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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 11, 2009 at 10:32 AM

Yukkin’ it up in Yakima

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That’s Yakima County Stadium, home of the Yakima Bears, in the middle of last Saturday’s Northwest League titanic between the Bears and the Boise Hawks. Hard by the SunDome, which used to be the home of the Continental Basketball Association Yakima Sun Kings until they folded last year despite winning back-to-back titles,

It’s got a picturesque backdrop, as you can see from the picture. However, no one I asked was quite sure what mountains those are. Even long-time Yakimaniacs weren’t sure. I got answers that ranged from South Ahtanum Ridge to North Ahtanum Ridge to Rattlesnake Hills to Yakima Hills. Roger Underwood, the crack Bears’ beat writer for the Yakima Herald-Republic, did a little research and e-mailed me later that the official name is Yakima Ridge. So I’m going with that. Those banners off to to the third-base side of the field were put in to keep the sun out of patrons’ eyes, I’m told.

I love minor-league baseball, so when my journeys took me to Yakima last weekend for a reunion of the Yakima Herald-Republic newspaper, it was natural to end up at a Bears game. I attended with my former sports editor in Yakima, the legendary Jim Scoggins, and my current sports editor at the Seattle Times, Don Shelton, who was a reporter in Yakima when Scoggins hired me straight out of Cal in 1979. Don and I logged hundreds of hours together in Yakima in our formative years covering Yakima-area preps, Yakima Valley College and Central Washington University — and consuming an untold number of Big Miner burgers, the best hunk of meat in the state (confirmed again on this visit). Don took the pictures, by the way, so if you have any issues, talk to the sports editor.

There was no minor-league baseball during my six years in Yakima (1979-85), only the Yakima Beetles, an American Legion powerhouse that won a couple of national titles and churned out players like Dave Edler (currently the mayor of Yakima) and Jamie Allen, both of whom were Opening Day third basemen for the Mariners, Don Crow (who caught briefly in the majors with the Dodgers), David Trimble (an all-world high school star at Davis who signed with the Blue Jays, then quit baseball and went on to be a standout wide receiver with the Huskies), Cary Conklin (future Husky and NFL QB), the Stottlemyre brothers, Mel and Todd, both of whom made it to the majors (Todd much more successfully), Bobby Wells, and numerous others.

The Beetles, who played at Yakima Valley College’s Parker Field, might as well have been a minor-league team. They probably played as many games as the Bears and filled the ballpark on many nights, and the team was hugely successfully, winning the state title almost every year. Coming out to Parker Field to watch the Beetles was the thing to do on a summer night in Yakima while I was there. I guess that’s changed now with the return of the Bears in 1990 (minor-league baseball had left Yakima in 1966). The Beetles’ program, I’m told, is not as powerful or popular as it used to be.

I found Yakima County Stadium to be a pleasant place to watch a game (except for the ear-splitting bombardment of noise, but that’s just me getting old), as are Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, home of Rainiers, and Everett Memorial Stadium, home of the Aqua Sox. It’s the kind of place where you can get a good seat for $6.50, have a chat with the general manager in the team store between innings, and high-five the mascot in the bleachers. The ball was exactly what you’d expect — ragged, but with just enough flashes of quality to make you wonder which five players out there will wind up in the major leagues.

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Alas, this is a down year for the Bears, who would lose this game 6-5 and now sit at 18-32. But they have high hopes for third baseman Matt Davidson, a first-round sandwich pick from the recent June draft who just turned 18 in March and looks like he could be a high school sophomore. The Bears were a Dodgers affiliate from 1990, when the Salem team moved to Yakima, until 2001, when the Diamondbacks took over the franchise.

Everett has a strong team this year, as the Yakima Herald-Republic’s Roger Underwood, who has been an outstanding sportswriter in the state for more than three decades, chronicles in this exclusive Northwest League Power Ranking:

1. Salem-Keizer (Tim Lincecum still holds several franchise records

from pitching live BP)

2. Everett (Band-box ballpark hasn’t hurt the frogs)

3. Tri-City (Rockies continue to get glowing reports on prospects who play down wind from Hanford)

4. Vancouver (C’s catcher leads NWL in glove saves)

5. Spokane (Indians still afraid to introduce Rangers czar Tom Hicks for fear of boos (TRUE STORY)

6. Eugene (Ems prepare to move to new U of O yard, name Phil Knight honorary GM)

7. Boise (Hawks skipper Casey Kopitzke watching film of big club boss Lou Piniella to learn tantrum throwing)

8. Yakima (Where’s Dan Uggla when you need him?)

I’d better watch out, or Roger’s going to take over my Sunday gig.

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