Can baseball mend heart break?
I have been broken up with sports for a long time now. Sports and I used to be really tight. I have so many fond memories:
• Hanging with my Grandpa and watching or talking sports, or the time he took me to Dodgers Stadium in the early ‘90s to watch the Dodgers play.
• Family time enjoying various sports that ran on my childhood TV – tennis, boxing, football, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, figure skating and, of course, the Olympics.
• Playing basketball in junior high and in high school. I dabbled in volleyball, played softball for several years and was an award-winning cheerleader for many sports teams.
I can’t pinpoint a single thing that caused my relationship with sports to dissolve. It was many things, and truly, none of those things are important to this article. Perhaps I can tell you the story of how and why sports and I called it quits another time. The point is, I have spent some years being bitter toward sports.
I decided to re-embrace sports, or at least start by giving baseball a little hug. I’ve gone way back to LCSC’s humble beginnings to learn and appreciate what this ball club is today and why NAIA is so important to this campus.
According to Keith Peterson’s “Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College 1893-1993,” LCSC began as a Lewiston State Normal School, in 1896. Normal schools were training centers for teachers and students were mostly women since it was thought that women were the best people to serve as elementary and secondary instructors.
Intramural sports began almost immediately on campus, but it wasn’t until 1900 when a baseball team formed.
Petersen writes that the biggest challenge, particularly compared to other campuses in the region, was that few men enrolled at Normal. Women made up the majority of people on campus. Incidentally, women began their own intramural sports leagues in 1901.
1910 — Normal baseball, as well as the other male sports teams, are regularly beat by high schools and surrounding colleges due to the lack of male students.
1931 — Petersen reports that the devastation of the Wall Street Crash of ’29 still vexes Idaho and the school lacks funds to get the players to their games.
1947 — The college receives a name change to Northern Idaho College of Education. Baseball is still being played but does not produce a successful team.
March of 1951 — The college campus closes by the decision of Governor Len B. Jordan. In protest, many of the students, including the baseball team, refer to themselves as Jordan’s Orphans. The college re-opens in 1955, but there isn’t a baseball team until 1962.
1966 – According to Petersen’s book, the team finally has a winning season and by 1969 qualifies to enter the district NAIA tournament.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), according to the organization’s website, “is a governing body of small athletics programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.” The program began in 1937, and NAIA baseball began in 1957. It has been thriving ever since. This year will be the 63rd NAIA World Series baseball championship.
According to LCSC athletics, NAIA baseball has been held at Harris field from 1984 to 1991 and from 2000 to the present. Since 1984, the Warriors have won 19 NAIA World Series titles and made it to the final game of the championship 25 times.
The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley is also a winner because competing teams stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and bring with them fans who do the same. According to LCSC Athletics, 900,000 fans have visited Harris Field throughout LC’s history of hosting the NAIA.
Important players and coaches
After visiting the hall of fame wall and the NAIA displays in the Athletics Center, I learned that 16 LCSC ballplayers have gone on to the major leagues. Perhaps most famous of these is pitcher Keith Foulke. Foulke was recruited to the major leagues in 1994 and in the 2004 World Series produced the final out that gave the Red Sox its first Series win since 1918.
Gary Picone played ball for the Warriors, then went on to be a pitching coach, athletic director and finally head LC baseball coach. Picone also made some important improvements to Harris field and was integral in bringing the NAIA back to LCSC. For a time, Picone worked under Ed Cheff, a much-beloved figure to Warrior baseball. Cheff was head coach for 34 seasons, during which the Warriors won the NAIA championship 16 times.
Over 100 years of history reveals LCSC’s determination to have a baseball team. The hard work and talent of players and coaches, the dedicated fans and the benefits to the community remind me of why I liked sports in the first place. I may not be ready for a full reconciliation, but perhaps I will be in the bleachers this May, sitting under the sunshine, shouting for the home team and sweetening the bitterness, even if just a little.