At Avista Stadium, Spokane Indians players welcome biggest crowds of their career

Summer Morkus, left, gets her arms autographed by Spokane Indians pitcher Scott Engler before a game against the Boise Hawks at Avista Stadium on June 15. (James Snook / SR)
The Spokane Indians’ starting lineup take the field before a game against the Boise Hawks at Avista Stadium on June 15. (James Snook / SR)

There’s a lot to be nervous about when you’re a 21-year-old with new responsibilities.

There’s even more to be nervous about when those responsibilities include playing professional baseball in a different country with teammates you hardly know.

And doing it in front of the largest crowds to see you play.

This is the case for most of the players who make up the Spokane Indians for three months and call Spokane home – while their actual home may be as relatively close as California or as distant as the Dominican Republic.

Most of the roster has played for small high school or college crowds in facilities that hold fewer than 1,000 people. Even at the professional level, many have only played in the Arizona Instructional League, where crowds are made up mostly of coaches and family.

But they all agree that there’s no place they’d rather play than the friendly confines of Avista Stadium, which averaged 5,208 fans for the first five games of the season.

Spokane leads the Northwest League in attendance through five games with 26,041 fans.

“It’s pretty incredible how the fans are in it every pitch. They’re always supporting us no matter if we’re down 10-1 or it’s a close ballgame,” said catcher Isaias Quiroz, one of the returning players from last year’s squad.

While the players might be away from their families, for 76 nights of summer they are surrounded by a different kind of family.

“These guys become your family,” Quiroz said. “You battle day in and day out since spring training with these guys, so they mean the world.”

For some players, like Cuban shortstop Diosbel Arias, the first taste of baseball in America is made all the more sweeter by the wave of welcoming fans.

“The fans are awesome,” Arias said through a translator. “They’re here for us through the good and the bad.”

So after getting to know the ballpark and the fans, how do the energetic grandstands of Avista Stadium compare to the barren bleachers of the Arizona training complexes?

“It doesn’t compare,” Arias said with a laugh.

It didn’t take long for the head of the new coaching staff to recognize how unique this town’s love of local baseball is.

“This is a tremendous environment and community. It’s outstanding and impressive. We love to play in front of these fans,” first-year manager Kenny Holmberg said.

Scott Engler, a right-handed relief pitcher, appreciates the support when he is on – and off – the mound.

“We’ve got a lot of people that love the game here,” Engler said.

“When you come out here, there’s a lot of fans to cheer you on through thick and thin. I absolutely love it.”