IT WAS A QUARTER after four - still almost three hours from first pitch - and already they were locking the front gate to Derks Field. Trapper Mania is back. The money-makingest little Rookie League franchise in baseball history is still going phenomenally.
Steve Pearson, the general manager who once went down with the ship when Triple-A baseball abandoned Salt Lake five years ago, sat in the ticket office furiously working a computer as fans lined up in the 100-degree heat outside to buy seats for t-shirt night that evening."No rain," he said, "200,000."
Translated into long English, that means that if rain doesn't wash out any of the 34 scheduled Trappers home dates between now and the end of the regular season on Aug. 29 the Trappers, in Pearson's educated opinion, could play to 200,000 fans.
No franchise in the history of short-season minor league baseball has ever done that.
But the Trappers drew 170,000 last year, when they won their third consecutive Pioneer League championship and won those 29 straight games. The 170,000 and 29 were all-time baseball records.
The Trappers may not get a new streak, but Pearson and his staff - and the club's 16 owners - don't see why they can't top 200,000 fans.
All of which applies plenty of pressure to the ball club itself. It's brand new. Manager Barry Moss is new, replacing Jim Gilligan, who got so busy with his job as a player's agent that he had to turn it into fulltime work. All the players are new, with the exception of catcher Bill Fellows, who was around for just the final three weeks of last season.
Not a single player who participated in "The Streak" is still a Trapper. Nobody who weathered that amazin' streak; who didn't wash his socks for more than a month; who had his picture in Sports Illustrated or was featured on ESPN or CBS - none of those guys are around anymore. They're either climbing the professional baseball ladder as we speak, or they're making pizzas or going to grad school.
That's the nature of the Rookie Leagues. If you stay longer than a year, you're not a rookie and you don't qualify.
"We've got the makings of another good team," said Moss, the new skipper who was a coach on Gilligan's staff last season. "We've got good pitching, and we'll be faster on the base paths. We don't have the bombers from last year."
Moss said it wouldn't be fair to compare this year's team to last year's team.
But, of course, like Crocodile Dundee II is being compared to Crocodile Dundee I, it will be compared.
"I hope this club gets its own tradition," Moss said. "The Streak was great, but it ended the middle of last year."
But try telling that to the baseball fans of Streak City, who were outside buying tickets even as Moss was speaking three hours prior to gametime. I mean actually buying tickets. Not handing over grocery store coupons or two boxtops from a cereal box, but parting with green money for the right to see Trappers II.
The first two crowds of the season Thursday and Friday were 7,303 and 9,861, respectively. Saturday night's crowd was another big one, at 7,865.
So far, the Trappers are averaging almost as many fans as the Atlanta Braves, who were at just over 11,000-a-game through this past weekend.
"This is a unique situation in baseball," said Moss. "You don't get this kind of attention usually (n the Rookie Leagues). It makes it that much better to showcase our talent. It's a better proving ground."
But it does heap on the pressure.
"Hey," said Moss, "I feel a great deal of pressure. Not just to field a good team, but to prepare these guys for careers in baseball . . . and to win another championship."
Pat Riley kind of pressure.
Moss may be the only manager in Rookie League ball to need Maalox and an agent.
Meanwhile, back in the Trappers offices - they've moved into a new headquarters in a bank building across the street from Derks Field - they're hoping for dry days and long lines at the box office. "The Legend Continues" is this season's slogan in the front office, where they may still not be washing their socks.