Baseball fans far and wide love cool Olympic Stadium


A few Grays Harbor heads may have turned when the MaxPreps national online service recently ranked Hoquiam’s Olympic Stadium among America’s “10 coolest high school baseball venues.”

The 75-year-old Hoquiam stadium is often viewed locally as primarily a football facility that also plays host to the annual Loggers Playday competition.

But baseball people from outside the area, for the most part, love the place.

That’s probably because it is one of the last of the large wooden ballparks that were once commonplace in organized baseball. The City of Hoquiam has also done a good job, through its periodic renovations, of keeping the stadium relevant to a contemporary audience.

Olympic Stadium drew mostly positive reviews from visiting teams when the professional Grays Harbor Gulls were in operation.

In a fruitless attempt to add a Grays Harbor franchise to the college-aged West Coast League a few years ago (the start-up costs were too high for local investors), then-league president and former Seattle Mariners broadcaster Ken Wilson repeatedly waxed poetic about the stadium’s virtues.

Too bad the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association didn’t get the memo.

The field for one Class 1A high school baseball regional last month included eventual state champion Lake Quinault, Oakville, Quilcene and Pateros.

For the first three of those teams, Olympic Stadium would have been the ideal site for regionals — geographically accessible, with ample seating and parking facilities. While all of those clubs had to survive play-in contests to make it to that level, it was evident from the state bracket that at least two Western Washington clubs would likely earn berths in that particular regional.

Instead, the WIAA shipped all those teams to Yakima, forcing cash-strapped Quinault to make two cross-state trips (the state championship game was in Ellensburg) within an eight-day span.

For that matter, Olympic Stadium would be a far better regional Class 1A site than traditional venue Castle Rock, which has no covered grandstand and only a few rows of wooden and metal bleachers. From a geographical standpoint, Castle Rock is even more out of the way than Hoquiam for such traditional regional participants as Blaine and Meridian.

The reality of the matter, however, is that the WIAA is wedded to the I-5 corridor when it comes to selecting Western Washington tournament sites.

Even if the ballparks in those locations aren’t among the 10 coolest in America.

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Catching up with a couple of other items after returning from vacation:

ITEM: Montesano pitcher Layne Bruner, although drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, opts to play college baseball for Washington State University.

COMMENT: For what it’s worth, I believe Bruner made the right call. A lot of factors, though, go into weighing college and professional offers and baseball players have a tougher decision than athletes in other sports.

Under Major League Baseball rules, a draftee can turn pro immediately after completing his high school career. If he enters a four-year college, however, he is ineligible to be drafted again until after his junior season or 21st birthday.

I’ve never understood why a similar rule doesn’t apply to basketball. The National Basketball Association currently prohibits players from turning pro until one year after their high school graduation. The so-called one-and-done rule has turned colleges such as Kentucky into a sanctuary for hired guns en route to the pros and has played a major role in the public’s declining interest in the college sport.

If the baseball policy was adopted in basketball, high school standouts would have the freedom to follow the example of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and turn pro immediately without spinning their wheels for a year in college. The college programs would be able to re-establish continuity in the knowledge that they’d be able to retain their recruits for at least three years. These recruits, meanwhile, would have the advantage of obtaining a college education.

It sounds like a win-win-win proposition to me.

ITEM: Seattle is being considered as a possible new home for the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes if negotiations to keep the franchise in Arizona fail.

COMMENT: I’ve long believed that major-league hockey would go over big in Seattle. There’s one minor problem, however, with an immediate relocation. There’s nothing close to an adequate NHL arena in the Puget Sound area — and probably won’t be for several years.

The most recent reconfiguration of KeyArena left it essentially unsuitable for hockey, with only an 11,000-seat capacity and poor sight lines. If the Tacoma Dome was ever deemed a potential alternative, the relatively recent ravaging of parking facilities near the Dome ended that possibility.

Chris Hansen, the California businessman who wants to bring pro basketball back to Seattle, has made it clear he won’t build a new basketball/hockey arena until he first secures an NBA franchise.

The irony is that Portland has two venues (the Rose Garden and the still-operational Memorial Coliseum) that are better suited to hockey than anything Seattle has to offer. Having spent a fair amount of time in Portland in recent years, I’m confident that Oregonians would not be comfortable serving as merely caretakers for an NHL franchise until Seattle can get its act together.

Just as NBA Commissioner David Stern is largely perceived as holding a grudge against Seattle, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has long battled allegations that he is biased against Canadian cities.

The apparent willingness of the league to move the Coyotes to Seattle after resisting a previous bid from an Ontario suitor and ignoring another offer from better-equipped Quebec City makes you wonder if those allegations aren’t true.