Oregon State won the College World Series tonight and so Cape Cod rosters should be complete soon. On this occasion of back-to-back NCAA baseball titles for the Pacific Northwest Beavers, I want to pass along some observations and maybe a prediction about this region. First of all, you should understand the perspective from which I write. Readers of this blog know that I write from Seattle for most of the year, except for the last half of the Cape season when I am in Woods Hole traveling around the league. What you may not know is that I am orginally from Oklahoma and Texas. And I moved to the Pacific Northwest from Virginia. I count myself a southerner who relocated to the Northwest but writes a blog about the greatest summer league, which happens to be in the Northeast. I get around.
With that as background, I am pretty proud of this Oregon State championship. This was an emotional weekend for baseball fans out here in the left-hand corner of the United States. I attended Ken Griffey Jr's celebrated return to Seattle on Friday -- his first time to play here since he was traded in 2000 from the Mariner's to the Reds. The ovation he received -- from me included -- was overwhelming. Why? Griffey saved baseball in the Northwest in 1995 when he scored from first on a double by Edgar Martinez to beat the New York Yankees and move into the ALCS for the first time. Safeco Field, where the Mariner's play today, was hailed this weekend as the House that Griffey Built. It's fitting. Safeco is every bit his house as Yankee Stadium is Ruth's.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend, Griffey was rewarded with standing ovations at every occasion -- as he entered the on-deck circle, as he approached the plate, as took right field, as he exited right field. The papers this weekend oozed with pleas to bring him back.
When I first moved here in 1994, I sat in a nearly-empty Kingdome watching Griffey play. Baseball was a non-event here. But by 1996, it was resurgent and Griffey is the culprit.
Now 31 players on the OSU roster hail from the Northwest (OR, WA, Alaska and British Columbia). We only get Mariner's baseball out here on our radios and TVs so that means the kids from OSU last year and this year who won the College World Series grew up watching Griffey. They were rain-soaked Little Leaguers who wanted jersey number 24 (Griffey's number as a Mariner). Hell, Ichiro today said he was inspired as student watching Griffey and he was way over in Japan as a kid.
Tonight after the OSU victory against North Carolina, I drove my son up to the baseball field and he ran down fly-balls in center field as the sun began to set in the last place the sun sets in the continental US. Afterward we drove home and I saw boys playing wiffle ball on little patches of grass in their front yards. A little girl walking with her dad was wearing grey baseball pants.
Baseball is alive and well in the Northwest. We play all the time out here -- mostly in the rain and cold. Just ask Grady Sizemore. Or stop by a Falmouth Commodores game to talk with OSU's John Wallace or Joey Wong.