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Then and now: Northwest League

At six teams, Minor Leagues' smallest circuit rich in tradition
April 1, 2022

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Get your passports stamped in the smallest circuit in the Minors, the High-A Northwest League, where short-season history was cemented, Junior first left the yard and managers masquerade as mascots.

Northwest League

Established in 1955, known in 2021 as the High-A West

Eugene Emeralds: San Francisco Giants, PK Park – Eugene, OR
Everett AquaSox: Seattle Mariners, Funko Field – Everett, WA (Ballpark Guide)
Hillsboro Hops: Arizona Diamondbacks, Ron Tonklin Field – Hillsboro, OR
Spokane Indians: Colorado Rockies, Avista Stadium – Spokane Valley, WA (Ballpark Guide)
Tri-City Dust Devils: Los Angeles Angels, Gesa Stadium – Pasco, WA
Vancouver Canadians: Toronto Blue Jays, Nat Bailey Stadium – Vancouver, BC (Ballpark Guide)

2021 champion: Eugene Emeralds
Most championships, all-time: Spokane Indians, Yakima Bears (both with eight)

Did you know? The 2018 Northwest League championship was decided on a walk-off balk. The “Bad News Ems’” finished with the league’s worst record but rolled through the playoffs. Eugene has three championship victories in the past five years. … Although Everett has been a Seattle affiliate since 1995, the AquaSox ballpark – first known as Everett Memorial Stadium in 1947 – has a unique place in Mariners history (see below). There is a plaque on the sidewalk beyond the left-field wall that commemorates the landing spot of Ken Griffey Jr.’s first professional hit – an opposite-field homer he launched as a visiting player for Bellingham in 1987.

Notable alumni: Carlos Beltran, Bobby Cox, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Ozzie Smith.

Long a hotbed of developing baseball talent, the history of professional baseball in the Pacific Northwest dates back to 1890.

The Northwest League is the only current circuit that includes a team outside the United States. But Vancouver has been a common thread for the many different leagues to play Minor League Baseball in the region.

The Pacific Northwest League operated from 1890-1903, and was then known as the Pacific National League for the next two years. The Northwestern League began operation in 1905 and ran through 1917. From 1918 to 1922, the Pacific Coast International League hosted teams in the region. The Western International League existed for one season in 1922, then reemerged in 1937 and ran through 1954 – with a three-year gap during World War II.

The modern affiliated Northwest League was formed in 1955, with Spokane and Eugene as original members. In fact, Eugene, Spokane, Everett and Vancouver had clubs during that early era, with Spokane’s history going back to 1890. The circuit existed as a Class A or B Division before joining the Class A Short Season ranks in 1966, where it stayed until 2019.

Ejected manager Mal Fichman once disguised himself as mascot Humphrey the Hawk in Boise.Boise Hawks

There’s been some overlap with the Pacific Coast League, where teams like Vancouver were once members. But no matter what the league has been called, the circuit has still been home to future Hall of Famers, colorful characters and mythic accomplishments.

In 1965, Dick Joyce struck out 17 batters, including the first nine he faced, for Lewiston in his professional debut. Mal Fichman earned a lifetime of fame when he managed Boise in 1989 – and probably gave Bobby Valentine some fun ideas. Fichman was ejected in the sixth inning of a game against Salem, but returned to the dugout wearing the team’s Humphrey the Hawk mascot costume. Fichman, who managed for 14 seasons in the Minors, got a laugh and a one-game suspension from Northwest League president Jack Cain after the contest.

What’s new: The league changed classification from Class A Short Season to High-A and transitioned to a full-season schedule in 2021. Since its latest iteration in 2019, two teams – the Boise Hawks and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes – are now members of independent leagues.

What's familiar: The remaining six teams will again play a more rigorous schedule compared to their short-season days. That includes long-running clubs Spokane and Eugene, which faced off for last year’s league title. All six teams have retained their club affiliations from 2021.

For the record: There had never been a player with a 27-game hit streak in the history of the Northwest League until last year. Vancouver’s Spencer Horwitz strung together a 28-game run to break the record, and he actually had hits in all but one of the Canadians’ final 33 games of the season. … There have been four perfect games in Northwest League history, the most recent a rain-shortened, five-inning effort by Vancouver's Brad Hertzler on July 18, 2007. … Willie Darkis is credited with the short-season home run record after going deep 25 times for Central Oregon in 1980. Since 2008, only six players have hit at least 20 homers in a short season. … In 1959, 21-year-old Karl Kuehl was hired to manage the Salem Senators and become the youngest Minor League skipper ever.

Ben’s Biz memory – Hawking snacks with Tri-City’s Erik the Peanut Guy

"Erik the Peanut Guy is essentially a franchise icon. Since the start of the team over 20 years ago, Erik Mertens has been part of the gameday presence. I think he initially started as a vendor, but he's long been the between-inning emcee as well. And he still finds time during the game to occasionally sell peanuts. He has his standard peanut vendor outfit with the apron and the smock and everything. So it was great to meet him. I've known him on Twitter for years. He was enthusiastic about me visiting and he really incorporated me into a lot of the gameday stuff. He gave me my own team logo apron, and I walked around with him selling peanuts for an inning. And it was like, Wow, this is the most iconic peanut vendor in Minor League Baseball, arguably. And certainly an icon to the Northwest League. Here I am trailing along, selling peanuts. I even made one sale -- never got paid for it, but it's OK. This was in 2016. Just to illustrate how big a part of the team that Erik is ... there is now a life-sized bobblehead of him at the ballpark. So it just goes to show. You can just be a kid, a local baseball fan, a little outgoing and become a franchise icon."

Things to look for in 2022: With the help of top Giants prospect Marco Luciano, Eugene claimed the 2021 league championship in its first season as a San Francisco affiliate (but its third in five seasons). No. 3 D-backs prospect Jordan Lawlar, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, appears poised to make his Northwest League debut this summer, as does Rockies' No. 1 Zac Veen. The league also could feature other Top 100 prospects such as Mariners shortstop Noelvi Marte, D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll and Jays infielder Orelvis Martinez. All three of them put in brief stints at the level in ’21.

Joe Trezza is an contributor for