Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What I left unsaid about baseball, ambition and community

I recently submitted a rough outline of Olympia's minor league baseball history to the local historical society newsletter. It was based on a longer piece that I really hadn't put finishing touches on, so I took out some thoughts that strayed off the historically cite-able path. They were mostly thoughts on the communities that made up the well defunct Southwest Washington League.

Here's the piece in the Olympia Historical Society Newsletter: Olympia in Minor League Baseball.

Here are my extended editorial thoughts, in rough form:

(League organizer John P.) Fink first reached out to organizers of local teams in the timber towns early in 1903, asking them if their communities had it in them to step up to professional baseball. First on his list were Olympia, Chehalis, Centralia, Montesano, Aberdeen and Hoquiam. 
These six cities were at the time very similar. Today, they stand apart culturally and demographically, Olympia in particular. In more than a century, Olympia has gone from a timber town in the same classification as Aberdeen and Chehalis (with a state capitol) to a city on the southern edge of the Puget Sound metroplex. Olympia grew from just under 4,000 to more than 10 times that size. Today, you can put Olympia together with neighboring Lacey and Tumwater and get more than 100,000 people living in and around Olympia. This is more people in either of the individual county's that also made up the Southwest Washington League in 1903.
The 1903 cities of the old league almost seems like ghosts now. Olympia has grown outside its 1903 version, practically leaving nothing behind of its former self. The other cities have grown, seeing high times after World War II. Through the 1930s and World War II Olympia lagged behind cities like Aberdeen and Hoquiam. It wasn’t until 1960 that Olympia was the largest in population. It was the 1980s that Olympia started putting real distance between itself and its former league-mates.
While state government grew and Olympia took advantage of its connection to the urban centers of Washington, the other cities in the old Southwest League suffered from the decline of the timber and other resource industries.
Olympia became even more distant as it got more liberal relative to its neighbors. Being the home of state government and the politically and culturally liberal Evergreen State College, the old Southwest League towns turn their ire at Olympia. The infamous "Uncle Sam" highway billboard in Chehalis has included many anti-Olympia messages over the years, including "Evergreen State College - Home of Environmental Terrorists and Homos?"
But, as Fink sent out his inquiries in early 1903, these really were cities of the same league.

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