The official start of summer is here and boy is it a welcome sight.
Face, it – Spokane in summer takes on a special luster. Especially in places like Millwood and on the South Hill, where the trees are so old they try to evict the sidewalks and their shade is a welcome respite from the summer heat.
Unless you’re talking about an early-season game at Avista Stadium.
My family spent the opening night of the new Northwest League baseball season at the ballpark, cheering on the hometown team in an extra-inning loss.
By the 10th inning we were frozen in our seats and the section leaders needed to chip us free with an icepick. But at least you didn’t have to worry about the beer being cold that night.
Summer nights at Avista are about more than baseball. For many of us, it’s where we grew up. Where we went as kids to watch Tommy Lasorda coach the future Dodgers. It’s where we watched Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin play shortstop when the team was a Rangers Triple A farm team, and where we watched players like Bill Madlock, a future National League batting champion, and Lenny Randle play.
It’s a storied place, and those stories are local treasures.
It’s where we saw the San Diego Chicken. And if you were a regular of the ballpark, you knew Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, long before he had a cameo in “Bull Durham.”
Back in the day your parents would drop you off at the ball park with a couple bucks and you and your friends watched the game and dined on hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn and sodas. If you’re lucky, you occasionally caught a foul ball and got an autograph.
Try that now and you’ll get arrested for child abandonment.
Summer was always the best time to be a kid. And it’s a good time to have a kid. Or a grandkid.
For us, there were always pick-up games in the park or on school playgrounds. Summer baseball for some, work-up games for others. We thought nothing about jumping on a bike and riding all the way to Liberty Lake to swim, or just far enough to have an adventure.
It was a great time for learning new things. Tennis lessons. Golf lessons. Summer camps. There was always a swimming hole to visit – if not to swim then to sit and watch the water roll past. Or to skim stones across.
Summer is the time of year for discovering bugs. It’s when a kid can get fascinated by a grasshopper or a frog or some other exotic pet.
It still is.
Grandsons, especially, are fascinated by such things. Mine has a love affair with rocks. All kinds of rocks. Big rocks. Small rocks.
But it’s baseball that makes summer the best time of year and I am trying to pass along that love of the game to the next generation.
At his first baseball game, we introduced him to his first baseball glove. He kept trying to put it on the wrong hand, but he made significant progress with the game when we could pry him away from the big bag of kettle corn.
That’s the cool thing about summer baseball.
Yes, we had our own version of young stars. Knowing they’re stars is part of what you get when you look through the prism of hindsight.
There will be major leaguers from this batch of Spokane Indians, of that I am sure. And if the kids today grow up to be baseball fans the way that my friends and I did, it will be a landmark in time.
In the short term, kids today have Otto and Doris, the team’s mascots, to keep them occupied and excited about a night at the ballpark. It’s not the same thing as remembering Lasorda coaching third base, but there is a strange resemblance between the former Dodgers skipper and Otto, the Spokanasaurus.
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