Kragthorpe: Tourney celebrates Larry H. Miller’s love of softball
By Kurt Kragthorpe
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Jul 10 2013 08:45AM
There’s a reason the number 9 is displayed on the banner honoring former Jazz owner Larry H. Miller in the rafters of EnergySolutions Arena. The same number adorns his locker in a corner of the room where the players dress.
It has nothing — or everything — to do with basketball. Long before the Jazz came into his life, Miller was obsessed with softball. And to understand Miller’s competitiveness and how that translates in a meaningful way to this upcoming Jazz season, you have to know his softball background.
After an 11-year absence, the revival of a formerly world-class event will celebrate Miller’s passion for the game. The 2013 Larry H. Miller Memorial Pioneer Days Men’s Fastpitch Tournament will be staged Friday through Sunday at the softball complex on 13th East that now bears his name.
Ken Hackmeister, a longtime softball administrator and former Miller Toyota player, brought back the tournament he directed for 28 years. The event is a tribute to Miller, who pitched successfully and sponsored elite-level teams for much of his life.
"He championed fastpitch softball, to the max," said Marc Amicone, a former teammate who’s now the general manager of the Salt Lake Bees pro baseball team that Miller owned.
An entire chapter of Miller’s autobiography is devoted to softball. The players from California, Idaho and Colorado competing against three Salt Lake City teams this weekend can relate to the stories of how Miller would pile his family into the car and drive to tournaments, and how he once pitched nine games in less than 24 hours, winning seven of them and being named the tournament MVP in Pueblo, Colo.
"My arm was a limp rag hanging at my side at the end of that last night," Miller wrote in "Driven." And then he went back to work Monday at the auto dealership that employed him in Denver.
Softball was "a great outlet for my emotional and competitive nature," Miller wrote. "I was intense, as I was everything in did."
Oh, yeah. "Extremely competitive," Amicone said. "He had your back no matter what, if he was your teammate. He once told me that whatever he was involved in, he wanted to compete at the highest possible level, in sports or business or whatever it was."
Miller played aggressively, no surprise there. "If he needed to knock you down as a pitcher, he would knock you down — that was never a problem," said Amicone, who played with him on the Engh Floral team when Miller moved back to Salt Lake City in 1979. He later sponsored the Miller Toyota club that would compete favorably in national and world tournaments.
As a player, Miller was known as a classic bench jockey, with a knack for jabbing opponents. That tendency got him into occasional trouble as a Jazz owner, sitting on the front row.
So it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that every aspect of Miller’s personality stemmed from the diamond. This guy absolutely loved to compete.
Which brings us to the Jazz’s approaching season. If the franchise’s outlook is oriented to the future, with a series of creative, big-picture moves being made this summer, you just know that Miller never would allow 2013-14 to become any kind of lost season for the Jazz.
He would make the judgment of the team all about improvement and effort, as the plaque at the locker-room entrance reminds the players of his expectations when they take the floor at ESA.
That level of commitment will be in play among the traveling teams this weekend at the Larry H. Miller Softball Complex, where it’s easy to picture No. 9 in the pitching circle, delivering another riseball for a strike.