Airport hosts baseball buff's trove of mementos
Mementos from baseball's past in Seattle, collected by Charles Kapner, are featured in a display at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Way back in the early 1960s, if little Charles Kapner got separated from his mother at the grocery store, she knew exactly where to look.
"Post cereals and Jell-O had baseball cards printed on the back of the boxes," recalls Kapner, who grew up in Seattle's Broadview neighborhood, "so I'd be looking at every box to decide which one I wanted most."
A lot has changed since then, but not Kapner's fascination with baseball — its paraphernalia, its history and its endless supply of facts and figures.
"My background is in accounting, and baseball is a game that's full of numbers, so it's a good fit," said Kapner, 56, a private-school business manager who now lives on the Eastside.
An assortment of Kapner's most interesting pieces — selected from the thousands he now owns — is on display at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at least until the end of baseball season. To find it, go as far south as possible on the airport ticketing level, pass under a "no gate access" sign, take a right past the restrooms, and look for the display facing a Hudson News kiosk.
Don't expect mementos of Ichiro or Ken Griffey Jr. — this is all pre-Mariners stuff.
Kapner focuses on items from bygone days partly because they are harder to come by and partly because they hearken back to his own childhood. He still has the Seattle Rainiers Rico Petrocelli card that came in the box of popcorn he got at his first Rainiers game, when he was 8.
The airport exhibit includes the last home plate from Sicks' Seattle Stadium, which closed in 1976. There are jerseys from a 1969 Seattle Pilots father-son game. Even the last driver's license of broadcaster Leo Lassen, the radio voice of the Seattle Indians and Rainiers for three decades, ending in 1960.
A tall trophy marks Rainier third-basemen Dick Gyselman's 1954 induction into the team's Roll of Honor, lent to Kapner by Gyselman's family.
The oldest item on hand dates back a century, a black-and-white team photo of the 1912 Seattle Giants, showing 16 players with arms folded in identical fashion, flanking the team's grim-faced and supersize owner, Daniel Dugdale, in a dark suit, bow tie and fedora.
Kapner got the print from Carson Van Lindt, author of the 1993 book, "The Seattle Pilots Story."
A score book used at a Pilots game by broadcaster Bill Schonely is also included in Kapner's airport display.
The Pilots, as longtime Seattle sports fans will never forget, played in Seattle just a single season, 1969, before heading east to become the Milwaukee Brewers.
"I was devastated when they left," said Kapner. He wasn't alone. The team's abrupt departure triggered a lawsuit by Seattle, King County and the state of Washington against the American League, and led to the creation of the Mariners in 1977.
For Kapner, the joy of building his collection hasn't come from the items themselves but from the people it has put him in touch with — ballplayers and their relatives, other collectors, sports writers and many others with ties to the game.
That includes Marlene Houtchens, of Redmond, who baby-sat the children of several Rainiers players when she was a Franklin High School student in the 1950s.
Kapner contacted Houtchens after she was quoted in a 1994 Seattle Times article compiling people's memories of the Rainiers, and she has since become a family friend.
"He's a very fine young man with a real appreciation for Seattle baseball teams," said Houtchens, 75, "and I was blown away by his collection." To that collection, she has added a Rainiers jersey and other items.
Kapner had what he calls a pinch-me moment in 2010, when he was invited to sit on a panel discussion with three former major-leaguers who had all played for the Seattle Pilots: Jim Bouton, Greg Goossen and Tommy Davis.
Held in Burbank, Calif., the event was organized by the Baseball Reliquary, an organization of baseball history buffs. It marked the 40th anniversary of the publication of Bouton's frank and controversial diary, "Ball Four."
Kapner's own baseball past includes playing Little League and coaching a team his teenage stepson played on.
Several times a year, he displays parts of his collection. He has shown them at events and venues in Washington, California and Arizona. He approached Sea-Tac about setting up the airport display.
"It's a way of sharing my passion," he said. "Maybe somewhere out there there's a kid and this ignites a passion in him."
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org