BY MATT LaWELL
SALT LAKE CITY | When he was still a teenager learning about baseball and life and everything else in the North suburbs of Chicago, Steve Klauke often traveled to Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field, set the tape recorder he earned by selling Christmas cards on the seat next to him and talked into a microphone for two or three hours. He had started broadcasting games at his high school three weeks into his freshman year and he always wanted to improve. He would call games, then listen to them and evaluate himself.
He even carted his tape recorder to his girlfriend’s home one time, late during his senior year of high school, and pressed play during games of Yahtzee. Why not ask for another opinion about his evolution as a broadcaster? “We dated for maybe another three months and she went off to college in upstate New York to become a farmer,” he says. “We’re still Facebook friends.”
All those afternoons in the seats and dates with homemade radio broadcasts wafting in the background have helped lead Klauke to some incredible results. Now 57 years old and nearing the end of another decade as a minor league baseball radio broadcaster, he has called 2,697 Salt Lake Bees games, through June 20. His is the only voice in the team’s history in Salt Lake City, his rich tenors filling homes around the state. He is fastidious and prepared, a historian who shares his facts, figures and stories every day with an engaged audience. On a Sunday morning before another game, he reads an email from a blind listener who has relied on him for seasons.
Klauke is fastidious and prepared, a historian who shares his facts, figures and stories every day with an engaged audience. On a Sunday morning before another game, he reads an email from a blind listener who has relied on him for seasons.
Klauke started 44 years ago, at the same high school that produced Dallas Cowboys radio broadcaster Brad Sham. As a young man, he worked at the same small radio station in Aurora, Illinois, that helped launch the careers of Joe Tait, the longtime voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the late Chick Hearn, who called 3,338 straight Los Angeles Lakers games. Klauke has never landed in those bright lights.
“Because of my age, I know my window is probably as closed as the two that are right here,” he says, pointing to the press box windows in front of him. “But I don’t give up. I’m realistic that it’s probably not going to happen, but I still enjoy coming to the ballpark every day.”
Even though he might remain a Pacific Coast League fixture, Klauke still has stories, the only currency that really matters on the radio. He also has every set of game notes for the last seven seasons, nearly every media guide for every Major League team that has had a Pacific Coast League affiliate since 1994, and a card for every player who played for or against the Salt Lake Bees in their history — somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 in all — covered with numbers and stories and bits of reference.
Klauke might spend the rest of his career in Utah, in a Triple-A stadium and a Triple-A press box. He might never receive his call to the Majors. He might never have one of those 30 coveted jobs.
But he will always be ready.
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Time for minor league trivia. The Bees play at Spring Mobile Ballpark, named for the last three seasons after a local AT&T retailer. The team has played at the same stadium since it moved from Portland to Salt Lake City 19 years ago. What motivational speaker and author owned the naming rights to the park from 1994 until 2009? (Keep reading for the answer.)
The Las Vegas 51s never trailed and the Bees dropped their fifth straight, 8-3, on a crisp and surprisingly sunny Sunday afternoon. Catcher Robinson Diaz knocked a two-run double to left in the fourth that narrowed the gap to a run, the closest the Bees came all game to a lead, and Diaz, centerfielder Drew Heid and second baseman Matt Long all knocked a pair of hits. Not nearly enough, though. Las Vegas catcher Travis d’Arnaud doubled, homered and drove in four, and the 51s stole seven bases.
Of all the minor league stadiums with mountain backdrops, perhaps none has a more stunning view than Mobile Spring Ballpark. Sit more than six or eight rows higher than the field and a panoramic perspective of the Wasatch stretches from the leftfield foul pole out to center and beyond. The Wasatch are part of the Rockies and extend about 160 miles from the northern border with Idaho down into central Utah. Snow lasts for months. Last season, the caps were still covered in July for the Triple-A all-star game that still has folks around the league talking.
Want the answer? Stephen Covey, the most famous motivational speaker who calls Salt Lake City home, also placed his name on the stadium now called Spring Mobile Ballpark. The park was called Franklin Quest Field from its 1994 opening until 1997, then Franklin Covey Field from 1997 until 2009. Covey is a bit more famous for his bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People than he was for his stadium sponsorship.
And in random statistical news, the game started on time, the first pitch was a strike, the first batter singled to left and an organ recording of the national anthem played out in 1 minute and 10.4 seconds. We ate breakfast at the stadium, appropriate enough for a Sunday afternoon game, including eggs, bacon and at least one Danish we could have avoided but certainly enjoyed.
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