At any given Spokane Indians Baseball home game, “Captain” Jack Billingsley can be heard hawking cotton candy to the crowds.
“Cotton candy here!” he’ll yell while he waves his stick with bags of candy in the air.
Spectators wave him down for bags of the sweet puffs of diaphanous cotton candy, which he makes himself in a room that used to be a beer tap room at Avista Stadium.
“You gonna buy me one?” he likes to ask the children with a smile.
It’s a job he’s been doing for 41 baseball seasons, in good weather and bad, through three different owners and seven different Major League Baseball parent clubs.
Always a baseball fan, Billingsley began his career after seeing a game in 1972.
“I’m in the shape to do it,” he thought to himself. He started the next year selling beer.
He remembers the 25-cent beer nights from those days.
“It got out of hand,” he said. “It was great, though.”
He’s been selling cotton candy since the early 1990s.
He usually arrives at the stadium at 8:45 a.m. on game days.
“I’ve got a lot to do,” he said.
He makes bags of cotton candy for the Kids’ Stand before making up the bags to sell in the stands.
To make the cotton candy, Billingsley starts with granulated sugar and Flossine, an ingredient that adds the flavor to the candy. He pours the mixture into a spinning, heated hopper, which sprays wisps of sugar around the machine. Once it has built up, he’ll gather the gossamer strands into a bundle and put it into a bag to later sell.
On busy nights, he can sell 50 to 60 bags and makes it through the stands about one time with stops for water and picking up more bags of cotton candy.
Few things have changed in his 41 years. He remembers the old wooden seats which used to give everyone splinters. There was an wooden scoreboard and the ticket sellers used to be stationed in teepees in front of the stadium. He also remembers a live organ player that used to entertain crowds during the game, instead of today’s recorded music.
Dustin Toms, director of public relations for the Indians, said Billingsley is one of the characters people come to see at the games – there is Otto, Doris, Recycle Man and Captain Jack.
“Jack’s great,” he said. “He loves it out there.”
Toms said people love to hear his laugh and his many stories.
During the off season, Billingsley is semiretired, selling souvenirs at parades around the Pacific Northwest.
He’s always been a baseball fan. He played it as a kid, growing up in Bonners Ferry, in Little League, Babe Ruth and the American Legion leagues. His favorite Major League Baseball team is the Dodgers.
He’s been with his wife, Ann, for 30 years and they’ve been married for 14. They have two children who are now grown.
“They both know how to make cotton candy, too,” he said.
Now 65, Billingsley isn’t ready to slow down any time soon.
“As long as I can stay healthy and my knees don’t give out, I’ll stay here a long time.”