Kids were two and three deep along the bullpen, jabbing pens and “K” cards over the rail at total strangers. Well, not total strangers. They are ballplayers and they are known to sign - one baseball fundamental which is far better executed in the low minors than in the major leagues.
But a bit farther down the rail, there were vacant rows of bleachers.
Nothing dramatic. The Spokane Indians opened Seafirst Stadium for the summer on Saturday evening and empaneled a jury of 5,636 - a good house, though down about 400 from last year’s home opener. There could be any number of reasons for that, not the least being the discouraging gun-metal hue of the morning and afternoon skies.
Down here in A ball, warm weather means far more to a franchise’s health than a reliable cleanup hitter.
Also, it helps if your players don’t go out on strike.
The public spiting of Major League Baseball has, thankfully, not trickled down to the Indians’ level - not in any measurable way. Mixed in with the action Saturday night that resulted in a 2-0 loss to Yakima - Spokane’s third straight - was the routine fan byplay, both manufactured and spontaneous and always wellreceived.
Frisbee tosses for 10 grand, human wheelbarrow races, a marriage proposal.
Big league clubs haven’t gone the school-carnival route yet to fill seats, but it may come to that if the atmosphere gets any more funereal.
George Brett - Indians co-owner, vice president of the Kansas City Royals and Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting - was on hand for Spokane’s opener and filed this report from the home office:
“It’s bad,” he said of the Royals’ attendance. “About 14,000 a game, down about 25 percent.
“Some of the fans were just devastated by the strike, the length of it and the cancellation of the World Series, and they vowed to give up the sport of baseball for a long time. I don’t know how you get them back. I’d like to see a commissioner of baseball named and I’d like to see a settlement between the owners and players. Then the fans might come back a little bit.”
But that’s a big-league headache. As the stadium gates opened and the general admission denizens hurried to claim the best-availables, Brett perked up.
“I don’t think the people in Spokane are going to take their grief out on these young kids for what baseball has done,” he said.
What we forget about these kids is that until a fortnight ago - a year ago for some - they were just fans, too, with their own takes on baseball’s crisis.
Emiliano Escandon was one of the disillusioned.
“What the players did was to alienate a lot of the fans,” the Indians infielder said.
His teammate, Brent Kaysner, was more sympathetic.
“They were fighting for us, too,” said Kaysner, a Bothell High School graduate who pitched last year in the rookie Gulf Coast League. “I don’t think it was a bad thing. Some of us may make it to the big leagues, so it was our futures they were fighting for.”
The cause, however, was of dubious nobility. The question is, can a player in Spokane do anything to help repair the damage, even subtly?
Escandon thinks so. He has a built-in community tie - his uncle, Gilbert, is a physician in town - and some old-fashioned convictions.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the community really rallies around their team - they consider it their own special little place in baseball,” said Escandon. “If there’s anything we can do to help out and give them a better impression of ballplayers, we should do it. We’re the future of baseball - some of us, anyway.”
These Spokane Indians are part of baseball’s first generation after the most traumatic, suicidal labor dispute in the game’s history, able to feel the disgust on a fan’s level.
Yes, some of their insulated and spoiled big-league forebears - whose likability, strike or no, was on a serious decline anyway - are back signing autographs and smiling, but it’s a human touch that seems forced, insincere and temporary.
On the other hand, Brent Kaysner signed and signed Saturday night, knowing his name had no impact on his little army of admirers - but that the small investment of his attention made an indelible one.
You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review