"Jimmy Hoffa. Tommy Lasorda's black book. A million dollars in cash. Fun stuff, whatever you can dream of."
It's Friday night at Avista Stadium, home of the Spokane Indians, and a spirited crowd of 5,836 is taking in the action as the home team battles the Eugene Emeralds. I, meanwhile, am in the team's administrative building alongside Indians senior vice president Otto Klein. Despite the ballgame going on just outside, he's taken the time to fill me in on an enduring ballpark mystery and the myriad fan and front-office theories surrounding it.
"Or gold bars could be hidden underneath there, right?"
The "there" in question is an unobtrusive circular metal plate, located on a tile floor between a printer cabinet and a door that leads to the team's main office. Beneath the plate is a vintage combination safe, rusted around the edges but in otherwise good shape. The insignia above the combination lock denotes it as a product of the Los Angeles-based Gary Safe Company, which once had a facility in Spokane as well. In January 2013, as Avista Stadium was undergoing a $3 million renovation project, construction crews discovered this safe. It had been hidden out of sight for quite some time -- no one knows exactly how long -- covered by carpeting and with a file cabinet located directly atop it.
"The construction company came to us and said, 'Uh, do you know that you have a safe?'" said Klein. "This had to be from 1958, when the stadium was built. Or maybe it was put in in the '70s. We just don't know all the facts."
Upon discovering the safe, the Indians solicited fan suggestions regarding what could be in it. Hence, the assumedly facetious theory that it contained the "black book" of Tommy Lasorda, who managed the Indians from 1969-71 (Spokane's 1970 club, which included Steve Garvey, Charlie Hough, Bill Buckner and Bobby Valentine, is considered to be one of the best Minor League Baseball teams of all time).
"Barbara Klante, she was an administrative assistant for us for a long time," said Klein. "She seems to remember that [the safe] was used to keep cash during the games. We were going to have a big opening ceremony for it, this big thing on Opening Day .... There are people out there who can crack open safes. It is an option, all you have to do it pay to get it done."
Upon further deliberation, however, the Indians decided that such a stunt could result in the Minor League Baseball equivalent of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault. A lot of build-up and then ... nothing. Therefore, the safe continues to lie undisturbed and its contents -- assuming there are any -- remain a mystery.
"The curiosity kind of faded away after a while, and there it sits," said Klein. "We just built around it. It's a neat part of our history, a Minor League hidden gem. And you know what? It's better left to the imagination. Yes, we can open it. But we've chosen not to. If you open it up and it's just full of air, that's not as exciting."
"But we can dream."