At T-Mobile Park on Tuesday, the Major League Baseball All-Star game will take place for the third time in Seattle’s history. In 2027, the Mariners will mark their 50th anniversary. They’ve called the ballpark home since 1999.
But when and where, exactly, did Seattleites witness the city’s first organized baseball game?
To answer this question, we must go back many years before the Mariners first took the field at the old Kingdome. We must travel back many years before the Pilots’ bizarre one-and-done Major League season in 1969. And we must go further back, decades even, before the Seattle Rainiers were the darlings of Sicks Stadium, or the Seattle Indians wowed the fans at old Dugdale Park.
This story of early Seattle baseball comes from preeminent Northwest baseball historian and collector Dave Eskenazi. Eskenazi shared research that was originally unearthed by former City of Seattle archivist Scott Cline.
Baseball was tardy in Seattle, says Dave Eskenazi. Compared with other nearby communities – maybe in much the same way it took the Mariners until their 19th season to make it to the playoffs – Eskenazi says it took a while for organized baseball to make its debut here in the Emerald City, a century before Seattle was even called that goofy nickname.
“Seattle was kind of late to the game in terms of Pacific Northwest baseball,” Eskenazi told KIRO Newsradio. “There was organized baseball in the late 1860s in Portland, in Oregon City, and in Victoria, BC, but Seattle’s real first organized team and game wasn’t until 1877.”
The date of that inaugural game was Saturday, May 5, 1877, to be exact. Two amateur teams played on an improvised field at the original UW campus in downtown Seattle, right about where the Rainier Tower and Fairmont Olympic Hotel now stand.
Eskenazi says the Seattle team didn’t have a name in time for that first game. But their opponent was a team from Newcastle, the mining community where coal was produced and then barged across Lake Washington. The Newcastle team was called the Lone Stars.
Seattle was not a huge city in 1877, with a population estimated to be somewhere around 3,000 people, which was fewer than lived in Walla Walla at that time. Still, that first game downtown attracted at least a few hundred spectators. The Seattle team wore street clothes, and specialized gear was at a minimum. Dave Eskenazi says the bases were probably made from burlap sacks, and pitching was underhand.
When it was all said and done, the “Seattle Nine” had eked out an inaugural hometeam win over the visiting Lone Stars.
“They beat them 51 to nothing,” Eskenazi said, in what was obviously not a pitchers’ duel. “And the first baseman for the Seattle team said that the game lasted seven innings, and at that score, that Newcastle team became discouraged and quit.”
Before too long, the Seattle team became known as the Seattle Alkis – after the West Seattle beach, which had been named for the Chinuk Wawa (or “Chinook jargon”) word for “bye and bye” or “eventually.” History know-it-alls will recall the story which says that early settlers known as the Denny Party named the beach where they landed in November 1851 “New York,” signaling their aspiration to create a major metropolitan center on Puget Sound. Some wiseguy then appended “Alki” to that moniker as a bit of subtle joke – as in, “this beach will be a big city . . . someday.”
They couldn’t have known it at the time, but whoever called Seattle’s first baseball team the Alkis couldn’t have picked anything better, as history has proven season after season for the current home team. As in, “The Mariners will make it to the World Series someday.”
One related note: there is some debate about how “Alkis” was pronounced. “AL-KYZE” (with equal emphasis on each syllable) would be the accepted pronunciation in 2023; in the 1870s, the team name may have been pronounced “AL-keez” (with emphasis on the first syllable).
However their name was pronounced, Seattle’s inaugural baseball team was wildly popular and played a total of three more games during that 1877 season: a road game in Victoria; a home game against Victoria; and a home game against Port Gamble. Seattle went undefeated, with the final two home games that year played at a field four miles south of downtown along the Duwamish River.
Amateur baseball was a fairly constant presence in Seattle from 1877 forward, and then, in 1889, Seattle fielded its first fully professional team. The season that year was cut short by the Great Seattle Fire. And, by then, the Alkis had become the Seattle Reds then the Seattle Browns.
Unlike the early amateur teams made up of regular, local guys with day jobs, the pro teams recruited players from all over the country. Baseball was big business, even as far back as 1889.
The next big leap in local baseball history was arguably the rise of the Seattle Indians in the 1920s, who became the Rainiers when brewery owner Emil Sick purchased the team in 1938 and built a new stadium along Rainier Avenue. From that momentous occasion, it’s just a hop and skip from there to the Pilots and then to the debut of the Mariners in 1977 – which was exactly 100 years after that first game downtown.
This means that when the Mariners do celebrate 50 years in 2027, it will also be exactly 150 years since the first organized baseball game in Seattle. And maybe by then, the “Alki” part of the Mariners and the World Series will finally have arrived, too.
In the meantime, Dave Eskenazi has loaned a number of priceless Seattle baseball artifacts to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) for an exhibit called Baseball All-Stars which is on display now through November 5, 2023.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.