Since 1990, Earl Birnel has flashed his outstanding talent in local senior slowpitch circles. Now, at 80 (2006) years of age, he is still going strong and looking forward to another season.
Earl comes by his ability from an outstanding career as a baseball player, including a five-year minor league journey through such Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate stops as Visalia, Calif., Sioux Falls, S.D., Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Des Moines, Iowa. He was team MVP at Visalia in 1951 and a year later at Cedar Rapids.
While playing for Sioux Falls in the Northern League in 1952 Earl had a chance to play with an 18 year-old Hank Aaron who was making his professional debut with the Eau Claire, Wisconsin team. The two were teammates in the league All-Star game with Earl playing third base and Aaron played shortstop. “I remember that Henry used to throw the ball from way below his waist which was a bit unusual. He was a real skinny guy and I tried to strike up a conversation with him on the bench but he was just a kid and pretty shy at the time,” recalled Earl. In 1954 I also played against Roger Maris. He was just 19 and in his second year of pro baseball at Keokuk, Iowa in the Three-I League.
Born in Tacoma in 1926, Earl learned baseball as a youth at Tacoma’s Jefferson Park. He was an accomplished infielder at Stadium High School, graduating from the school in 1944. Later, he played four years of baseball, including two seasons as team captain, at College of Puget Sound. He earned graduate and post-graduate degrees from the school and went on to a career as a teacher, coach and administrator in the University Place School District.
During his college years, he played summer baseball for Kay Street in the City League and for Madigan in the Valley League, and from 1953-56 he participated in Alaska’s Midnight Sun League.
After a long break from the diamond and at the urging of Joe Stortini and Bob Maguinnez Earl starting playing slowpitch softball in 1991. Earl was 65 and just getting started as a senior player. In 2001, he helped Emerald City win the 70 & Over national championship, and in 2004, with Earl as player-manager, the team won the national and world titles in the 75 & Over category. Throughout his softball career he has earned numerous tournament all-star and MVP awards.
In 2004, the state Senate honored Earl and the Northwest 75s with an official resolution following their Triple Grand Slam—Western, National and World championships. Starting in the summer of 2009, Earl plans to play regularly in the 80 & over slowpitch leagues throughout the Pacific Northwest.