Not all of their Pioneer League opponents buy the Trappers' self-assigned underdog role, pointing out that their roster is loaded with former college stars and that the Trappers were league champs in '85 and '86, their first two years of existence. In fact, some claim that the Trappers are too good. "When you put high school kids up against a team like Salt Lake, it's unfair competition," says the Cincinnati Reds vice-president for player personnel, Sheldon Bender. "Sour grapes," says Joe Baird, sportswriter for the Salt Lake Tribune. "The Trappers' average age is 21.2, the league average is 20.7. The major league organizations just don't like a bunch of undrafted guys beating up their teams."
Then there's the glitz and glamour, or what passes for it on a team whose players make about $500 a month:
?Actor-comedian Bill Murray, a part-owner and director. Poor devil, he missed the fun. Making a movie in Paris.
?Two refugees from Roger Kahn's best-selling book about the Utica Blue Sox, Good Enough to Dream: stockholder and talent scout Van Schley and hitting instructor Barry Moss.
?Shortstop and part-time model Jimmy Ferguson, the team's spark plug. ("He's only hitting .400," says Gilligan, "but what the heck, as long as he's playing good shortstop.")
?First baseman and self-appointed celebrity Reynolds, formerly of Lamar. ("Remember the college guy who hit a home run that didn't count because he touched a teammate before he crossed the plate and it got several lines in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED?" Pause for breath. "That was me.")
Throw in people like Koichi Ikeue, the righthander borrowed from the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who threw three shutouts during the streak, and Matt Huff, the 6'6" potter from American Samoa, and you've got a cosmopolitan stew.
The chef is Van Schley, a former Los Angeles artist who owns 10% of the Trappers. Schley is president of Texas Star Baseball Inc., which supplies players to unaffiliated minor league teams. Seventy-five players originally signed by Schley have been sold to major league organizations, including 13 from last year's Salt Lake team. One, Cleveland pitcher Tom Candiotti, has made it to the big leagues. "It's sort of a kick," says Schley, "to compete against a multimillion-dollar scouting system with just an American Express card and a telephone."
Schley's unloved lineup leads the Pioneer League with a .347 average, 47 points better than its nearest rival. Colston tops the league at .444. To shore up the suspect pitching, Schley signed Groennert, a former star at Southern Illinois, several games into the season. Says Idaho Falls manager Rod Gilbreath, "In a league where maybe five pitchers can throw the curveball for strikes, Salt Lake has three of them. Any pitcher who can throw the curve for strikes in this league is going to win."
Yes indeed. Ultimately, the only thing really missing from the Trappers' streak-tying and -breaking games was any late-inning suspense. On Friday centerfielder Jon Beuder smashed a first-inning grand slam, and Kent Hetrick coasted to a 7-2 victory. Afterward Pioneer Day fireworks splashed the skies beyond the leftfield fence, like a scene out of The Natural.