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Baseball has a colorful history in small town
Editor’s note: the following is the final installment in a three-part series highlighting the Black Diamond sporting scene in the first half of the 1900s. Previous articles addressed boxing and soccer.
By T.J. Martinell
Maple Valley/Covington Reporter
Compared to the other sports in Black Diamond, baseball truly was in a league of its own.
It was America’s pastime, but for the town, it was a matter of pride.
Black Diamond’s team of decades ago was a part of the Valley League, which included towns like Franklin, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Sumner and Issaquah.
It fielded teams, especially in the 1920s, which not only dominated the Valley League, but were also able to compete against professional squads from big cities like the Seattle Indians and the Rainiers.
Men, both teenagers and adults, vied for spots on rosters brimming with top-notch stars.
Originally, baseball games were staged at a grassy field called the Prairie, where the Black Diamond cemetery is today. In the early 1900s, the Pacific Coast Coal Company donated a swampy area for the men to play.
Undaunted by the unplayable terrain, the miners took their time after work to spread hundreds of pounds of dirt over to the field, transforming it into a baseball field.
Along with bleachers, they also built a grandstand and a bandstand, all of which were packed full every Sunday. While the band played next to the crowds, kids would get their ice cream, pop and popsicles as men ran up and down the bleachers taking bets.
“People in them days was all baseball,” stated Boots Pierotti in “Black Diamond: Mining the Memories.” Pierotti’s family emigrated from Italy in 1910.
“Everyone had money,” he said. “And they were betting their shirts on games.”
Games of note during the year were played on holidays like Independence Day or Labor Day. Those who attended games looking for some good, clean fun did not always get what they desired.
There appears to have been two very different periods of baseball in Black Diamond. During the “dead ball era,” 1900-19, fights seemed to be more common, recruiting occurred more frequently and a good player could get an easy job in the mine, even if he had no particular skill.
“A fight was the normal way to end the ball game at the end of the day,” said Dusalina Cavaletto, who grew up during the dead ball era. “We kids were all rushed home.”
According to Jack Thomspon, if there was a foul ball, “you’d have 15 damn kids running down onto the street chasing after them, because there was 50 cents for every ball returned. Fifty cents would buy you a lot back in those days.”
Emilio “Meg” Pierotti, Pierotti’s brother, played initially as an infielder for Black Diamond in the 1920s, but was recruited by Carbonado in 1930. At first, he wasn’t paid to play, but during the Great Depression, a man appreciated any work he could get.
“There must have been 50 men looking for a job the day that I went in,” he said.
For a freshman in high school, making the team alone was a remarkable accomplishment. But then, he managed to get in three hits his first game, which impressed the team manager, Dr. Wake.
“Old Doc came up to me after the game and said, ‘You are just as good as so and so, and he is getting $7,” Pierrotti said. From there on out, Pierotti was paid $7 a game, equivalent to $90 in 2010 when adjusted for inflation.
In search of a championship
In 1919, the same year the Black Sox Scandal darkened the major leagues, Black Diamond players bent the rules of the game to give themselves a chance at the championship.
After a string of losses, all but three of the regular players were replaced by Seattle-recruited men, and the team’s record gradually improved. At the end of the season, Sumner had the best mark, with Black Diamond trailing by one game. Sumner faced a final game against Auburn. If they lost, they would be tied with Black Diamond for first. Thus, the only way for Black Diamond to still have a shot at the pennant was for Sumner to lose.
Acting cunningly, Pete Fredrickson, Black Diamond’s manager, hired a pitcher from the semi-professional Pacific Coast League to play that one game for Auburn which, at the time, was legal to do.
With his help, Auburn won.
Now tied, Black Diamond and Sumner met at a neutral site, Auburn, where people took whatever means of transportation they could to get there. Above the hollering and unruly throngs of fans betting on the sidelines, Black Diamond managed to slug out a victory thanks to a final hit by one of the Seattle-recruited players.
“Soon as he made the run,” Pierotti said, “all these fellows that was betting threw $5, $10 bills in a hat and give it to him.”
Baseball in the
The second period of baseball came in around 1938. By then, oil was replacing coal as a source of fuel. As a result, the Pacific Coast Coal Company put less money and effort into the town, which also included the baseball league. This meant less recruitment and no pay for the players.
But the biggest influence, according to Gomer Evans Jr., the former mayor of Black Diamond, was World War II. Before the war, traveling was seldom done, and the primary employment in the town was the Pacific. This kept the community closely knit. When the war came, many of the residents worked outside of Black Diamond for the first time in their lives. After the war ended, many of those people chose to not come back to town.
“It was a different time after the war,” Evans said.
Evans, who played on the team as an outfielder and pitcher during the 1940s, described the game as more settled than it had been. There was no fighting. Players were lucky to get a beer afterward from the home team if they were away, and though their competitive edge made them the 1949 Valley League Champions, the game wasn’t as serious as it might have been in the past, he said.
Also, there were no more perks for playing on the team.
“We had regular jobs during the day,” Evans said. “We played baseball after we were done working.”
Today, all that remains of the original baseball field structures is the concession stand. The remnants of the baseball team, its posters, trophies, uniforms and photos, are found in the Black Diamond Historical Museum. Among them is a signed photograph of Edo Vanni, a Black Diamond native who played for the Rainiers and became known as the “dean of Seattle baseball.”