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This NOT Just In: Seattle Pilots

Feliks Banel

The Seattle Mariners face off against the Oakland A's today in their home opener for the 2010 season. Over the last three–plus decades in Seattle the Mariners have provided enough thrills to keep even the most cynical fan coming back for more. But the Mariners aren't Seattle's first Major League Baseball team. That honor goes to the Seattle Pilots. As part of the occasional history series "This NOT Just In," Feliks Banel takes a listen back to this nearly forgotten team.


Song: "Go, Go you Pilots, you proud Seattle team."

Archive Audio: Friday afternoon, April 11, 1969, Major League Baseball comes to the Pacific Northwest and the Great American Game becomes, in fact, a truly national sport.

This is audio from a promotional film about the Seattle Pilots. When the Pilots came to Seattle in 1969, it was baseball's version of Manifest Destiny. But the team needed a place to play.

Archive Audio: "Because of Seattle's unpredictable spring weather and because the community badly needed a multipurpose facility to accommodate conventions and other events, the voters of the region were asked to assist in financing an indoor all–weather building similar to the Houston Astrodome."

The American League required Seattle only to commit to building a stadium before they would send a team here. Rather than if you build it, they will come, it was more like, if they come, you have to build it.

The stadium was put to public vote and was characterized as the next logical step for a city basking in the civic glow of the Space Needle and all things Century 21 [and World of Tomorrow.]

Archive Audio: "The day of reckoning finally arrived and a heavy turnout of voters flocked to the polls in King County to decide whether the region would return to the provincial, pre–World's Fair atmosphere or plunge forward into a brave new world."

Brave voters did plunge forward and approve the measure to build the Pilots a new stadium. Just over a year later, the Pilots took the field at their temporary home, the old minor league ballpark on Rainier Avenue called Sick's Stadium.

Archive Audio: "The Pilots, like a storybook plot, won their opening game in front of 17,000 fans huddled into a stadium not yet complete."

Though not complete and never intended to meet to Major League standards, Sick's Stadium would have to do. The first season wasn't so great, either, but it wasn't all that bad for a new team. The Pilots finished in last place with a record of 64 wins and 98 losses. But storied franchises including the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees made their first–ever appearances in Seattle. And the stage was set for what could have been a brighter future.

Archive Audio: "The Pilots of Seattle sprouted their American League wings in a most auspicious manner and the years to come should bring even more thrills."

But the thrills would have to wait. Local ownership claimed they couldn't afford to keep the Pilots. So they sold the team to out–of–towners and the deal closed just days before the 1970 season. Meanwhile, work continued on the stadium. It would eventually be named the Kingdome.

Archive Audio: "Whatever the future holds — divisional championships, World Series, All–Star Game — even these would be hard put to match the year that was, the year that Major League baseball came to the Pacific Northwest, the First Voyage!"

But the Pilots packed up and went to Wisconsin. The new owners changed the name of the team to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Song: "Go, go you Pilots, you proud Seattle team. Go, go you Pilots, it's time to shout and scream. We're with you Pilots, You're big league all the way. So Go, go you Pilots! Go, go you Pilots — when the umpire hollers 'play'! Go, go, go, go, go, go, goooooooo!"

Feliks Banel is the producer of the occasional history series "This NOT Just In."

© Copyright 2010, KUOW

Funding for "This NOT Just In: Audible Moments from Northwest History" was provided by the KUOW Program Venture Fund. Contributors include Paul and Laurie Ahern and Puget Sound Energy.