Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem. -Saul Steinberg
Jack Coppinger, a relief pitcher at Division IIII Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, recently stumbled across a poetic play of good luck.
He was researching a paper for his religion class about the secularization of Whitman - a college with a Congregationalist origin that is currently recognized as one of the least religious schools in the country, according to Coppinger, which must lead to double takes from prospective recruits when they first learn they might be suiting up for the Whitman College Missionaries.
Coppinger had a theory that athletics led to the secularization of Whitman, which sent him deep into the college's archives. His research didn't confirm his theory, but he did stumble across something he didn't expect - a pamphlet for the 1960 Tacoma Giants that belonged to the collection of Raymond Vincent Borleske, a star football and baseball player at Whitman from 1906 to 1910, who later became a football, baseball and basketball coach and then went on to serve two terms as mayor of Walla Walla in the 1940s.
"I got really excited," Coppinger said in a phone interview about his find. "I'm a huge, huge, huge Giants fan. My whole family - we're all devotees of the Giants. So I started scanning the names on the roster and said, ‘Oh my God,' Gaylord Perry is on this roster.' That's awesome!"
Here's a link to three photos Coppinger took of the pamphlet - one of them is of the roster that contains Perry's name.
Tacoma has a long, rich history in the Pacific Coast League and has had several affiliations with big league clubs over the decades. The current franchise began play in 1960 as the Giants (1960-65), and went on to become the Cubs (1966-71), Twins (1972-77), Yankees (1978), Tugs (1979), Tigers (1980-94) and finally, the Rainiers (1995-present).
So the ballclub has changed its name six times since the 54-year-old pamphlet was printed. Unbelievably, it is still in mint condition.
"If it hadn't been dated 1960, I would've assumed it was more recent," Coppinger said. "I'm pretty sure it was preserved so well because it was in the archive for most of that time - in a refrigerated room where all the papers are safe. There's no humidity in there, so everything is perfectly preserved."
For a diehard San Francisco fan like Coppinger, whose family attended spring training every year and had season tickets for the regular season, he was driven to learn more about the names on Tacoma's 1960 team after finding the pamphlet.
"I spent about four hours on Google that day, and did basically nothing except look at baseball statistics which was probably a poor decision because by the time I finished doing that, they closed the archives and I had to go back the next day to restart my research," Coppinger said.
The curious thing about Coppinger's find is that Borleske died in 1957, which begs the question: How did a baseball pamphlet from 1960 sneak into his collection?
"Most of the papers we have were donated by his wife in the years after his death," Coppinger said. "I think it's in there because he was such a well-known figure in the Northwest that I'm assuming there was some sort of honor for him at some point that his family must have attended and they brought it back."
As Coppinger enters his junior season at Whitman, he admits to dreaming about the possibility of pitching professionally, but he says that unless lightning strikes his arm, it probably won't happen. With that said, I asked him to dream big. What if the Giants took a chance on him after his senior season?
"That would be the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Coppinger said. "I would love that. I mean, if they want a six-foot, 180-pound right-handed relief pitcher who throws 83 miles per hour, with a halfway decent change-up, then go ahead, pick me.
"If they did take me, I'm sure that would mean their scouts have found nothing else, or they made a horrible mistake and picked the wrong guy."
All kidding aside, Coppinger struggled to find his way on the mound in 2013, eventually injuring his pitching arm. He has since overhauled his mechanics and has noticed an increase in velocity. So, if you're so inclined, you might want to check Whitman's box scores for his name during the 2014 and ‘15 seasons.
But don't worry. He has a backup plan. He's a film and media studies major and he hopes to stay around the game in that capacity if things don't work out on the field.