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Ex-Buzz skipper returns to S.L.

Roof has fond memories of 6 years with club

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Phil Roof returned to Franklin Covey Field Tuesday night. And though he looked and sounded like the manager who led the Salt Lake Buzz to 471 wins and four playoff appearances from 1995-2000, the 60-year-old baseball veteran is a changed man.

Changes — and lots of them — will do that to a guy.

First, on the very day he was named PCL Manager of the Year after leading the Buzz to a franchise-best 90 victories and a trip to the league finals, Minnesota informed Roof he wouldn't be managing in 2001. Twins officials wanted him to assist 40-year-old manager John Russell.

Then came the affiliation switch with Anaheim and Minnesota swapping Triple-A homes, which altered Roof's career once again. The Angels secured a deal with Salt Lake City, while the Twins were left to hook up with Edmonton. That meant a transfer for Roof.

"I don't know if I was all that angry. I was disappointed that it was taking place after we had such a fine season in Salt Lake," said Roof. "I think the combination of losing the city and losing out on the managerial job took its toll. It was disappointing. It stayed with me for a long time. It didn't go right away."

While admitting he was expecting more of a reward for his success with the Buzz, Roof has found a silver lining. As he closes in on retirement, the former major league player and coach is healthy enough to do the things he still enjoys — like throwing batting practice and working with young players.

"It's been quite a relief to be able to back off and not have to worry about that day-to-day stuff and have that cell phone ringing all the time," said Roof, who also takes great pleasure in Minnesota's surprising start in the major leagues this season — 21 of the current Twins played for Roof.

Roof is pleased he had a "little bit" to do with preparing the players for careers in the big leagues. He credits Salt Lake City as well.

"When you have a facility like this and the fan base we had here, the players play well. They play up to that, and it's important," said Roof. "The Minnesota Twins took great pride in putting some players through here and as a result look what's happening up there now."

Roof regularly checks the box scores to see how players he coached are faring. It gives him great pleasure to do so. Especially, he adds, when considering their successful run together in Salt Lake City.

"When you come to a place you like where the town is beautiful and the ballpark is nice," said Roof. "You wish you could regroup and have (that success) again."

Roof on top
Managers with the most regular-season victories during Salt Lake's 42-year history in the Pacific Coast League:

 

1. PHIL ROOF (1995-00) 471

2. George Lewis (1922-24) 290

3. Jimy Williams (76-77, 79) 244

4. Larry Shepard (1958-60) 242

5. Bobby Floyd (1982-84) 214

Current Edmonton coach Phil Roof has Salt Lake's winningest record with 471.

Unfortunately, duplication isn't possible. The Twins, in fact, are struggling at the Triple-A level this season. After Tuesday's series-opening loss at Salt Lake City, Edmonton sports a league-worst 43-61 record and is all but officially eliminated from postseason contention.

"We're up there, and we're not playing well. I think that makes it even worse," said Roof, who built a winning tradition in Salt Lake City. "It hasn't carried over yet, and that's disappointing for us."

Though Edmonton management has been extremely accommodating, Roof can't help but look back upon what he calls "six wonderful years" with the Buzz. He's quick to recall Salt Lake's trips to the PCL finals in 1995 and 2000.

"Every year means something," Roof explained. "And we should have won the championship twice."

Details of the setbacks remain in memory yet green for Roof. On their first flight back to Salt Lake City, Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson couldn't help but reminisce about all the pennant races they were involved in. The Buzz came close to making the playoffs all six seasons the pair worked together.

"There's a lot of memories here," Roof said as he walked down the first-base line past his team's old dugout. "What a good feeling we had playing here."

Though his return was marked by several interview requests and well wishes, Roof is taking time to enjoy himself as well. He plans to go fishing one day and take time to visit some friends as well. Giving up Salt Lake City hasn't been easy. Roof, however, notes that isn't the case with everyone in his family. Tommy, the brother of Phil's wife Marie, used to be the biggest Buzz fan around. Now, he's a Trapper backer. The Roofs, who are the legal guardians of the young man with Down syndrome, said he booed the Stingers on their recent trip to Edmonton.

"He already wrote them off. Right away he divorced Salt Lake," said Roof, who was honored by Stingers ownership in a pregame ceremony. "It was easy for him to walk away, but it wasn't for us."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com