by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & rofessional baseball came to the Pacific Northwest in 1890, not long after the arrival of the railroad made it possible to link teams in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Spokane (then Spokane Falls) to form the Pacific Northwestern League.
The modern Northwest League has drawn millions of spectators and helped develop hundreds of major league players since it was formed in 1955. More Pacific Northwest cities have been home to Northwest League baseball than for any other pro sport.
The Northwest League presently consists of eight teams spread from Vancouver, B.C., to Boise. With the league's 54th season set to get underway on Tuesday, let's take a look at some of the league's rich history.
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& lt;li & Check out this lineup of former Northwest League regulars: Catcher -- Mike Piazza (Salem). First base -- Paul Konerko (Yakima). Second base -- Joey Cora (Spokane). Third base -- Ron Cey (Tri-City). Shortstop -- Ozzie Smith (Walla Walla). Left field -- Rickey Henderson (Boise). Center field -- Ken Griffey Jr. (Bellingham). Right field -- Tony Gwynn (Walla Walla). Designated hitter -- Edgar Martinez (Bellingham). Starting pitcher -- Dave Stewart (Bellingham). Relief pitcher -- Troy Percival (Boise). Reserves -- Reggie Jackson (Lewiston), Eric Davis (Eugene), Carlos Beltran (Spokane), Jim Edmonds (Bend), J.J. Putz (Everett) and Jose Canseco (Medford). & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Martinez was such a prolific hitter during his 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners that major league baseball named the designated hitter of the year award in his honor. However, in his pro debut in the Northwest League in 1983, Martinez hit just .173 with no home runs and five RBIs in 32 games with Bellingham. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Actor Kurt Russell made the 1971 NWL all-star team when he batted .285 as a second baseman with Bend. Russell, whose baseball career ended soon after he suffered a rotator cuff injury in 1973, also played in the NWL for Walla Walla and Portland. Russell's father, fellow actor Bing Russell, owned the Portland Mavericks. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Steve Dalkowski, a legendary minor league pitcher whom some observers maintain was the hardest thrower in baseball history, pitched for Tri-City in 1961 and 1965. Always incredibly wild, Dalkowski set a league record when he walked 196 in 103 innings in '61. Dalkowski played in the minors with Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the epic minor league baseball movie Bull Durham. Shelton loosely based the character of pitcher Nuke LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins) on Dalkowski. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Only seven NWL managers went on to manage in the majors: John McNamara (Lewiston), Cal Ripken Sr. (Tri-City), Karl Kuehl (Salem), Tom Trebelhorn (Boise), Greg Riddoch (Eugene), Jerry Royster (Yakima) and Bruce Bochy (Spokane). Four men have managed in the NWL after managing in the majors: (Trebelhorn in his first year with Salem-Keizer), Riddoch (Spokane and Eugene), Norm Sherry (Everett) and ex-Seattle Mariners skipper Bill Plummer (Yakima). & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Before Everett joined the NWL in 1983, the city had only fielded a minor league team in 1905. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & The first U.S. professional baseball game involving two black managers took place in the Northwest League in 1987. Boise's Derrell Thomas squared off against Bend's Mel Roberts. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Walla Walla had a manager named Cliff Ditto. Honest. & lt;/li &
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The Spokane Indians open their season at Avista Stadium with a five-game home stand against the Everett AquaSox on Tuesday-Saturday, June 17-21, at 6:30 pm. Tickets: $5-$15. Visit www.spokaneindians.com.