Spokane Indians featured in New York Times writer’s ruminations on travel, family and COVID-19

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For the second time in just over a year, Otto Klein began receiving congratulations from his colleagues on Tuesday for the Spokane Indians featured in The New York Times.

“There were people who said, ‘You are great ambassadors for the city,” said Klein, senior vice president of the minor league baseball team. “I only see it as a positive thing.”

Seattle-area author Jon Mooallem visited Avista Stadium in mid-August, the same night a local Afghanistan veteran threw the game’s first pitch. The result is an essay of over 5,000 words that is a snapshot not only of a place, but also of a father’s anguish seeking normalcy east of the Cascades amid the pandemic.

“I didn’t want my kid to be stranded at home or for a hot air balloon array of other 8 year olds to need to be swabbed, just because someone’s silly dad dropped guard in Spokane “, Mooallem, a freelance writer based on Bainbridge Island, Wash., Wrote in his article.

Mooallem declined by email to comment on his travel essay, saying it was personal and should be self-sufficient.

It’s the baseball game, a Thursday night game with the Hillsboro Hops, that sets off Mooallem’s road trip, but that’s not where the whole story takes place. Along the way, he meets Ken Spiering, the artist behind the statue of the red wagon in Riverfront Park. It also tells the story of Jack “Lucky” Lohrke, and why the WWII veteran and former third baseman hated the nickname.

He also says he is inspired to visit Spokane because, as the West Side, he had heard “a lot of liberals denigrate Spokane”. While there is some evidence of this in Mooallem’s essay, the overall tone is kind to Spokane, said Kate Hudson, public relations manager for tourism promotion group Visit Spokane.

“There is a certain reality to this coin,” she said, noting that she had had many of the same thoughts while trying to navigate the pandemic with her own children.

Hudson compared the attention to detail in reporting from Mooallem to the locally maligned essay published in March 2017 by UK newspaper The Guardian. This piece, which contained several factual errors, attempted to tie Spokane’s fortune to the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team, while Mooallem highlighted other aspects of Spokane’s culture, including his art scene, said Hudson.

“Even though he does some digs for us, we have brought him joy at a time when he is feeling depressed and overwhelmed,” she said.

Hudson and Klein pointed to the vivid final scene of Mooallem’s tryout, when he described watching children running around the bases after the Indians’ 4-3 victory and missing out on his own children.

“He wrote this as we get back to the resumption of the pandemic,” Klein said. “I thought he captured that moment in time.”

Klein, who is a main character in the Mooallem article, said he approached the interview the same way he did with other media. This included when The New York Times came calling in the summer of 2020, for a story on the ball club’s relationship with the local Spokane Indian tribe.

“We always love to tell our story. We love to share the great qualities of our region, ”said Klein.

Part of the tourism promotion job in Spokane involves showing different tourism writers on a tour, Hudson said. She said it was refreshing to see someone come to such an upbeat place exploring the city on their own.

“I think he found a moment of peace here,” she said. “I think it’s a positive thing.”


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