The Spokane Indians front office thought it had a uniquely close relationship with Andrew Vathis during his 20-plus years of being a super fan.
He used to call team President Chris Duff and other staff at least once on game days and each week during the offseason to check in. Vathis left repeated voicemails if they didn’t pick up, and sometimes he’d just waltz into the office.
“Mr. Otto, Mr. Otto, have I got a deal for you, ” senior vice president Otto Klein recalled Vathis saying. “You’re going to give me four Arby’s coupons. ”
However, the Indians found out they weren’t the only ones who had a special bond with Vathis when they saw a full gym for his memorial service at Ferris High School. The longtime South Hill Albertsons employee died in January when he was hit by a car. All were wearing Indians jerseys for his funeral.
“Turns out he knew everyone,” Klein said. “… He knew everybody by name.”
In the past six months, the Spokane Chiefs had a big-screen tribute the night after his death; Hoopfest put his silhouette on the elite division medals; and Bloomsday gave a gold medal usually reserved for winners to his close friend.
Tuesday night, the Indians were the latest to honor Vathis by having 30 members of his Special Olympics team, the Wolfpack, and 80 other Special Olympians on the field while his brother Michael threw out the first pitch. A portion of ticket sales for the Wolfpack section was donated to the Special Olympics program.
Vathis always pleaded with the Indians to schedule a home game on his birthday, July 2. And, for the first time in 15 years, that bittersweet day finally came.
The Indians also had Jersey Off the Back Night for his birthday, where after each inning a player gave his jersey to a lucky fan. Before the game, the team gifted a custom No. 2 Vathis jersey to his mother, Erika Vathis.
“We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people over the years, and obviously we don’t remember everyone,” Klein said. “But there are a few that we do remember, and Andrew is certainly in that category.”
However, Tuesday wasn’t the first time Vathis found himself in the spotlight at an Indians game. Vathis once negotiated his way into throwing out the first pitch himself in 2009.
“He told us (he was going to do it), and we said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Klein said, laughing.
Then the Indians made a baseball card for Vathis with a photo of him on the mound.
At the team’s home opener June 21, the Indians unveiled Vathis’ name in Avista Stadium’s Rim of Honor.
Even though it’s technically a spot for a nonathlete, Vathis will be remembered as a star.
“He could run track, and he has his gold medals to show it,” his mother said.
With the Wolfpack, Vathis was also a standout in basketball and bowling for the past three years. But he’ll be remembered most for his sportsmanship.
“He would always come up to me and come up to everybody else and shake their hand and say, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ ” teammate Ty Meyers said.
One year during a track meet, he stopped short of the finish line to help others get a gold medal instead.
“Come on, get one, get one,” his mother remembers him saying. “I have plenty.”
But Vathis’ favorite sport was basketball.
His death in the middle of the season in January left a hole in the team for the remainder of the Wolfpack season, team founder Dixie Costigan said.
“They played for him,” she said. “They did well. I think he would be proud.”
Vathis also was the captain of his Hoopfest team, the Coneheads. He created it 13 years ago when he became friends with Ben & Jerry’s Spokane owner Kari Conner.
“Andrew said he wanted to play basketball for Hoopfest, and we found out that there was a bracket for him,” Conner said. “So we sponsored him.”
He was always the first to call each year to make sure his team was registered, Hoopfest marketing director Morgan Marum said.
To honor Vathis, the unofficial hype man of the 3-on-3 tournament, Hoopfest had a moment of silence at its opening ceremonies and the back of this year’s elite division medals are engraved with his silhouette, initials and most attributable quote, “Great shot!” A unique medal was made specially for his mother, too.
“Andrew is what Hoopfest is all about,” Marum said. “He’s the type of player that embodies the event, that it’s bigger than basketball.”
Last year the Coneheads were unified consolation bracket champions and won the coveted Loser King Bracket shirt. Unified teams compete with two Special Olympians and one player who does not have a disability.
This year, the Ben & Jerry’s team was composed of all Special Olympians who wore shirts that read “Andrew’s Way,” Conner said.
“All the things people did in his honor are amazing,” his mother said.
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