Welcome to your tenth edition of Mind Bend-ers, a special feature offering you the inside scoop on quirky Bend history and offbeat trivia.
Bend is famous for . . . well, having a lot of famous people.
Some were born here in the first place, and some showed up to live and play in the high desert. Google “celebrities in Bend” and you’ll find oodles of gossipy details about actor Matthew Fox’s DUI or retired NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s wine.
And while it’s easy to see why pro mountain biker Adam Craig might choose to reside in BikeTown USA, or why famed surfer Jerry Lopez would feel at home in the city Outside magazine named the world’s top SUP getaway, it’s a little less clear why a famous actor might move to Bend to play baseball.
But that’s what happened in 1971. Back then, actor Kurt Russell was already a Hollywood success with appearances on several TV series and nearly a dozen movies under his belt. He also had a talent and a passion for baseball that left him straddling the line between the two worlds (which sounds like a recipe for a groin injury, but let’s not dwell on that).
While 20-year-old Kurt Russell was already an established actor, he also had the baseball chops to have teams like the Cardinals, Giants, and Twins scouting him. Naturally, he chose to play for . . . the Bend Rainbows?
Yep, it’s true. The Rainbows were a Class A minor league team in Bend that agreed to sign the young switch-hitter dubbed “a part-time player” by The Sporting News. Since Kurt had to miss spring training while filming Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, the assessment wasn’t too far off the mark.
Nevertheless, Kurt went on to play in 51 games for the Bend Rainbows, hitting .285 with one home run and 14 runs batted in with 179 times at bat. He was considered one of the better players in the league, and was even named to the All-Star team.
But with his film career taking off, Kurt reached a point where he needed to choose between baseball and Hollywood. But how to decide?
Tear a rotator cuff, of course!
By then he’d left Bend and was playing for the El Paso Sun Kings. He didn’t grasp the magnitude of the injury at first, and even flew to LA a few days later where a doctor checked him out. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Aren’t you also an actor?’” Kurt recalled later in an interview. “And I said, ‘yeah,’ and he said, ‘well you’re an actor all the time now.’”
So that was the end of Kurt Russell’s baseball career, but the beginning of a long and lucrative film career. The Bend Rainbows, too, came to an end in 1971, and though other minor league teams cycled through Bend’s Vince Genna Stadium over the years, the Bend Elks have called Bend, Oregon home since 2000.
While you won’t see Kurt Russell on the field these days, Bend is a terrific place to get your baseball fix during the annual Triple Crown Memorial Day Baseball Tournament, or at a regular season Bend Elks game. Check the schedule here, then make your weekend plans accordingly.
Just make sure you leave time to rent a Kurt Russell flick, too.