Eleven years ago, the Spokane Indians hosted the first Northwest League All-Star Game to help commemorate the league’s 50th anniversary.
This season, the league’s 61st, may not share the luster of that Golden Anniversary, but the Indians set out to produce a first-of-its-kind gem anyway.
Tonight Spokane will host the first joint all-star contest between the Class A short-season NWL and the rookie advanced Pioneer League. Instead of having 50 players drawn from eight teams in three states and British Columbia, this game will feature the top 50 players from 16 teams and six states.
“It’s a better representation of an all-star game, I think, because the caliber of play will be higher,” Indians senior vice president Otto Klein said. “Someone who may not have been of all-star quality before got into the game and now it is truly the best players from both leagues.”
Indians owner Bobby Brett had for years championed the idea of a joint all-star game, which the California and Carolina leagues have already presented. When the NWL All-Star Game was reincarnated in Everett in 2013 and continued last year in Eugene, the notion resurfaced.
“The Pioneer League has not done an all-star game before, so this was new for them, the whole all-star game concept,” Klein said. “Knowing that we’ve had success with ours, yes, they were open to it. I think we wanted to host it in a Northwest League city, first, if we were going to do it, only because we’ve had the success of doing all-star games in the last few years.”
The idea started at the league level and needed the approval of Major League Baseball farm directors. The final OK came from Pat O’Conner, the president of Minor League Baseball, who will attend the game.
If the game comes off without any major hitches, as Klein expects, the Pioneer League will host the game next season.
“Spokane got involved because, A, we like to be involved with neat things like this,” Klein said. “I think our facility lends itself well and geographically, we are the most centralized of the teams capable of putting something like this on.”
The logistics of the game, including travel, gear, coordination of events and all the finer details, have been on the mind of Indians staffers since before the season started.
“We have a high standard,” Klein said. “This is a showcase and this is an honor for the players, and that’s what we think of first.”
The all-stars were treated to a dinner and cruise of Lake Coeur d’Alene on Monday. Today’s events include batting practice starting with the NWL team at 3 p.m., autograph sessions and a home run derby at 5:45. Spokane center fielder LeDarious Clark is one of the NWL’s three representatives to the derby.
If the game is tied after 10 innings, the homer champion will select the winner. Last year’s game in Eugene ended in a scoreless tie after 10 innings.
Spokane’s managerial staff will guide the NWL team.
“We got drafted,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “It only makes sense, being the first time they’re crossing over and going head-to-head. We’re hosting, so it just was the easy call.”
Hulett’s son, Tug, was an all-star for Spokane in the 2004 game.
The Pioneer manager is Dick Schofield of Billings, who played briefly for Spokane in 1982 and has known Hulett since high school days in Illinois.
The honorary managers are Hall of Famer George Brett (Pioneer) and Mike Redmond (Gonzaga University/Gonzaga Prep), the former Florida Marlins manager and 13-year MLB player, for the NWL.
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