With the recent reshuffle of Minor League Baseball, the Colorado Rockies are now poised to start the next chapter of the rich history belonging to the Spokane Indians.
Indians senior vice president Otto Klein said that the recent offseason represented a “historic change” for Spokane. Not only did the team change affiliates (from the Texas Rangers to Colorado), but it also will now be a full-season member of Class A (High-A) rather than playing a short season as it has since 1983. Additionally, the Rockies and Spokane are partners through the 2030 season, ensuring continuity and a long next new chapter in the Inland Northwest to be written in purple.
"“This is a big deal,” Klein said. “You know, for a lot of us who have been in this community for a long time – and we’ve been in baseball some of us for 30 years or more – this is the most historic change that we will see in our lifetime with minor league baseball. This is a big one.”"
It was a big one for Spokane when it not only heard that it was part of “the 120,” as Klein calls the 120 teams that now comprise Minor League Baseball, but it was also a reaffirmation of the importance of the game in the region.
"“The Rockies have landed in a great spot here in Spokane. This is a baseball town,” Klein beamed. “What people have known in recent years here is June to September baseball in Spokane. Now we get to expand that with the Rockies and with a larger schedule. That means there is a lot of excitement going on right now here.”"
The new “120” also means a change in rivals for the Rockies new minor league affiliate.
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With the changes in Minor League Baseball, the eight-team Northwest League is no more. In its place, the High-A West League (comprised, along with Spokane, of the Eugene Emeralds (San Francisco Giants), Everett AquaSox (Seattle Mariners), Hillsboro Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks), Tri-City Dust Devils (Los Angeles Angels), and Vancouver Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays)) will fill the just-released schedule.
It’s a new chapter in a long minor league baseball history in the Inland Northwest, dating back to 1892. Spokane’s team has been everything from a Triple-A stop for the Los Angeles Dodgers to a short-season affiliate of the Rangers. During its affiliation with the Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda managed the team and Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bobby Valentine, and others called it home. The Dodgers’ Triple-A team left Spokane in 1971 to head to Albuquerque, which is now the current Triple-A affiliate for the Rockies.
Along with the Rangers and Dodgers, Spokane has had affiliations through the year with the Phillies, Brewers, Mariners, Angels, Padres, and Royals. Now it’s Colorado’s time.
"“The Colorado Rockies organization is thrilled to call Spokane home for our High-A Minor League club,” Zach Wilson, Colorado Rockies Assistant General Manager for Player Development and Farm Director, said in a statement when the Spokane announcement was made. “We are excited to bring talented players and tremendous baseball to the region as well as positively impacting the community.”"
In 2019, Spokane averaged 5,270 fans per contest for its 38 home games. That average attendance was 34th in all of Minor League Baseball and only league rival Vancouver (B.C.) averaged more at the Class A level. Vancouver also happens to have triple the population of Spokane and, since the start of the 2008 season, they are the only affiliated baseball team that resides in Canada that is not the Toronto Blue Jays. There certainly seems to be something special at Avista Stadium, first opened in 1958.
"“The fabric of the community is baseball,” Klein said. “We have a lot of great sports in this town, but baseball has deepened our roots.”"
The Spokane “Indians” may draw some criticism but, as Klein said, their case is a bit different.
Those roots include the “Indians” moniker, a name that can be a lightning rod for many in today’s society. However, Spokane has done things the right way when it comes to its nickname, working with the local tribe on a logo design to ensure respect with not only the logo but the name itself.
Klein said how the Spokane franchise embraces the Indians name and educates on the meaning behind it is critical.
"“You know, I think one of the things that we constantly do with our team is we talk about how we’re different. And we talk about what makes us special, and what makes us special is what makes us different and what makes us different is what makes us special. I talk about that all the time,” Klein said in an exclusive conversation with Rox Pile on Thursday. “This is one of the foundation things that’s why we’re different. We approach things differently with our name. We’re not just named ‘Indians’ as a nickname. We are named after a group of people, the Spokane tribe of Indians, who were the first inhabitants in this area.”"
Klein says the franchise has a “great relationship” with the tribe and that includes ensuring that that relationship benefits both parties.
"“We do all types of promotions and connections with the tribe. We raise money for their youth programs. We help rebuild their baseball fields. There are lots of things that we do in partnership together with the tribe,” Klein said. “We believe people are going to really appreciate that because there’s depth to our name.”"
Part of that depth includes the franchise’s “Redband Rally,” focused on the signature fish of the region, the Redband trout. A critical source of food for the Spokane tribe, the baseball team is now leading the efforts to ensure the protection of the fish and the rivers that it calls home.
Certainly, there is always excitement around something new, and there’s plenty of change in the air in Spokane. Klein said the region is ready for 2021.
"“This is going to be a fun year,” Klein smiled. “Spokane is going to embrace the Rockies and its players full on.”"