Jack Spring’s eyes were alight and a smile crossed his face.
“It’s hard to believe that I would be remembered this way since I retired from West Valley 20 years ago,” he wrote and his son, Chris Spring, relayed to a crowd at the West Valley baseball field. “I always love surprises.”
Spring, 81, is perhaps the finest left-handed pitcher ever produced in Spokane, and perhaps the only former major league player and veteran minor league manager to coach high school baseball in the region. And he’s the only coach to win a state baseball championship at a Spokane high school.
Spring also spent 23 years as a teacher, coach and administrator in the West Valley School District.
Friday, just hours before West Valley faced Rogers in the school’s homecoming football game, the school dedicated the baseball field in Spring’s honor, unveiling Jack Spring Stadium.
Five members of Spring’s 1978 state championship team were in attendance, along with players from teams that spanned more than a generation.
Retired Spokesman-Review sportswriter and West Valley grad Mike Vlahovich spoke about the school’s history, but first he talked about a call he’d received from former West Valley boys basketball coach Judd Heathcote.
“He wanted to know why in the hell they were taking down Ward Mauer’s name and putting up someone else’s,” he laughed. “I told him that Ward Mauer is on the football field. This is the baseball field. He just said, ‘Oh. Never mind.’ ”
Spring has Parkinson’s disease and difficulty speaking, but his son assured the gathering that his father’s mind is as sharp as ever.
So were his memories.
In his remarks, he asked those in attendance to remember two of his standout players who could not be there: Mike Almquist and Chuck Estey.
Almquist was a standout pitcher for Spring and the Eagles, graduating a year before West Valley won the state baseball championship. He died in 2002.
Estey was an integral part of that championship team. He died in 2010.
Spring said he keeps their memory close and remembers them all the time. The memory brought a tear to his eyes, and his son choked up too.
“I got Dad’s emotional gene,” Chris Spring quipped.
Bob Finn, who played for Spring in the early 1980s, got the idea for the field dedication over beers at a tavern near Gonzaga University, fittingly, on a spring evening.
The process moved quickly – with Finn texting West Valley athletic director Jamie Nilles to map out the process while still sitting at the table.
Finn recalled how the coach was a master at little gibes – his way of motivating players. In Finn’s case the coach was always quick to tease him about his lack of speed – he still laughs recalling the time Spring called out to him, “Finny, I know you have to carry that piano down to first base with you every time, but do you have to stop and play it along the way?”
The coach couldn’t resist one last jab.
After thanking Finn and noting that the process had come together remarkably quickly, the coach noted that it was rare for him to construct a sentence with both Finn’s name and quick in it.
Chris Spring, who followed in his father’s footsteps coaching baseball before becoming athletic director at Medical Lake High School, took a few minutes to talk about his father.
He talked about how his was probably the most gifted left arm ever to come out of Lewis and Clark High School and Spokane.
“Now I’d like to introduce you to dad’s right arm,” he said, referring to his mother, Vona, who helped make Jack’s 18-year professional baseball career work while raising five children.
Finn noted the new archway at the entrance to Jack Spring Stadium but cautioned everyone to look out at deep left field.
“Can you see that scoreboard out there?” he asked. “Maybe not. By spring there’s going to be a brand-new scoreboard out there, and it’s going to be nice. It’s going to have nine innings on it.”
It all looked dandy to the former coach, especially the name: Jack Spring Stadium.
“It has a nice ring to it,” he wrote.
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