The Salt Lake Bees baseball franchise — and the team’s nickname, in particular — were important to the late Larry H. Miller. His family remains committed to owning and operating the Bees, and it helps that the team “carries its own weight,” said Greg Miller, CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.
Miller further described the Bees as “not a huge money-maker,” but said the Triple-A team complements the Jazz with a summer-based schedule that enables many employees to work both at EnergySolutions Arena and Spring Mobile Ballpark.
The Bees rank fourth in the Pacific Coast League with average attendance of 7,067 — about 100 fewer fans than their 2012 final average.
Other notes and updates from my recent tour of the Los Angeles Angels’ six domestic minor-league affiliates:
• Bees infielder Andrew Romine, who has spent parts of four seasons with the Angeles, had this description of how life in the major leagues is different: “Everything’s just bigger and grander. In the minors, all the ballparks are pretty much the same. Then when you get to the big leagues, it’s just, ‘boom!’ Here’s everything thrown at you all at once. It takes a little bit to get used to it. I mean, it’s a lot of fun, once you can take it all in.”
What struck me most about Angels Stadium was how deep the dugouts are.
• Bobby Scales, the Angels’ new director of player development, joined an organization whose minor-league system was ranked No. 30 (last), based on talent gaps. Scales’ immediate goal was an overall .500 record in 2013. With about a month remaining in the season, the six teams have a collective 263-248 record.
The Bees lead the way with a PCL-best mark of 64-49, while Burlington of the Class-A Midwest League is 42-62. Burlington’s struggles were not aided by the Angels’ trade of the team’s best player, outfielder Kyle Johnson, to the New York Mets. Remarkably, the player Johnson was traded for, outfielder Colin Cowgill, soon was promoted to the Angels.
• The player I’m most eager to see someday in Salt Lake City is Mark Sappington, a pitcher for Inland Empire of the Class-A California League. Having spent the 2012 season in Orem, Sappington is 11-4 with a 3.37 ERA. He’s also a great interview subject, with a uniquely named hometown: Peculiar, Mo.
• Arkansas of the Double-A Texas League is where most of the Angels’ top prospects are playing this season. Third baseman Kaleb Cowart recently was ranked No. 1, even thought he’s struggling with a .215 batting average. Second baseman Taylor Lindsey also started slowly, but has made a nice comeback and is now hitting .278, challenging first baseman C.J. Cron (.282) for the team lead. Outfielder Randal Grichuk is in the middle at .242. All four of them were first-round draft picks.
• Having spent a good portion of my visits in the radio booths, I was struck by the quality of broadcasting in the minor leagues. It’s fun to keep listening to them via the internet: Steve Klauke (Salt Lake), Phil Elson and Matt Dudas (Arkansas), Sam Farber (Inland Empire), Brandon Marcus (Burlington) and Trevor Amicone (Orem).
• The day in June when Scales visited Spring Mobile Ballpark, the Sons of Baseball Foundation was providing a nice opportunity for the Highland-based family of Paxton Norton, who was born with a rare chromosome deficiency and required considerable care. Paxton died about six weeks later, shortly after his third birthday. I hope that night’s events will remain memorable to the family of Paxton, who was even involved in the ceremonial first pitch.