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They’re Abuzz in PCL

From Associated Press

Scott Stahoviak is too excited about Salt Lake’s Pacific Coast League pennant hopes to worry about whether the strike delays his return to the majors.

While parent Minnesota has been idled by the dispute, the Triple-A Buzz has become the PCL’s class act. Locked in a tight Northern Division race with Vancouver, Stahoviak and his teammates are being cheered on by the league’s top crowds at gleaming new Franklin Quest Field.

“It really has been unbelievable,” he said. “The facilities are better than anything I’ve seen in the minor-league parks. It’s been pretty much ‘story book’ for us.”

Salt Lake’s success in its inaugural season has made the strike bearable for Stahoviak, who had his first taste of the majors when briefly called up by the Twins as a pinch-hitter last September.

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Batting .325 with 12 homers and a team-leading 36 doubles going into the weekend, the 24-year-old third baseman was hoping for another callup before the strike.

“I don’t really look at it as a missed opportunity to get to the majors,” Stahoviak said. “They’re doing it for us. I just hope everything works out, but I’m still backing the players.”

Shortstop Denny Hocking and outfielder Marty Cordova also possibly had prospects for a trip to the majors derailed.

“If you can’t get called up this year, then you still have the PCL title to play for and that’s exciting,” said Hocking, batting .286 with 13 stolen bases.

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Cordova, hitting .344, agrees that playing in a pennant race -- any pennant race -- makes delayed major-league dreams easier to take.

“I look to do well today, and the next at-bat,” he said. “And it’s nice to play in front of 10,000 every game.”

Cordova is not exaggerating. The Buzz are averaging 10,042 fans, having reached the season’s peak--so far--at 16,015 on June 18 against Tucson. No other PCL team comes close: Albuquerque is second at 5,436.

Indeed, Salt Lake is well on the way to rewriting the PCL record for season attendance of 670,563 set in 1946 by the San Francisco Seals. The Buzz topped 650,000 on Friday, with four more home dates left in the regular season.

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“We’re going to break that record. I’m hoping we can hit 700,000,” owner Joe Buzas said.

So far, the strike appears not to have affected attendance, which has remained constant. As for exposure, Twins fans saw their farm club beat Las Vegas 17-4 last Tuesday thanks to Midwest Sports Channel, but the Salt Lake franchise realized no revenues from the pickup.

Local television contracted to carry just five regular-season games and no more have been scheduled, Buzz officials said.

That does not bother Buzas, who acknowledges his Salt Lake team is too far away from a major-league city -- the nearest, Denver, is 500 miles to the east -- to directly benefit from the strike.

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But 53 years as a club owner and player, including a brief stint with the New York Yankees in 1945, gives Buzas little patience for baseball’s labor standoff.

“I think both sides are real stupid -- it’s a ridiculous situation. They haven’t got anything right yet,” Buzas said. “I’ve told the owners, ‘Despite you people, baseball flourishes.”’

He has only to look out on Franklin Quest Field, boasting minor-league baseball’s best view with the Wasatch Mountains dominating the western skyline, to reinforce that belief -- and a dream again of a PCL title.

“I think we have a hell of a chance,” Buzas declared.

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“Our pitching has been good sometimes and then the hitting is lousy, and then the hitting is good and the pitching is lousy. If we can get it together, we have a good chance.”


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