Kragthorpe: Salt Lake Bees' GM weathers home opener well
Marc Amicone knows exactly how his father would have spent the afternoon. He would have agonized about the clouds building over the Oquirrh Mountains, hoping for a break in the weather so his baseball team could take the field.
"We gotta play," Jim Amicone would say.
Dire forecasts aside, the Salt Lake Bees successfully opened their home schedule Friday night at Spring Mobile Ballpark. The cool, breezy evening was perfectly acceptable to Marc Amicone, the team's general manager.
Well, "75 degrees would be nice," he said during the Bees' 5-4 win over Tucson in front of 6,560 fans, "but that's getting greedy."
And this was certainly a better start than last April, when rain and snow spoiled the Bees' opening series of Jim Amicone's final season. He died at age 91 in September, three days after the Bees stopped playing.
Born into the celebrated baseball culture of Bingham Canyon, Jim Amicone loved the game and its traditions. He was old school. "I mean, really old school," said his son, remembering his father's expectations of how a uniform should be worn.
From building fields to coaching youth teams to managing Granger's American Legion program, Jim devoted himself to kids and baseball. "Everything centered around the ballpark," Marc said. "That's just where we lived. We didn't do Boy Scouts or other activities. It was baseball."
After work at the aerospace and defense facility now called ATK, Jim would spend his summer evenings doing whatever was needed at the park. Friday, he would have liked watching Mike Trout hit a two-run triple and seeing 7-foot-1 reliever Loek Van Mil pitch two scoreless innings. He also would appreciate the pristine playing surface, considering how he would bring his lawn mower to Granger's field and trim the infield grass every game day.
That was just one example of his level of involvement. "He was so devoted to all the kids, not just his own," said Scott Mayne, who coached Granger's Legion team. "Unless you've got people like the Amicones behind the scenes, the program doesn't move along. Jim was always in the background, not asking for accolades."
So when the late Larry H. Miller bought the Triple-A franchise in 2005 and hired Marc Amicone to run it, a family tradition continued. Professional baseball has been played in Salt Lake City since before Jim Amicone was born, and the game goes on. "Make sure people understand how important baseball is to the community," he once told his son.
The Bees deserved the weather break they got Friday. Marc Amicone lived through a miserable spring of 2011, and attendance never caught up. The average of 6,393 was the lowest in the franchise's 18 seasons.
Failing health kept Jim from attending any games last year. In previous seasons, he often would show up unannounced with other residents of the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home, surprising his son during one of Marc's nightly walks around the park.
Somehow, you sensed he was not far away Friday.
"Opening Day was always a big deal to him," Marc said.
Coincidentally enough, Jim's beloved New York Yankees also staged their home opener Friday. Even though the Yankees' 5-0 victory came against the Los Angeles Angels, the Bees' parent club, Marc could appreciate that result just this once.
With the Yankees and Bees winning, in the Amicones' world, you'd have to label the two home openers a sweep for the good guys.