This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City's baseball history in the Pacific Coast League stretches from the Bees of 1915 to the Bees of 2016.
The current franchise keeps records since 1994, when Triple-A baseball returned via the Buzz, who became the Stingers and then the Bees. Yet there's much more to the story of the city's baseball past, and I credit Bees general manager Marc Amicone for tapping into it. That's natural for him, having grown up in Salt Lake Valley in the 1960s and 1970s and worked in this market all of his professional life.
So each of the past two years, the Bees have celebrated the Triple-A Gulls of the '70s and '80s. They've also participated in reunions of the Salt Lake Trappers of the Pioneer League, with another observance scheduled this weekend as more than a dozen players and staff members of the 1991 Trappers will gather.
"I think it's wonderful that they recognize the history and wanted us to come back," said Dan Shwam, a Highland High School teacher who was the Trappers' hitting coach and became a longtime manager of independent teams.
They'll appear at the Bees' game Friday, signing pictures on the concourse and being honored on the field prior to postgame fireworks. The '91 Trappers are the last Salt Lake pro baseball team to win a league championship the Buzz/Stingers/Bees have lost four times in the PCL finals.
The '87 Trappers, who compiled a 29-game winning streak, will always have their own distinction. Yet the '91 team finished with the same regular-season record (49-21) and won the best-of-three Pioneer League championship series against the Great Falls Dodgers with eight future major leaguers. None of the Trappers made it to the big leagues, although several had extended minor-league careers.
"It was my favorite year in professional baseball, for sure," said manager Nick Belmonte. He remembers losing the first three games of the season at Idaho Falls, all in walk-off fashion, before the team got going. As with all of the independent teams the Trappers fielded, this was an overachieving group that posted a .302 team batting average and a 3.70 pitching staff ERA both better numbers than those of Great Falls.
Belmonte laughs about his continual search for the right players at third base and DH, but the Trappers had their share of stars. Outfielder Rick Hirtensteiner played all 70 games and batted .356, while second baseman Eddie Ortega hit .382 in 37 games. Mike Aranzullo, an infielder from the University of Utah, batted .303 in 25 games. Other top hitters, who played full seasons, included outfielder Benny Castillo (.325) and catcher David Rolls (.326).
Willie Ambos, in his third season of pitching for the Trappers, posted a 7-4 record as a starter. John Gilligan, a reliever, went 6-1 with a 1.71 ERA.
Amid the continuing novelty of an independent team playing against affiliated clubs, the Trappers were featured on the NBC news magazine "Real Life with Jane Pauley." To get decent reception and be able to watch themselves on the show, the Trappers had the team bus stop in a parking lot somewhere between Great Falls, Mont., and Salt Lake City.
And then there was the time Belmonte sought to broaden the players' summer experience by having the bus go through Yellowstone National Park on the way to Billings, Mont. The driver got lost, almost doubling what would have been a nine-hour trip, without the detour.
But it all worked out in the end of another championship season for the Trappers.