Ready to Play
Aside from online classes and school work, Gabe Skoro has spent the past few months fishing, hiking, hanging with family members — and taking cuts in the batting cage.
Soon, Skoro will see live pitching for the first time in more than four months. And he won't be alone.
An outfielder who is entering his senior year at the University of Portland, Skoro will play for the Portland Pickles in the Wild Wild West League. The first game of the makeshift college wood-bat league is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The abbreviated season will run through Aug. 8, with two games most days (2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.).
All league games will be played at North Marion High School in Hubbard. A maximum of 200 general admission tickets will be sold for each game. Saturday's opener is sold out.
Skoro said he's been impressed by the effort that Pickles management put in to make the Wild Wild West League happen.
"The amount of work they've put into this is crazy to me," Skoro said.
This marks the third summer that Skoro, a Lincoln High graduate, will play for the Pickles. After his freshman year at the University of Portland, Skoro batted .328 with two home runs over 48 games with the Pickles. Last summer, Skoro hit .256 with one home run over 37 summer games.
He said playing for the team the previous two seasons was loads of fun and that the grind of playing every day and hitting with a wood bat "helped me a ton" to improve as a ballplayer.
He knows the next month will be a much different experience than the two previous years when the team packed fans into Walker Stadium for West Coast League games.
The Wild Wild West League is taking the place of the West Coast League, which canceled its 2020 campaign because of COVID-19. The four teams in the new league are the Pickles, West Linn Knights, Portland Gherkins and Gresham GreyWolves. The Pickles and Knights have rosters dominated by Division I college players. The Gherkins and the GreyWolves players are mostly from junior college programs.
Skoro said adjusting to life without baseball was a challenge because he's used to playing the game every day in the spring and summer.
"I'm super happy to finally be able to get out of the house and play some ball," he said.
He said that emotion is shared by friends on the Pickles and other teams, many of whom have been communicating via text messages. Skoro is one of nine Portland Pilots in the league and one of three on the Pickles roster. He noted that most of the players in the league have ties to the area, so he knows many of them.
"I've loved the (Pickles) coaches and the fans and the whole atmosphere at the games," Skoro said.
There won't be the same buzz in the crowd with games limited to 200 mask-wearing spectators. But Skoro noted that a couple hundred fans at North Marion High won't be much different than playing early spring home games on campus at the University of Portland.
Skoro and the Pilots were off to a great start this spring when the coronavirus hit. Skoro was batting .294 in seven games as part of a deep group of outfielders, helping Portland build a 12-4 nonconference record. The Pilots were ready to start West Coast Conference play when the season abruptly ended.
"It was a huge shock to everyone's system," Skoro said.
For a while, Skoro was able to use the batting cages at the University of Portland up to four days a week, trying to stay ready for a summer baseball season that until recently was no sure thing.
The University of Portland recently closed access to its batting cages to players playing in summer leagues. But Skoro has been able to use a batting cage set up at his grandfather's Sauvie Island farm to work on his swing.
Still, he knows it will take time to get comfortable again in the batter's box.
"That's definitely going to be something that's tough for all of us," he said. "I haven't seen a fastball in forever, and the first time I see one it's going to look really, really fast."
Skoro said he's appreciated the extra time with his family. He's enjoyed bass fishing (catch-and-release) on the Willamette River and taking hikes close to home in the West Hills and in Forest Park.
But he's ready to get back to playing the sport he loves.
"I definitely want to play baseball for sure, but I want to make sure it's done right so that everybody stays healthy," Skoro said.
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