Being relatively new to the Pacific Northwest – as of the last five years – and an admirer of the Everett AquaSox most recently, I felt compelled to learn much more about the foes that seek to squash our Frogs on a nightly basis as well as gain a better understanding of the league that “we” call home. What follows is my report about the Northwest League, the teams that play in it, and, which clubs, if any, are the ones we should take most pride in rooting against.
A League of our Own
The Northwest League is one of two Class A Short Season leagues and breaks down into two divisions, the North and South with each division comprised of four teams.
Our Everett AquaSox (Everett, WA) call the North home along with the Vancouver Canadians (Vancouver, BC), Tri-City Dust Devils (Pasco, WA) and the Spokane Indians (Spokane, WA).
For those official scoring at home, that’s three teams in Washington state, and one really, really close to it, though in another country.
The South division fills out with the Hillsboro Hops (Hillsboro, OR), Boise Hawks (Boise, ID), Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Keizer, OR) and the Eugene Emeralds (Eugene, OR).
Once again, three teams in one state, Oregon, and another really darn close.
For the most part, the Northwest League is a battleground for state bragging rights between the good guys Washingtonians and the unfortunate southern Oregonians.
By contrast, the other Class A Short Season league is the 14-team New York-Penn League which is located at the complete opposite side of the country in the Northeast ranging from the Black Bears of West Virginia up to Lake Monsters of Vermont.
Outside of sharing the same league-level distinction, there’s no affiliation between the two groups of teams.
The “short-season” league gets its name because they are in fact, shorter season leagues, running from June to September and catering to college players and newly signed MLB team affiliated draftees.
Speaking of MLB affiliations, we all know that the AquaSox are a minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, which is geographically convenient. But what about the other seven squads?
Turns out Spokane is a Texas Rangers farm club. Tri-City is in the San Diego Padres system and Vancouver supplies talent to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Colorado Rockies organization manages the Boise Hawks. The Emeralds are in the Chicago Cubs rotation. Hillsboro is the developmental home for some of the Arizona Diamondback prospects and the Volcanoes belong to the San Francisco Giants.
Wondering out loud to myself, I wanted to discover which former or current MLB players of significant contribution may have began their careers in the Northwest League. The following list is just a few notable call-outs from each team
Note: the number in the ( ) represents the year they played in the league and this list is specific to the teams currently operating in the league.
Everett AquaSox – Current Mariners pitcher King Felix Hernandez (2003) and catcher Mike Zunino (2012). Plus five-time All Star outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, Adam Jones (2003).
Vancouver Canadians – Perfect game pitcher Dallas Braden (2004), LA Dodger all-time leader in playoff appearances Andre Ethier (2003) and World Series Champion Nick Swisher (2002).
Tri-City Dust Devils – Current Super Bowl Champion and all-world NFL quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson (2010).
Spokane Indians – Nine-time All Star and World Series winner with the Houston Astros in 2017, Carlos Beltran (1996), two-time MLB home run leader Chris Davis (2006) and two-time member of the 30/30 club, short stop Ian Kinsler (2003).
Boise Hawks – Three-time World Series Champion pitcher John Lackey (1999), two-time all-American wide receiver at Notre Dame and current Giants pitcher Jeff Smardzija (2006) and relief pitcher with the 8th most saves in MLB history, Troy Percival (1991).
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes – 2012 World Series MVP “Kung Fu Panda” Pablo Sandoval (2005), two-time National League Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum (2006) and former NL batting champion Buster Posey (2008). Together Pablo, Tim and Buster lead the San Francisco Giants to three World Series Championships.
Eugene Emeralds – Three-time Gold Glove award winner and World Series Champion Eric Davis (1980-81), three-time All Star reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon (1987) and five-time All Start and former Mariner Mike Sweeney (1992-1993).
When you expand the list to include players on teams no longer in the Northwest League, the alum list gets even more impressive with Mariners greats Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez (Bellingham Mariners) Omar Vizquel. MLB steals leader Ricky Henderson, Tony Gwynn and Reggie Jackson plus many more.
Not too shabby!
The Teams to Beat
Most importantly when supporting the home team, and in may cases most fun, is knowing who it is that we should take pride in rooting against.
Naturally, we pull for the AquaSox. But if the AquaSox are not playing for the championship, we can then resort to rooting for other teams from the state of Washington like Spokane or Tri-City. If no team from Washington is in the title series, we can then root for the North division and Vancouver Canadians. If none of those teams are in it, then, well, there is always next year.
The competitive balance of the Northwest League (since the 2000 season only) has been actually very competitive. When looking at former champions, the North has won the league 8 times, as the South has 10 titles. So advantage South…but it’s close.
The Vancouver Canadians appear to the the top team winning the league four times and finishing runner-up three times. Right behind them in terms of accomplishment would be Salem-Keizer Volcanoes from the South with four titles as well, but only two additional appearances in the championship series.
Our AquaSox last won the Northwest League in 2010 and finished as runner-up two seasons ago with one other title series appearance.
The team we should, I guess, have compassion for would be the Tri-City Dust Devils who made the championship series four times since 2000 but lost every time. Think Buffalo Bills. They are the only team to not win a league title in the new decade.
Vancouver is the reigning champion and won their four titles since 2011. Hillsboro has two titles and Eugene one since 2011. So that’s five titles for the North and three for the South since 2010. Hah!
Turns out this is a very competitive league and very evenly balanced.
What is they say, you don’t know what you don’t know…well, now I can say I feel like I do know and consider myself a much more informed fan.
What’s best about the Northwest League is that the kids are out there playing the game for the love of the sport. Some go on to bigger and better things and teams come and go. It cannot be debated any other way than to say this is a great league with representation fitting of the cities, states and countries of which the teams represent.
Henceforth, I declare it’s Go Frogs! And mostly boo Canadians…the team, not the people. That would be wrong.