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Former Whitworth baseball coach ‘Spike’ Grosvenor leaves lasting legacy on, off the field after his death

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 9, 2019

Former Whitworth baseball coach Spike Grosvenor poses in the chaple of Millwood Presbyterian church in March 1995. (The Spokesman-Review)
Former Whitworth baseball coach Spike Grosvenor poses in the chaple of Millwood Presbyterian church in March 1995. (The Spokesman-Review)

A curveball that didn’t curve. That’s how I met Spike Grosvenor.

It was, as I remember, a nice March afternoon in 1953. The freshman baseball teams from North Central and West Valley were holding a practice together at Garry Park. That meant, if you knew the coaches, Bill Diedrick Sr. at North Central and Jud Heathcote at West Valley, a practice game.

As a team manager at NC, I was “recruited” to be the umpire. The coaches clobbered together equipment for me – a mask, chest protector, shin guards, whisk broom and a “clicker” to keep track of balls and strikes. Grosvenor was a left-handed pitcher for WV.

We had sailed through the game – I don’t remember the score, if one was even kept, but knowing Bill and Jud it was. When it seemed the game should have ended, Diedrick and Heathcote got together and figured there was enough time (read daylight) to play some more.

“You OK with that?” I remember Diedrick asking.

And I was.

While waiting for Grosvenor to complete his warmup pitches, I took off the mask to take a breather and was standing behind the West Valley catcher. I thought he would catch them.

Enter the curveball that didn’t curve, or “break” as Grosvenor later described it while profusely apologizing.

It caught me in the left temple and dropped me on the seat of my pants – on the right-hand pocket, to be exact, where I was carrying the straw whisk broom with the metal knob on the handle.

There was no concussion protocol in those days. I’m sure I would have failed, but I remember my sitter hurting worse than my head for several days.

That was my introduction to a man who became, through sports and our church involvement, a good friend.

Walter B. “Spike” Grosvenor, who would go on to play baseball at Whitworth – he was a member of the school’s 1960 NAIA national champion team – and later become its baseball coach, died Sept. 16 at his home in Bothell, Washington, after a long illness. He was 81.

Curveballs broke more frequently for Grosvenor after that, and I learned a valuable lesson that would serve me well in a nearly five-decade baseball and softball umpiring career: Never take off your mask behind the catcher and always watch the ball!

A 1956 West Valley graduate, Grosvenor spent two years in the U.S. Army before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Whitworth in 1963. He later earned a master’s in art education from the University of Washington and spent 31 years, from 1968-99, as a professor of art at Whitworth, where he remained an American professor of art emeritus after retiring.

It was during that time that he also took on the added responsibility as head baseball coach. He coached the Pirates for five seasons, 1972-73 and ’75-77, compiling an 85-79 record.

A little later he added soccer coach to his résumé. He helped turn the school’s club soccer program, in which he played, into an intercollegiate program in 1982 and became the team’s second varsity coach in 1984 and ’85, compiling an 18-20-6 record after Dick Cullen coached the first two years.

But it was in art that he really distinguished himself, especially in stained glass. He was a member of the board of directors of the Stained Glass Association of America, where he chaired the education committee and directed its Stained Glass School. His artistic creations can be seen in various locations, including the Hixson Union Building on the Whitworth campus and Millwood Presbyterian Church.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Erlene Grosvenor; three children, Franklin, Dennis and Heidi, their spouses and five grandchildren.

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