YAKIMA — Near where members of Yakima Valley College’s softball team compete, a memorial drinking fountain honors the life and accomplishments of one of Yakima County’s greatest fastpitch softball players.
The red brick fountain built for James Michael “Mickey” McVey stands between Dunbar Field and the college’s soccer field, west of Larson Park and close to West Arlington Avenue. On Saturday, several former fastpitch softball players who knew and played with McVey will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of the fountain, which was dedicated several weeks after McVey died at age 28.
McVey, the star first baseman and captain of Ole’s Place Tavern fastpitch softball team, was killed early on Aug. 20, 1971, in a head-on crash with a drunk driver south of Everett. McVey was in Everett with the team to compete in the four-day Washington State Men’s Fastpitch Tournament and had hit a home run in the first game, securing a 1-0 victory for Ole’s Place over a tough Bremerton team.
He died four hours after the game. Ole’s Place kept playing in the tournament and won first place.
Scott Wilson, a Yakima businessman who played fastpitch softball for 12 years, organized Saturday’s event. It will begin at noon and is open to the public, with a special invitation for all fastpitch players and fans. At least 11 former players have said they’ll be there, according to Wilson.
People will be coming from Seattle, Boise, Pasco and Vancouver, Wilson said, and he hopes to see a big turnout of area fastpitch softball players, fans and their families.
“We welcome all fans, all ex-players of these glory years to assemble at noon on Saturday … in memory and honor to inspire a new generation,” Wilson said. “We invite anybody that ever watched a game to come see some of the people they haven’t seen for years and years.”
After the state tournament in Everett, McVey’s teammates played in a double-header and collected $600 in donations for a memorial to honor him. The money bought materials; McVey’s dad ran McVey Plastering and about a dozen men came out and built the fountain. Wilson made the plaque with the words “Mickey McVey Memorial Drinking Fountain.”
Neither of the two faucets on the fountain work, but all the brickwork and mortar is in place and unscathed. Wilson repaints the plaque he made every few years.
Among those invited Saturday is pitching great Dwayne “Tiger” Kamphuis of Grandview. Kamphuis pitched for nearly four decades. That included a few years as pitcher and shortstop with the four-man “King and His Court,” a traveling team renowned for its dominant exhibition performances against Major League baseball players. It was formed by Walla Walla native Eddie “The King” Feigner.
The softball facility at Liberty Christian University in Lynchburg, Va., is named for Kamphuis, whose home is filled with his many softball honors. He came to the Yakima Valley from his native California for fastpitch softball.
The Valley was a hotbed of softball for decades from the late 1940s, with its epicenter a four-field complex on what is now the college’s campus. McVey, who graduated from Eisenhower High School in 1961 and earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Washington, was among the most outstanding of the hundreds who played fastpitch softball there.
Games were free and drew big crowds, with entire families setting up picnics and chairs to watch their favorite teams.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of people that played. We had 300 players playing at many different levels. Yakima fielded top-10 teams,” Wilson said. “It was really competitive in those days. … We played in California, Canada, Montana, Idaho.”
Dunbar Field is the only remaining softball diamond of the original four-field community softball complex. It was part of a 20-acre donation to the city of Yakima by Rose Larson, mother of Yakima businessperson and attorney Shirley D. Parker, according to information on the college’s website. The college soccer field, originally known as Noel Field, was also part of that four-field community softball complex.
The city transferred the portion of Larson Park known as Dunbar Field, Noel Field and Field No. 4 to the college in 2002.
“It was just a hub. The stands that you see down there are a third the size of the capacity we had in the old days,” Wilson said.
“We entertained so many people and it was part of their life every night to see a different team, and it was all free. It was really neat,” he added.