Ask Marc Amicone for a baseball memory based in downtown Salt Lake City and he will give you more than a few. But the first one that springs to mind — and after all these years and games how could it not — is walking the concourse back when now Smith’s Ballpark was just about halfway completed. The ballpark on 1300 South turned 25 this spring, so it’s hard for Amicone, a baseball lifer in this state, to not think of that day when he saw a dream of the late Larry H. Miller near completion.
Over 25 years later, Amicone sits in a suite, looking out at the still snow-capped mountains as faint cracks of the bat are overheard during a pre-game warmup. Pitchers are jogging along the outfield. Infielders are turning double-plays. In this suite, though, the president and general manager of the Salt Lake Bees reflects on the decades of fans filing in and out the park, of the future Hall of Famers whose path touched home plate here, and where the Bees fit into the sports landscape in Utah.
“I think we provide something that’s really valuable for people,” said Amicone. “We’re not doctors or firemen or policemen. We’re allowing people to come and really enhance their life.”
To Amicone, the sport is part of a larger life script.
“I think baseball is timeless,” he said.
Followers of America’s great pastime certainly concur. Those who’ve filled Smith’s Ballparks over the last 25 seasons — the number will reach 13 million spectators sometime this summer — have cultivated a relationship with the organization that is notable, Amicone said. It helps, too, having some of the games best make stops along the Wasatch Front on their way to stardom. That’s where Amicone, hired as GM in 2005 by Miller and later named team president in 2017, can weave story after story.
Before Torii Hunter was a five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner, he was in Salt Lake learning the game. Same goes for “Big Papi,” David Ortiz, even though his time in Triple-A here came before Amicone was on staff. There was, of course, those 20 games when Mike Trout was a Salt Lake Bee in 2012. Seven years later, Trout is on a 12-year, $430 million deal with the Bees’ MLB affiliate, the Los Angeles Angels.
Even now, Amicone jokes that on the day Trout is inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, his intro will perhaps read, “Former Salt Lake Bee, Mike Trout.” When Josh Hamilton was on a rehab assignment here a few years ago, he asked Amicone if he could walk up to the suite level to take photos of the majestic mountains planted perfectly in view beyond the outfield walls. One day, years and years ago, he noticed a fan sitting down the first base line not watching the pitcher, not paying attention to who was at bat. He was in a daze.
Amicone approached the man, who said he hailed from Texas. He was stunned by the view from the first baseline.
“You probably do that the first time we see a whale jump out of the ocean, too,” Amicone said. “It startles you. It really does.”
There is, too, the story of 16-year-old Bryce Harper winning an impromptu home run derby. On July 24, 2009, the Bees faced having to tell a sold-out crowd yearning for the annual firework display that there would be no Triple-A game. The Portland Beavers were quarantined in their hotel in Reno when team members were diagnosed during the H1N1 flu outbreak 10 years ago. So Amicone and the Bees had to hustle and figure out how to entertain a jam-packed park.
They were able to showcase two U-18 traveling all-star club teams inside. A 16-year-old kid who’d already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as baseball’s next “Chosen One” was on one of the teams. And he did, as he’s known to do, put on a show for the capacity crowd in the home run derby. Bees assistant GM Brad Tammen threw BP.
“That turned into one of the coolest, neatest, proudest moments we had,” Amicone said. “It had nothing to do with winning a championship. It was just one of those where all our group got together and pulled it off.”
In August 2018, the Angels and Bees announced an extension on their partnership that would run through the 2022 season. The pair first became affiliated in 2001. From 1994 to 2000, the Bees were affiliates of the Minnesota Twins. As Amicone tells potential new fans, Triple-A baseball is the very best talent in the world not currently in the major leagues.
“It’s one of those things where everyone can love the Bees,” he said. “It’s not one of the college rivalries where I’m mad at you for this or any those kinds of issues. You can come here, cheer for the Bees, have a good night and not even worry if we won or lost.”
Twenty-five years later, the Bees remain part of the fabric of Salt Lake City sports. And Amicone is waiting for more baseball memories that will eventually turn into just some of the stories he’ll relay one day.