SALT LAKE CITY – Our minds hang on to the most obscure moments. Seemingly inconsequential memories that the people and things most important to us. Why?
The big moments like birthdays, marriages & holidays with family are easy to remember.
For sports lovers, the memorable events are the games you’ll never forget. Buzzer-beating game winners; walk-off home runs; game winning touchdowns and defensive gems that save a game from turning sour.
The losses can be memorable too. A late collapse against an inferior team, reaching the pinnacle only coming up just short or a sure touchdown that instead is dropped at the goal line.
Sometimes the losses stick with fans more than the wins.
As a 38-year old guy raised in Cache Valley, I vividly remember the mid-to-late 90’s era of Utah Jazz basketball. Always coming up short in the playoffs. Superior teams unable to escape the Western Conference playoffs alive, until they did.
Back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 & 1998. Not only is Michael Jordan’s final shot as a Chicago Bull is not only on a running loop in the dark recesses of my brain, but if I try hard enough, I can dredge up the feelings of emptiness and despair only a teenager can feel over sports that terrible June afternoon in 1998.
RELATED: Salt Lake Bees Announce Move Out Of Salt Lake City To Daybreak
Earlier this month when Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced that the Larry H Miller Group intended to move the minor league Salt Lake Bees – a Salt Lake institution – away from the only site that had known professional baseball in Utah for nearly a century, it came as a similar gut punch to many.
Baseball fans, Miller Group employees, residents of the ballpark area and many more were left with more questions than answers.
Delta Center Returns
What causes the human mind to keep a rolodex of random conversations, store obscure quotes from our favorite movies or inspire a smile from a name?
Just three days before it was announced that the Bees would call Daybreak home beginning in 2025, Utah sports fans were hit with a wave of nostalgia.
The Delta Center was returning.
RELATED: Delta Center Name Set To Return In July
Presently known as Vivint Arena, the ‘House that Larry built’ opened in 1991 as the Delta Center and held that moniker until 2006, when it was renamed EnergySolutions Arena. (personally, I affectionately referred to it as Radium Stadium, but that is neither here nor there)
Though the arena has existed longer under other names, many stubborn Jazz fans still held on to the nostalgia of the Delta Center. The Delta Center name evoked memories of Stockton to Malone, Hot Rod Hundley and countless wins for an entire generation of Jazz fans.
Forgotten by some, it was the late Miller that kept the Jazz in Utah, taking total control of the team before Sam Battistone could move them to Minneapolis.
Now, it is the same Miller Group company, owned by Miller’s widow Gail and run by his sons Steve & Greg, that will move the Bees from the heart of Salt Lake City to a distant suburb.
RELATED: Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall Seeks Community Ideas For Ballpark Area
Remembering The Moment, Not Locations
I was on the verge of turning seven years old when the Delta Center opened to much fanfare. Miller had a hand in the design process, down to the very last detail, and he wanted it to be a basketball arena first and foremost.
It wasn’t until April of 1993 that I was fortunate enough to see my first game from the Delta Center. My big brother, Jeremy, took me to see Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns take on our beloved Jazz.
RELATED: Delta Center Name Recalls Top Utah Sports Memories
We sat in the upper bowl that night, behind the basket. I only remember one small moment from that game (though I was lucky enough to dive through KSL’s archive and create my own personal highlight reel of the game). Suns Center Mark West fouled out and Steam’s “Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye” played over the sound system. It’s a song that still engenders pleasant memories to this day.
I’m nearing 40 and writing about sports for a living, so it’s safe to say I was in love with the game and the arena.
Salt Lake Bees Nostalgia At Smith’s Ballpark
There are those that feel a sense of loss with the Bees moving. People who share the same warm fuzzy feelings, bitter disappointments and unforgettable moments that I associate with the Delta Center and the Utah Jazz.
Locals expressed concerns about what would happen to an already somewhat run-down part of Salt Lake without the Bees, a franchise that had called the lot on the corner of 1300 South & West Temple home since 1994. There are legitimate questions as the city looks for ideas from citizens on how to repurpose the area, a plan Mendenhall is calling Ballpark Next.
Others questioned the Daybreak location. Daybreak is a significantly more convenient spot for baseball fans in Utah county and farther south. On the other hand, it’s a move that will add 30 minutes or more of commute time for anybody coming from the north end of Salt Lake county.
As someone who covers the Bees professionally, the increased commute time got me thinking back to my childhood. Thinking about the 2-3 Jazz games each season my brother and I went to from 1993 until his sudden passing in the summer 0f 2000.
Growing up in Richmond, UT, a small farm town near the north end of Cache county, it was a roughly a 90 minute drive each way for us to catch a game. Three hours of drive time with another three hours at the arena in-between.
We saw All-Stars, Hall of Famers and playoff games together, but traveling to and from the games stands out the most. Conversations about sports and life. I remember bouncing through the halls of school, knowing Jeremy would be checking me out early so we could get an early dinner at Crown Burger. I thought I was the coolest kid in the world.
Once, before driving down to a playoff game in 1997, Jeremy lost a hamster in his car. We literally removed the seats from that car, searching for a hamster that was nowhere to be found. After two hours of looking, we had no more time to waste and drove to the game, thinking the hamster had somehow escaped. We marveled over the great escape all the way to Salt Lake.
We left the wins with a feeling of elation, but the losses never got us down once we left the parking garage. 23 years after our last conversation, I remember the thrill of watching the clock to see if he could break our record time for a drive home more than I remember watching Clyde Drexler and the Blazers in the 1996 playoffs. The drive home after Michael Jordan’s ‘Flu game’ where we rode in near silence, scared that speaking it out loud would make what we had just witnessed true, is seared into my brain stronger than any moment inside the arena.
When the Bees finish the 2024 season and likely close the doors for the final time on an era of professional baseball on the lot at 77 West 1300 South, those memories with friends and family don’t disappear when the team leaves.
Sure, the first base bag once manned by Hall of Famer David Ortiz, the mound that Hall of Fame eligible closer Francisco Rodriguez and two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum threw from will be different. In time, all things change.
If I learned anything from my childhood, it’s that the memories made traveling to the game can be just as important as anything that happens at the game.
What I’m trying to say is this: the stadiums, arenas and ballparks where memories are made don’t have a claim to those precious moments.
That magic disappearing hamster? He made a grand re-entrance later that night, startling me as he crawled out from between the seats and brushed up against my hand. He became Houdini the Hamster.