West Seattle native Dan Raley showcases his Seattle Rainiers book at White Center Library Wednesday
By Bob Sims
I remember the first time I walked on the lush Sick's Seattle Stadium grass as a 12-year-old kid. Vividly. It was on Little League Day in the summer of 1962, the year of the Seattle World's Fair.
I picked up a patch of the verdant Rainier Valley turf and put it in my back pocket, carefully, as if it were part of hallowed ground.
The ghosts of Rainiers past had trod there, and I knew it, names like Earl Averill, "Kewpie" Dick Barrett, Bobby Balcena, Fred Hutchinson, Vern Kindsfather, Rogers "The Rajah" Hornsby, Hal Turpin, Dewey Soriano, Edo Vanni, Ron Santo, Jo Jo White, Joe Taylor, Maury Wills, "Jungle" Jim Rivera and Artie Wilson.
All of them helped contribute to the burgeoning Seattle renaissance after the Depression. They were big stars.
"The Rainiers were Seattle's first big entertainment offering," said Dan Raley, author of "Pitchers of Beer: The History of the Seattle Rainiers."
"They mirrored the growth of the city during the Depression recovery, World War II, the era of airplanes and TV sets, big-league baseball coming to the West, and finally the World's Fair, when Seattle decided it would become a big-league city."
Raley, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer sportswriter and Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor, will host a book event for "Pitchers of Beer" at White Center Library on Wednesday, Aug. 27, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. He will be joined by well-known Northwest baseball collector and sportspressnw.com writer Dave Eskenazi, who will bring Rainiers souvenirs to the event, including an old jersey and photographs, some of which are part of a slide show and discussion.
Raley will spin yarns of gravelly voiced radio announcer Leo Lassen, legendary owner and Rainier Beer magnate Emil Sick, as well as Seattle natives Hutchinson and Santo, who are all mentioned in his book. His anecdotes of how Babe Ruth almost became a Rainiers manager in 1941 ("It might have changed the course of Seattle sports history," Raley says) are fascinating. He also writes and talks of Bob Fesler, a locally popular (Federal Old Line) fastpitch hurler who got a shot, albeit short, at pitching for the Rainiers.
Raley has written four books, including "The Brandon Roy Story" and "Tideflats to Tomorrow: The History of Seattle's Sodo." He has won more than 50 national and regional writing awards and has written 8,000 articles for publication in his career.
"Writing gives me a great peace, therapy, satisfaction," Raley said. "I wrote some of my best stories after my brother died in 2002, using it as a tool to overcome a great loss."
"Writing 'Pitchers of Beer' allowed me to go back in time to another era; sort of being a time traveler in my hometown," he added. "The memory of this team was on the edge of going away with the passage of time. I had to save it and put it on record forever.
"The Rainiers were as dear to the city as the Mariners and Huskies. I couldn't allow them to be forgotten."
Sick's Seattle Stadium is long gone now, a distant memory, but I thank the writer for preserving the history of a storied franchise -- and reminding me how much fun it was growing up in Seattle as a young Rainiers fan.
I still have that stadium grass tucked away somewhere.
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