April 21, 2017
GRANGEVILLE – On the baseball diamond I am lucky if I don’t strike out. With pen and paper, I’ll admit I haven’t been “to bat” much writing about the game.
But sometimes, whether you’ve been on the field or not really has little influence on the outcome. So, I decided recently to take a swing at writing about baseball. More precisely, one team and one season that might seem a bit familiar to a few of our readers.
It was the spring of 1995, and just like this year it was a wet season. Rodney Barger was a sophomore that year and played catcher for the Grangeville High School baseball team.
A recent Times Past photograph emerged with the 1995 Bulldog baseball team. Barger identified his teammates and shared a write up he found in his GHS yearbook.
“Despite the rainy weather, GHS baseball finished the season with a tie for first place with Highland in the league… Their winning streak took them to districts, but it ended with a loss to the Potlatch Loggers.”
I wanted to learn more about that rainy season, so I asked Barger to share what he remembered. I was curious how a team facing an obstacle could manage to get to districts.
The key to success, Barger said, was knowing how to modify your practice to cope with the elements. You may be out on the field or you may be in the gym with a pitching machine and throwing balls. In fact, he said they even drove to Kooskia for practice a time or two.
“When you live in Grangeville, and you try to play baseball in the spring up here, that’s what you do. There were days there was literally snow out there.”
The team consisted mostly of underclassmen, Gilbert Laird and Nate Dirschell were the sole seniors. Skip Hall coached while Mark Willig was assistant.
Stats from the ’95 season reveal a promising season to come. Jeremiah Jones batted .455, John Bambacigno a .368, Barger, Eric Kantner and Shon Meyer all batted above .300. Bambacigno went 6-0, Kantner 3-2, and Jones 2-2.
Barger also did well himself with 16 assists from behind the plate.
In 1996, the team marched on, improving as they went. They ran all the way to the state tournament before it too was rained out. Barger said the top two teams played for placement and the rest of the games were cancelled.
In 1997, he said, the team was on a mission.
It was Barger’s senior year, and Orofino was their first game. In 1996, GHS beat Orofino for the first time in 10 years with a suicide squeeze bunt.
“We knew we were good, and that was the first game of the season. I played baseball in Orofino and I knew we were playing Orofino. I knew them and they knew us. I thought, oh man, this is going to be a great start to a season. And we got beat like 16 to 6 or something. We didn’t play very well.”
The team pulled it together for league and “walked through” districts, however. The Bulldogs beat New Plymouth 7-4; lost to Fruitland; and defeated Wallace 8-4. The win against Wallace sealed the team’s third-place finish at state.
The Bulldogs finished the 1997 season 17-3.
That was the year the best memories were made, Barger said. He threw out three or four opponents, didn’t allow any steals, batted over .500 and had a stellar double play after getting wiped out by a runner.
And it all began with that ’95 season and, as Barger said, a scrawny kid in a baggy baseball uniform.
Laurie Chapman writes about the people, places and events bringing the prairie to life in the weekly blog, Prairie Pulse. If you have a suggestion, contact Laurie by email at email@example.com or by phone at 208-983-1200.