People in Inner Southeast seem largely unaware that folks are coming from all over the metro area, including Vancouver, to see baseball played by a scrappy, collegiate, short-season, wood-bat baseball team -- just a little east of S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses, off Holgate Boulevard.
The team plays at a renovated and expanded baseball field in Lents Park, and they're called the "Portland Pickles".
These "boys of summer" returned to the Charles B. Walker Stadium in Lents Park on Tuesday evening, June 6, for their first home game of the year.
For more than an hour before the 7:05 p.m. game time, people were lining up to present their tickets to enter the stadium – which features even more improvements this year – and to find their seats.
The baseball club's owners – Alan Miller, Jon Ryan, and Bill Stewart – continue to invest in the team, and Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) has also continued to invest in upgrading the facilities.
In the Reserve Box, they've taken out the benches and installed 250 full seats; and, in the same area, they doubled the amount of ADA-compliant seating areas in a new raised section served by a new ramp, Stewart pointed out.
"In addition to the left field berm, set up for family-oriented fun, the new right field berm we installed will accommodate those enjoying an alcoholic beverage," Stewart told THE BEE.
About the team, Stewart said that the team is part of the Great West League; their players are drawn from college teams.
"Playing with wooden bats is important; in college, they play with aluminum bats," Stewart remarked. "By playing in our league over the summer, they can move more quickly through the development process towards Major League Baseball.
"This is very competitive baseball," Stewart added. "Our players are treated like perfect professionals here and on the road, playing 60 games in 70 days, so it's very much like minor league ball."
The co-owners agree that the team provides "affordable family entertainment, and gives folks the opportunity to 'step back in time', reminiscent of going to the ballpark to see a game as one might have done in the 1950s and 1960s – and enjoy inexpensive hot dogs and beer."
What most surprised the team's front office is that the games attract people from around the greater metropolitan area. "Last season, online ticket sales showed that 23% of our fans drive over from Vancouver; most our fans do come from east of the Willamette River, and over the season, the Gresham Little League purchased a total of 3,500 tickets," Stewart reported.
Stewart had high praise for PP&R. "They've been wonderful to work with, and you don't always see that. We keep hearing that Walker Stadium and our ball field are the very best in our league."
Hearing that compliment, PP&R Director Mike Abbaté lit up with a big smile. "That's a huge compliment, and testament to the work of our staff who built it, and are doing a great job maintaining it."
After team introductions and opening night ceremonies, including a presentation by the Royal Rosarians, and the singing of the National Anthem, it was time to play ball.
Daniel Lopez hit the first home run of the season for the Pickles with a towering three-run shot in the fourth inning. Native Portlander Kelechi Anyanwu drove in three runs for the Pickles, despite having only entered the game in the 6th inning. Alec Leighton and Joey Cooper also drove in two runs for the Pickles.
When the game ended, and the fireworks display lit up the evening sky, the team had crushed the Marysville Gold Sox, 13-4.
The following night, the Portland Pickles won an improbable, come-from-behind game over the same Marysville Gold Sox. In the ninth inning, it looked as if the Gold Sox would take home a victory – but two Pickles players tied the score. In extra innings, the Pickles won 4-3.
There's more Portland Pickles action to come this summer. To keep up with the team, to listen to games streamed online, and to securely purchase tickets, visit their official website: www.portlandpicklesbaseball.com