When Anaheim Angels executive Darrell Miller heard the Salt Lake Buzz were seeking a new affiliation, last winter, he was interested immediately. Great scenery, loyal fans, spectacular ballpark — what more could the Angels want?
Besides, the fishing at Strawberry Reservoir, as he remembered, was otherworldly.
"I never knew there were trout that big," he says.
The working agreement was as good as done.
The Buzz's "fishing expedition" was soon over. The team changed its name to Stingers and Salt Lake became the Triple-A affiliate of the Angels.
And Miller got a chance to come back to a place he never stopped loving.
"There's no way you could possibly not enjoy staying here," says Miller. "If a player can't be motivated to play in a place like this — in this beautiful, beautiful city, with this stadium and these fans — I don't know what motivates you. If you've got to be in the minors, this is where you want to be."
Miller, the Angels' director of player development, knows whereof he speaks. He played here himself. For two months in 1979, he was a catcher/infielder/outfielder for the Salt Lake Gulls, when they were previously affiliated with the Angels. The short stay was long enough to convince him it was a town he liked. He played ball, made speeches and occasionally went fishing.
"When I came here last year to see Edmonton (formerly the Angels' affiliate), I had heard how great the park was. But I couldn't believe it," he says. "I was stunned at how beautiful the view is. I thought if there were possibly a way we could work it out to try to get (the Angels) here, I'd try to do it."
In fact, he was on such a roll that he went ahead and signed a working agreement with the rookie league Provo Angels, just for good measure.
As much as Miller enjoys Utah, some of his relatives might disagree. That's because they came here under different circumstances. His brother is Reggie, the widely renowned — and occasionally reviled — shooting star for the Indiana Pacers. He probably doesn't get the same reception Darrell did when he played here. Darrell spoke in various churches, promoting cooperation among religions. When Reggie comes to town, cooperation isn't on the agenda.
Then there's Cheryl, a sister, who stopped here when she was coaching the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. Those might not have been especially pleasant visits, either. She also comes to Salt Lake occasionally as a commentator on TNT.
If the Millers seem a highly motivated and successful family, it's not an exaggeration. Reggie is an NBA All-Star. Cheryl has been called the greatest female basketball player in history. Meanwhile, Darrell played 224 games in the major leagues. Another brother, Saul, is a saxophone player in a renowned Air Force jazz band called Airmen of Note. Sister Cammi had a record-setting volleyball career at Cal State-Fullerton and is now a pharmaceuticals rep.
Given their drive for success, it's easy to imagine what basketball games in the driveway were like when they were growing up in Riverside, Calif. Saul was 1 1/2 years older than Darrell, Cheryl about that much older than Reggie. They divided up for basketball games and the results were predictable. "When we play basketball, there's blood shed," says Darrell.
There was, for instance, the time Reggie faked Cheryl in the air, then "low-bridged" her, flipping her flat on her back. "Yeah, they fought. It was unbelievable," Darrell says.
And the time Saul blocked Cheryl on a shot and just for good measure, pinned her to the garage door. "He about knocked her teeth out," he continues. "There were no gimmes. And she has a high tolerance for pain."
Basketball nowadays isn't the sport of choice at family gatherings, for obvious reasons. They do play a decidedly less physical game they call "corkball," in which they hit a wine cork with a broom handle. "We don't hoop any more. That gets way too ugly," says Darrell.
But ugly isn't what Darrell is thinking about, as he visits Salt Lake to check out the Angels' Triple-A affiliate. He's thinking pretty. He's thinking clean. The mountains here are as beautiful as he remembered. The fishing at Strawberry? No time this week to find out.
But he hopes to get back to us on that.