It's almost time for the Boys of Summer to finish their season and for the top baseball teams to vie to get into the World Series starting Oct. 28. Our local Salt Lake Bees haven't had a swell season this year, and, rumor has it, we might not be seeing Bees baseball at all after 2024. That's when the lease lapses on Smith's Ballpark at the corner of 1300 South and West Temple in Salt Lake City.
Our local ballpark—the largest stadium in the Pacific Coast League—opened in 1994 with a seating capacity of 15,411. The first team to play there was the Salt Lake Buzz, but in 2001, the name changed to the Salt Lake Stingers after it came to light Georgia Tech owned the copyright for the Buzz.
I was sad when the name changed since the honeybee is a Utah state symbol (as of 1959, the official state insect is the honeybee, the name for honeybee in the Book of Mormon is "Deseret" and our state flag has a beehive on it). The "Buzz" seemed like an appropriate name at the time.
Then-team owner Joe Buzas (a former baseballer himself) agreed to move the Portland Beavers to Salt Lake as long as the city built a new ballpark where Derks Field had been located. It opened in '94 as Franklin Quest Field and drew almost 800,000 ticket holders in its first year.
When Buzas died in 2003, the team was purchased by the Larry H. Miller group. After Miller died, his wife sold the team to Ryan Smith last year, who is also the new owner of the Utah Jazz.
But now all may be lost, as rumors have it that a new ballpark is in the works outside of city limits with a potential MLB team replacing our Bees.
Apparently, the Salt Lake City Council has been looking at "improving" the embattled neighborhood where the ballpark is located, possibly doing upgrades to make the venue bigger and with a vision of new commercial properties and housing opportunities around it. Right now, the area is a mess of homeless camps and industrial spaces, with increasing incidents of crime intermingled with sweet, historic homes and beautiful, tree-lined streets.
The lease on the field expires in 2024 and the Bees will need to be re-licensed with MLB by the end of this decade. Note also that the Larry H. Miller group has purchased a ton of acreage in Daybreak and sold off part of its ownership of the Utah Jazz and Vivent Arena to a sports group—so it's possible Utah could be home to an MLB team down the road, a far less expensive option than a vying for a professional football team!
My best memories of our Bees were watching Mike Trout play. After being called up to the majors—we're the farm team for the Los Angeles Angels—he became the highest-paid baseball player in terms of total contract value.
Trout, a three-time American League MVP, signed an extension before the 2019 season that will pay him a total of $426.5 million through 2030. When we root for the Bees, we're rooting for the Angels, too—befitting a saintly state, eh?