By DREW PACKHAM
With the sun shining down on Mount Olympus in the background, Franklin Covey Field is like an oasis on the chilly Wasatch Front. The sun glows off the dark green stadium seats, highlighting the freshly cut grass, as the Salt Lake Buzz take the field.
They’ve done it so many times before, and they’ll keep doing it if it means a trip to the major leagues. These players are chasing their dream, and Salt Lake is a luxurious rest area on their road to the bigs.
Outfielder Brian Richardson, who has played eight years in the minor leagues without a taste of the majors, says he enjoys Salt Lake, but hopes he doesn’t become a fixture for Buzz fans.
“I’m getting a little sick of minor league ball,” Richardson said. “So I’m doing my best to get out of here as fast as I can. Now is the time, so I’m trying to seize the opportunity and show them I can play.”
The people Richardson is aiming to impress are the owners of the Minnesota Twins, Salt Lake’s parent organization. The Buzz came to Salt Lake thanks to owner Joe Buzas, who saw the potential in the city. The team plays in the AAA Pacific Coast League, just a phone call away from the big leagues, and a plane ride from the players’ dreams.
“That’s why we’re all doing this,” Buzz infielder Mike Moriarty said. “That’s why we all come here every day. That’s why we all do this, to get to the big leagues.”
Moriarty has never made it to “The Show” — the player’s nickname for the majors — but some of his teammates have, and they say it’s an experience they’ll never forget. Pitcher Travis Baptist spent two months with the Twins last season, and says it was worth all the work.
“I’ve made it, and that’s something a lot of people can’t say,” Baptist said. “I was there, and you can’t take that away from me. But when you’ve been to the promised land and seen what it’s like, a little taste just ain’t enough.”
Baptist, like most of the Buzz players, hopes to make his stay in Salt Lake a short one. But while here, no one can argue that the Buzz organization knows how to treat its players. Buzas has done so much for the players that they refer to him as a “big brother” and tell of going to Jazz games and together playing cards around clubhouse tables.
“It’s something special to be personal with the owner,” Richardson said. “I’ve never met the owner of any other minor league team I’ve played for, so it’s different. He loves us and we love him.”
Buzz manager Phil Roof, who has been in Salt Lake all five seasons the team has been here, agrees that Buzas is a model minor league owner.
“He’s what baseball ownership is supposed to be,” Roof said. “He takes care of his players and knows them all by first name. I couldn’t ask for a better owner.”
One of the things the players thank Buzas for is the team’s picturesque stadium, Franklin Covey Field. The park, located at 1300 South and 100 West in Salt Lake City, has been considered by several publications as one of the top Minor League parks in the nation. A.J Pierzynski, a second-year catcher for the Buzz, says the scenery can sometimes be a distraction.
“You catch yourself looking at the mountains between innings,” Pierzynski said. “It’s just awesome. I couldn’t ask to play in a better park.”
On most nights during the summer, the crowds are large, averaging over 6,500 fans. As night falls, the colors grow richer and the green, brown and yellow of the park combine with the smell of roasted peanuts.
Roof, who played for several minor league teams around the country, says Franklin Covey Field is the best he’s seen, “hands down.” But while acknowledging the facilities and city as superior, Roof says nothing can compare to the majors.
“There’s only one place to play, and that’s up there,” Roof said. “It’s a lifelong dream, first of all, and it’s a thrill to go there and compete at that level. I wish every one of them could experience some of the joy that you get up there.”
Richardson, 23, has been playing in the minors since he was 16. He says its a rough life but one he dreams will take him to the major leagues.
“It’s a life of ups and downs,” Richardson said. “You’ve got to take everything a day at a time and you can’t get too high or too low. You’ve just got to stay mellow and never give up.”
Pierzynski, one of the Twins’ top prospects, spent two months in Minnesota last year, and says the feeling of being in the majors is something he’ll never forget.
“You work your whole life to reach that goal,” the 22-year-old Pierzynski said. “You get there and it’s like, ‘This is it. This is where I want to be. This is how I want to live my life.’ It’s just unbelievable.”
Nearly an hour after the fans have left, Pepsi cups and sunflower seeds are strewn across the dugout floor. The field is silent except for the swoosh of a rake on the infield, and the forest-green seats seem even darker now, with the night sky as a backdrop.
On the road to the major leagues, this is one stop a baseball player doesn’t mind making.