When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the 12th installment in a 14-part series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique,
When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the 12th installment in a 14-part series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird, poignant or otherwise memorable fact about each team or city in each of Minor League Baseball's admission-charging leagues. Remember -- it's about the journey, not the destination. To share your own favorite team or city facts, please reach out via email (_[email protected]_) or Twitter (@bensbiz). Previous installments: International League, Pacific Coast League, Eastern League, Southern League, Texas League, California League, Carolina League, Florida State League, Midwest League, South Atlantic League and the New York-Penn League.
The history of professional baseball in the Northwest can be traced back to the 1890 establishment of the Pacific Northwest League, which included teams in Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Tacoma. The circuit didn't last long, however, as it was done in by the economic calamity known as the Panic of 1893. Today's Northwest League, an eight-team Class A Short Season circuit, was established in 1955 and has thus far proved resistant to societal panics (economic or otherwise). And for good reason as the Northwest League is stocked with storied locations, iconic entities and scenic views. Let's get to the facts!
The Hawks made their debut in 1987, nine years after Boise's previous NWL team played its first and final season. That team was the 1978 Boise Buckskins, an unaffiliated entity that struggled on the field and at the gate. Nonetheless, the Buckskins were memorable. The team was owned and operated by groundbreaking female executive Lanny Moss, formerly the general manager of the Portland Mavericks (immortalized in the documentary "The Battered Bastards of Baseball"). Moss hired a former Maverick, Gerry Craft, to be the Buckskins' manager. Craft was a strong believer in divine guidance, and once released a player after he and Moss read the Bible together and determined that it was God's will.
Eugene has hosted more seasons of Northwest League baseball than any other city, as the Emeralds were a charter member of the league and persist to this day. The team hasn't been exclusive to the NWL, however, as from 1969 through 1973, the Emeralds competed in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate. It was during this period that the Emeralds featured their first and thus far only Hall of Fame player. That individual was Mike Schmidt, who played 131 games for the 1972 Emeralds and ended the season in Philadelphia.
On the sidewalk outside of Everett Memorial Stadium, a plaque can be found marking the approximate landing spot of Ken Griffey Jr.'s first professional home run. Griffey hit his now-historic dinger on June 17, 1987 as a member of the visiting Bellingham Mariners. (The AquaSox are currently a Seattle affiliate, but at the time, Everett was aligned with San Francisco.) The home run, a three-run opposite-field blast to left field off Gil Heredia, occurred in the fourth inning of Griffey's second professional game. He went on to hit 14 home runs over 54 games for Bellingham.
Hillsboro's "Hops" moniker speaks to the prevalence of the craft brewing industry in the greater Portland area, of which Hillsboro is, of course, a part. The team was established in 2013, having previously existed as the Yakima Bears. The Hops name would have worked just as well in this former location, however, as the Yakima Valley produces approximately 75 percent of all the hops grown in the United States.
The best team in Salem's professional baseball history was the 2007 Volcanoes, who compiled an otherworldly .750 winning percentage (57-19) en route to winning the championship. That year's squad was so good, they were the only team in the Northwest League to compile a winning record. The Volcanoes, then and now a San Francisco affiliate, finished 19.5 games above Vancouver (37-38) in the West Division. Boise and Tri-City tied for the best record in the East at 37-39.
When it comes to the weirdest baseball cards in Minor League Baseball history, one could certainly make the case for the Spokane Indians' "Mall Ball" sets of 1987-89. The cards featured players posing at the local NorthTown Mall, which sponsored the cards. Highlights include Bruce Bochy at a tobacco store, Steve Lubravitch with a cardboard cutout of Whitney Houston and Pedro Aquino surrounded by literal fans. As an added bonus, the Indians won the Northwest League championship in each season in which a "Mall Ball" set was produced.
Tri-City Dust Devils
The three cities referenced in the Tri-City Dust Devils' name are Pasco, Richland and Kennewick. All three of these cities have hosted a Tri-City Northwest League team. The Tri-City Braves, Atoms, Angels, A's, Padres, Triplets and Ports played at Sanders-Jacobs Field in Kennewick from 1950 through 1974. The Tri-City Triplets played on Richland High School's baseball field from 1983 through 1986. The Dust Devils, established in 2001, play at Gesa Stadium in Pasco.
The Canadians are the only current Northwest League team to be based in Canada. They aren't the only Canadian team in Northwest League history, however. The first was the independent New Westminster Frasers, who went 34-50 in 1974, their lone season of existence. Four years later, in 1978, the Victoria Mussels made their debut. Victoria's team, also an independent club, lasted through the 1980 season. It would be another 20 years before the Northwest League once again fielded a team from Canada, in the form of Vancouver's aptly named Canadians.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.