Highline Bears

Semi Pro baseball comes to White Center as the Highline Bears roar in

It has gone by different names over the years: White Center Stadium, Mel Olson Stadium and Steve Cox Memorial Park.

But whatever you call the venerable covered ballpark on SW 102nd Street just east of Ambaum, it has a history dating back to the completion of the original wooden grandstands in May of 1940.

In decades gone by hundreds of fans used to pack the stadium to watch semipro baseball and national level men’s fastpitch softball teams going by such names as Pay ‘N Pak, Westside Federal and The King & His Court.

The Highline Bears are hoping to bring back the days of such high level ball and the big crowds that go with them when the Pacific International League semiprofessional baseball expansion team plays its first season at the park this summer.

“Our main goal is to bring the community together through baseball,” said Bears general manager Justin Moser. “This is the community’s team. We want to bring fans from West Seattle and Highline all the way through Des Moines on Friday and Saturday nights and watch a game of baseball.”

Joining Moser on the brass of the team are president Russ Pritchard, manager Tom Coughlin and treasurer John Thomson.
Pritchard is a 1965 graduate of Glacier High School who grew up in the White Center area, while Coughlin is a 1983 graduate of Evergreen High School who also has his roots in the area.
Moser and Thomson are both 2007 graduates of Mount Rainier High School.

“When I was a kid the place was magic to me,” said Coughlin. “I learned to play baseball in the shadow of the lights.”

Pritchard is a former chief of the North Highline Fire Department who fought the fire that destroyed the wooden stands in the late 1970s.

“I grew up in the stadium, and it was a very sad fire,” Pritchard said. “Early one Sunday morning about 4 in the morning both grandstands were in flames. We just lined the fire trucks up in the infield and sprayed the grandstands for hours. We spent about 10 hours fighting it.”

Pritchard was also a friend of Steve Cox, a slain police officer and youth sports advocate for whom the park is now named.

“He was a huge supporter of this community,” said Pritchard. “If he was still around he would be here with us today helping to bring baseball here.”

Pritchard even took his first date to the stadium so she could watch him play Little League baseball.
“Thousands and thousands and thousands of kids grew up and played baseball here,” he said. “Dozens of Major Leaguers have come out of the league.”

The local list of standouts who played at the stadium includes Floyd Bannister, Ron Cey and Kenny Knutsen, while more recent players who came out of the league include Tim Lincecum, Jason Bay, Willie Bloomquist and Lyle Overbay.

The Pacific International League is mostly a summer league for college players, although teams can also have former professional players and college graduates.

Other teams in the league include the Seattle Studs, Everett Merchants and Northwest Honkers, as well as the expansion Snoqualmie Valley Hurricanes, plus teams from Trail and Burnaby in British Columbia.
The team will also go to tournaments in Kelowna and Kamloops, B.C.

Coughlin feels his team will be competitive in the league right off the bat in its inaugural season.
“We’ve got players from all over the country, plus one from Brisbane, Australia,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the talent we’ve recruited. We’ve got a number of kids with potential.”
The team will have a Minor League flavor on and off the field.
“We’ll run it like a short season single A team,” Coughlin said. “There will be a mascot, music and a lot of activities.”

Tickets will cost $3.00 each, with free admission for children under age 12. Season tickets for the two-month season are $40 and include a T-shirt.

Thomson will handle the team’s financial books.

“I’m an aspiring CPA (Certified Public Accountant),” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of bringing semipro baseball back to the community.”

The season will open at home at the approximately 1,200 seat Steve Cox Memorial Park at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 30.

“Tickets are available online, or at the door if it doesn’t sell out,” Moser said.
The team website is www.HighlineBears.com.