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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: The return of the Indians each summer is something worth celebrating

Spokane Indians David Garcia (16) celebrates his home run with Joseph Starling during the bottom of the fourth inning of the game against the Boise Hawks at Avista Stadium on Friday, June 21, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians David Garcia (16) celebrates his home run with Joseph Starling during the bottom of the fourth inning of the game against the Boise Hawks at Avista Stadium on Friday, June 21, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where were we? Oh yes, looking to the future. And pining a bit about the past, but in a good way.

•••••••

• The summer awaits. It, as always, will be special in Spokane. After the winter’s snows, how can be it anything but?

There is another way it is special, however. Spokane is one of those lucky American cities that still has minor league baseball.

Don’t laugh. They are only about five teams per state, which means many folks go through the summer without the ability to watch a professional baseball game close by.

There are 256 minor league teams in the country these days, about half of what it was at the peak after World War II. Back then, there were so many levels of baseball just about every hamlet or burg big enough to label itself a city had one. Including Spokane.

Luckily, our city still does.

Minor league baseball isn’t solely about the wins or losses, though that matters to those who walk through the gate each night. It’s a lot easier to enjoy oneself when the team you are rooting for wins. But it’s also about the experience, not just for the players but for the fans as well.

The experience on the field is easy to understand. Spokane and other Short Season A franchises are often the first stop on the professional journey of baseball players. That journey may lead to the bigs, or it may not. No one knows, for sure, when a player is plying his trade at Avista Stadium.

And that’s part of the fan’s experience as well. Sure, the games themselves are fun, especially when the weather is nice and the summer smoke stays away. But another part of the experience is the “I-saw-them-when” factor.

There are many of us who can talk about watching Joey Cora or Carlos Beltran or Rougned Odor take the Avista field. And there are even a few hearty folks around who can speak to when Bill Buckner, honored along with Andrew Vathis last night by the franchise, or Bobby Valentine or Tommy Lasorda were members of the Indians’ family.

A big part of minor league baseball is history.

Funny thing, though, about history. It’s is made every day. And we rarely recognize it. In the minor league baseball sense, you sit at Avista with a hot dog and a diet drink, scorecard in hand, and you watch a game. You see a bunch of young men do spectacular things, both good and bad, and you go home with a smile.

The history part? That doesn’t hit you until years later, when you realize that scorecard contains the name Zach Grienke or his ilk. Back then, all you remembered as you were driving home is how much fun you had.

•••

Gonzaga: The day after the NBA draft is filled with free agent signings. And other signings. Josh Perkins did the former, agreeing to a contract with the Charlotte Hornets. Jim Meehan has that story. … Jim also has the story of Zach Norvell Jr. joining the Lakers on a two-way deal. … From Thursday night, John Blanchette wrote about the challenges facing Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. He didn’t mention the one about, in Hachimura’s case at least, becoming a spokesman for many different products. Hachimura seems well on his way in that regard. … Jim had the basics of the draft covered. … With the S-R’s Gonzaga Legends event coming up in less than a week, Jim Allen has a story on Spokane’s Heather Bowman and what she’s doing these days.

WSU: Robert Franks also signed with Charlotte yesterday, agreeing to a two-way deal. Theo Lawson has more in this story. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the NBA draft was not kind to the conference. … Oregon is happy with its athletic director and the football coach. … Colorado has a new assistant basketball coach. … In football, there are high expectations for Utah.

Indians: Why did we write about the Indians today? Last night was opening night. It was a sellout. And the home team won 7-5. Talk about near perfect. Dave Nichols has the game story and Kathy Plonka has the photo report. … Around the Northwest League, Everett also played at home for the first time but lost. … Eugene picked up a win at home against Tri-City.

Chiefs: We didn’t want to let Dan Thompson’s story on Luke Toporowski and his family pass by without a link, even if it ran in Friday’s newspaper.

Preps: Chuck Stewart has the Youth Sports Notebook in today’s paper.

Mariners: Though Mike Leake and the bullpen got belted around a bit, the M's held on against Baltimore, winning 10-9. … Someday Seattle will have to open its wallet for players again. …Speaking of the bullpen, there has been another change. An old face is back. … For the third consecutive day, Gene Warnick’s Out of Right Field recap is after an M’s victory.

Seahawks: You have questions? We can pass along a few answers.

Sounders: Will Bruin’s season is over, courtesy of a torn ACL.

•••       

• Years ago we used to have to diligently check the Indians’ schedule for fireworks nights. We live close enough to the fairgrounds that, if our windows were open, one of our dogs, a beagle, could hear them. She didn’t like them. Hate would be a better word. And she made sure everyone from our house to the stadium knew her feelings. We had to close the windows in the house, turn up the volume on the TV and make sure she was in the basement. Then, maybe, we could get by. Until later …

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