For the 34 big league hopefuls who took part in the Spokane Indians’ first practice at Avista Stadium on Wednesday night, the learning process has officially begun.
In the next few days leading up to Saturday night’s 6:30 season and home opener against the Northwest League rival Yakima Bears, the young players on this year’s roster will be drilled extensively on the mechanics of team defense.
They will receive crash courses in situational hitting and pitching. Eventually, they will even learn each others’ names.
But at some point in the not-so-distant future, they will also learn about the recent history of the Indians’ short-season Class A franchise, which has captured three Northwest League championships in the six years it has been affiliated with the Texas Rangers. That list includes the 2008 title they will try to successfully defend this summer.
Zach Zaneski will make sure of that.
“It meant a lot to win that championship last summer,” said the 22-year-old catcher, who was signed as a free agent in 2008 and is one of three holdovers from last year’s team that finished the regular season 51-25 and dusted off the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in four games to nail down another NWL title.
“Especially being my first year in professional baseball, and to get a ring … that’s just something that doesn’t happen very often.”
So Zaneski plans to let his teammates on this year’s roster know how much a championship means – at any level – even though many of them might just be passing through on their way to bigger and better things.
“I’ve been telling the new guys about the atmosphere here and how, when you compare it to other places in our league, that there is nothing better,” said Zaneski, who played in 30 games last summer and batted .252. “This is the best place to play, by far. The facilities are the best, the fans are the best, and we need to appreciate that and continue to make winning our main goal.”
Tim Hulett, who is back for his third season as Spokane’s manager, echoed Zaneski’s sentiments.
“The championships mean a lot,” he said. “Our players are well taken care of. They’re playing ball in one of the best facilities around, the fans are awesome and the booster club has just been fantastic the two years I’ve been here.
“That environment is a big part of the winning formula. All you have to do is look at it, and you’ll see there’s a reason it happens year in and year out. Our guys need to understand that, and realize they’re in for a real treat.”