June 20, 2007 in City

Memories still fit ex-ballplayer like a glove

Melissa Pamer Staff writer
 
Jed Conklin photo

Dwight Aden, the Spokane Indians’ oldest living player and a former center fielder, meets the current center fielder, Kyle Murphy, at Tuesday’s game.
(Full-size photo)

Inside

Indians lose to Eugene Emeralds, 6-2, in Opening Day game./C1

Dwight Aden’s baseball glove is cracked and creased, well-aged like he is.

The glove hangs from a nail high on the wall of Aden’s Loon Lake cabin, surrounded by baseball memorabilia.

Aden, 92, wielded a golf club to knock down the mitt, catching it with a former player’s grace.

He eased his right hand into the worn chocolate leather.

“It’s all dried out,” the one-time center fielder murmured, socking his left fist into the glove.

“Feels good.”

Sixty-five years have passed since Aden wore the glove as a Spokane minor leaguer from 1938 to 1942.

On Tuesday night, he donned his old mitt again to throw out the first pitch at the 2007 season opener against the Eugene Emeralds.

Believed to be the team’s oldest living former player, Aden was commemorated in a pregame ceremony that added him to Avista Stadium’s new “Rim of Honor.”

Former Manager Tommy Lasorda and two former players, Levi McCormack and Maury Wills, were also named to the rim, which runs along the top of the stadium and down the left and right field lines.

“I’m a little embarrassed,” Aden said of the renewed attention. “It seems like they never forget. People tell me, ‘My dad used to take me to watch you play.’ ”

Aden’s passion for the game began at age 6, with afternoon rounds of catch in Wilsonville, Ore., where his father owned the only general store. If Aden caught 20 balls in a row, he’d earn a vanilla ice cream cone.

“That was the only flavor in town back then,” Aden said, laughing.

He played in high school, hitchhiking 13 miles home after practice each day, and in college at Willamette University.

After graduating, Aden signed up with a Lewiston, Idaho-based farm team of the Boston Red Sox but was kicked off the team after one year.

“They didn’t think I was Major League quality, I guess,” he said.

Aden then went to Northwestern University to earn an M.B.A., but he couldn’t stand being away from the sport.

“I had baseball in my blood, and I couldn’t get that out of my system,” he said.

He got an invitation to join the Spokane Hawks, as the Indians were called from 1937 to 1939, after minor league baseball returned to the city following a 16-year hiatus.

The wire from the team’s manager, sent to Aden in Wilsonville, said, “If you want to play ball, get up here.”

Aden wasted no time.

He earned $125 a month his first year, receiving $3 per day for meals when the team was on the road, he said.

After playing five seasons – with a .340 batting average – Aden became a naval flight instructor during World War II, based in Iowa.

Following the war, Aden returned with his wife, Esther, to Spokane to become the Indians’ business manager for one season. In 1946, a fiery bus accident killed nine of the team’s players and injured several others.

Aden, who had helped the undertaker identify some of the bodies, played four games after the accident as the Indians tried to field a team.

“It was a terrible experience,” he said.

Aden worked as an insurance sales agent after his baseball career but remained an avid athlete. On his wall hang 10 golf and softball medals from the Senior Olympics that he won in the 1990s.

He still plays golf most weeks.

“On certain courses, I can shoot my age,” he said with a wink. And his three children, seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren keep him busy.

As for baseball in the 21st century, Aden notes a lot of differences. There were no batting helmets, no huge salaries and no radar to measure pitching speeds.

But some things might be better.

“If I had a glove like they have now,” Aden said, “I could have covered another acre of ground.”

Melissa Pamer can be reached at (509) 459-5487, or by e-mail at melissap@spokesman.com.

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