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BUZAS QUITE CONTENT TO BE IN SALT LAKE

At 76, Joe Buzas doesn't know how many more seasons remain in his nearly six-decade career as a baseball player, promoter and minor league team operator.

But the owner of Salt Lake's Triple-A Buzz franchise knows where he wants to play out the late innings of his life in the sport."Right here in Utah - forever," he bellows with characteristic enthusiasm. "I'm proud to be here, and I want to be here forever, and then my daughter wants to take over."

Last year's inaugural season in the city's new $22.4 million Franklin Quest Field rewrote Pacific Coast League attendance records. By the end of this past week, Buzz aficionados had purchased about 5,200 season tickets.

Last year, when 713,224 fans passed through the ballpark's turnstiles to break the league's single-season mark of 670,563 set by the 1946 San Francisco Seals, the Buzz sold 4,700 season tickets.

With season stubs averaging $425 each this year, Buzas couldn't be happier. He plans to share his joy by giving his ball club a gala April 10 home opener with Vancouver.

"(San Francisco 49ers quarterback) Steve Young may throw out the first ball Opening Night," said Buzas, who is entering his 54th year in professional baseball and 39th year as an owner. "Skydivers will parachute down with the first ball. We'll have fireworks, and the Utah Jazz mascot.

"It's going to be fun. We want to let the people know we appreciate them," he said. "We owe it to them; they should be entertained because they're the best fans."

The major league labor dispute has left Buzas scratching his head about the makeup of most of his Minnesota Twins farm club's roster. Salt Lake's first game is Thursday in Albuquerque.

However, 10 of the 23 slots already are filled with veterans from last year's 74-70 club that finished second behind Vancouver in the PCL's Northern Division.

Leading the returnees is Bernardo Brito, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic in his 14th minor league season. Last year, the 32-year-old Brito batted .309, including a team-leading 29 home runs.

As for the vacant slots on his roster, Buzas makes a promise - along with an angry aside about major league teams' threatened use of replacement players.

"A lot of people just want to be sure we're not going to have replacement players, too. No! We're going to have regular players," he declared.

Buzas says Salt Lake is too far away from a major league city to be hurt by the outcome of baseball labor talks. But as both an owner and a former Yankee, he derides both sides.

"It's stupid, so greedy. They're both just after money."

After just one season here, Buzas says he has had a string of buyout offers.

Buzas won't sell, professing his love for the city that lured the former Portland, Ore., Beavers here with the promise of a new stadium. He is especially fond of the mayor, whom he simply calls "Deedee."

It was Mayor Deedee Corradini who spearheaded the effort to bring Triple-A ball back to Salt Lake after a decade-long hiatus dating from the old Gulls' demise in 1984.