On the Road: Soaking it in, in Spokane

To see all posts from my August 12 visit to the Spokane Indians, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

As I walked into Avista Stadium, the longtime home of the Spokane Indians, a team employee greeted me with the following announcement.

“Free raffle tonight! Don’t do anything. Just be present.”

I knew it was gonna be a good night.

img_0392Truth be told, I knew it was gonna be a good night before I even walked inside. Outside the ballpark, the all-female band “Too Many Men” was kicking out some minimalist rock jams. It all seemed so very “Pacific Northwest,” aligned with my ’90s-era indie rock stereotypes of the region, like if this band started writing original songs they’d probably get signed to K Records.

As I entered the ballpark, director of public relations Bud Bareither came down to greet me. Earlier in the season, Bud had alerted me to the presence of the Indians’ late ’80s “team photos taken at the local mall” baseball card sets. So, I was already a fan of Bud.

Bud!

img_0393Bud quickly passed me off to Indians senior vice president Otto Klein, who was very generous with his time despite it being a busy Friday night. Otto had a lot to tell me because, when it comes to the Indians, there’s a lot to talk about. Avista Stadium opened in 1958, and professional baseball in the region dates back to the 19th century. The Indians, currently a Rangers affiliate, have been members of the Class A Short Season Northwest League since 1983; prior to that they were a Pacific Coast League entity.

In 1958, corporate naming rights were an unheard-of phenomenon. The ballpark was then known as the “Interstate Fairgrounds.”

img_0396The Indians’ front office is decorated with photos, paintings and collages detailing the team’s long history. This tri-panel shows Tommy Lasorda (manager of the 1970 Indians, considered by some to be the greatest Minor League team of all time), Tommy Davis (who hit .345 for the Indians in 1959 at the age of 20, just prior to the start of an 18-season MLB career) and Levi McCormack (whose father was a chief in the Nez Perce tribe).

img_0398The Hall of Fame Plaza sits outside the ballpark, honoring Cooperstown-enshrined individuals with Spokane connections. Lasorda, Don Sutton and George Brett are three such individuals.

img_0402“We’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and we do our best to celebrate them,” said Klein.

The “Indians” name is, of course, a potentially problematic aspect of the team’s rich history. There are distinctions that need to be made between celebration and exploitation, between paying tribute and racist caricature. Klein told me that, in the ’90s, new ownership was sensitive to these concerns and erred on the side of caution. While the Indians name remained, the team presented itself without any overt references to Native Americans. The result was non-controversial (“respect through exclusion,” was once how I heard it referred to), but resulted in a profound disconnect.

In 2006, the Indians partnered with the local Spokane tribe and rebranded themselves with the full support of the tribe. Uniforms and ballpark signage are in the tribe’s Salish language (despite the fact that Salish has never been a written language). I wrote a story on this relationship in 2014, and was grateful for the opportunity to finally see it in person.

This sign provides a good overview. Please excuse the glare.

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img_2734Otto had to take a break from our pregame tour so that he could do a radio interview with Spokane broadcaster Mike Doyle.

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As you’ll recall, I met Mike at the previous evening’s Tri-City Dust Devils game (Spokane was the visiting club). At that ballgame, Mike was joined in the booth by 87-year-old local broadcasting legend Bob Robertson. Bob wasn’t in attendance this evening, but his presence is always felt.

img_2724In fact, Mike calls the games from Avista Stadium’s “Bob Robertson Press Box.” It’s easy to tell which booth is Mike’s. On a brader level,  I feel that any Minor League broadcaster who’s with the same team for three or more years should get his own logo.

img_0428The Avista Stadium concourse underwent an extensive renovation in 2014, and this centralized concession ares was one of the improvements.

img_0406And, jeez, it sure took long enough. This post has thus far been comprised of 13 photos, one Vine and over 700 words, and we’re just now making it to the playing field.

img_2725The ballpark offers views of rolling hills giving way to the mountains of Idaho. Note, also, that there is a converted train car in right field — The Depot — that serves as a group hospitality area. Oh, and while you’re noting things, also also please note that it’s just 296 feet down the right field line. I feel like, given an aluminum bat, I might even be able to hit a baseball 296 feet. (At least if it’s a golf ball I’m hitting with the aluminum bat.)

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Just another day in the life of the Spokane Indians.

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And a particularly beautiful one at that.

img_2744Of course, there’ll be more where this came from. Please stand by.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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