affiliates and names. There were the Giants, Angels, Gulls, Trappers, Buzz, Stingers and Bees, both old and new.
Thus the new-age Bees begin the season with a home stand against Sacramento. On hand at Tuesday’s media day were almost all the essentials, which included a warming tray of jumbo dogs, a bowl of chips, unlimited soft drinks, general manager Marc Amicone, manager Keith Johnson and announcer Steve Klauke.
Of all the aforementioned, Klauke and the hot dogs have been there the longest.
He was the team’s radio announcer in April 1994, when baseball returned from the hinterlands. It’s true the rookie league Salt Lake Trappers captured more national press than any team in Salt Lake history, when in 1987 it set a record for consecutive wins (29). But it’s also true the city was never meant to be a low minor league town.
So after entrepreneur Joe Buzas convinced Salt Lake civic leaders in 1993 that Triple-A baseball was an asset — after a nine-year absence — Derks Field was razed and rebuilt. Soon Klauke was manning the new press box, microphone at the ready.
In the next 20 seasons he saw every game — home and away — except 10 (2,930) and loved every minute. If you see him in the off-season, he can recite how many days, hours and minutes until opening pitch.
Being there for everything is bound to produce some unforgettable moments, and Klauke is happy to share them. For instance, the time the Salt Lake Buzz trailed 6-2 in the third inning of a game against Albuquerque, when Bernardo Brito, on his way to a 40-game Major League career, hit a third-inning grand slam. However, the runner on first thought the ball would be caught at the wall, so he held up.
Brito raced by and was called out for passing his man, but since the ball landed beyond the fence, the other three runs counted. It was ruled a three-run single, with the Buzz losing 6-5.
Three years ago the Bees were tied in the bottom of the 10th, with a runner on third, when a pitch hit the dirt. The Tucson catcher blocked it, but as the ball squibbed away he tried to corral it with his mask.
The umpire evoked a little-used “detached equipment” rule, bringing home the winning run.
“So it was a walk-off, detached equipment violation game,” Klauke says.
Another time the Bees were flying from Tucson to Edmonton, with a stopover in Denver. But 30 minutes out, the pilot announced the windshield was “cracked like a little jigsaw puzzle.”
The plane detoured to Salt Lake for repairs, but the flight didn’t leave until 6:40, for what was supposed to be a 7 p.m. game. Officials would have declared a postponement, but it was the night before Canada Day and a sellout crowd of 9,500 was waiting to see the fireworks. The first pitch didn’t sail until 9:50.
Three innings were played, after which the game was suspended and the fireworks show went off, as planned, at 11.
Klauke can go on for extra innings if asked. Once in Calgary, there was a jackrabbit delay in the outfield. In Colorado Springs, things got held up when a large yellow snake slithered into the outfield and the right fielder refused to take his position.
Along the way, some future stars appeared in Salt Lake: Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins, Todd Walker, David Ortiz and Mike Trout, to name a few. All went on to fine Major League careers.
Klauke stayed in Utah, which is good for two reasons. First, the city has retained a first-rate baseball announcer. Second, if any jackrabbits, snakes or obscure calls appear, he’ll know exactly what to do.
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