Pickles win in baseball's return
AURORA — It was a picturesque Saturday at North Marion High School in Aurora. The baseball field was immaculate, the weather was breezy and the coronavirus masks were plentiful.
Such was the reality for the opening game of the Wild Wild West League, where the Portland Pickles took a 2-1 victory over the Portland Gherkins Saturday to kick off a super charged monthlong season in Marion County. Created by the Pickles when the West Coast League canceled its season because of the pandemic, the Wild Wild West League is providing area college baseball a summer wood-bat league.
With Oregon regularly setting new highs for daily COVID-19 cases, it was impossible to ignore the safety measures the Pickles put in place at Bob Brack Stadium to help keeps fans and personnel protected and socially distant while also providing a festive atmosphere for the several hundred spectators who came out for the event.
"I thought they did a good job," said Tammy Steinfeld, a Portland State University student who came out with several friends to catch the game. "They're making sure everyone is staying safe and behaving responsibly."
During the monthlong season, up to 200 spectators a game will be allowed, with tickets sold through the Pickles website.
Fans had their temperature checked as they entered the grounds and were given complimentary masks if they didn't have them. Handwashing and sanitation stations were available throughout the park, seats were taped off to prevent fans from sitting too close to one another, food and merchandise vendors had ample space to conduct business from afar and there were between-inning reminders to keep the crowd aware of the safety protocols at all times.
"I get that people are scared, but I think we're pretty safe here in the outdoors," said Jacob Johnson, who traveled with his family from Milwaukie to watch the Pickles. "We just needed to get out and do something. The kids are getting pretty stir crazy."
The game itself was a relatively quiet offensive affair with Pickles starting pitcher Aaron Davenport, a Duvall, Washington, native who plays for Hawaii, fanning 10 batters in five innings.
After Davenport left, the Gherkins scored the first run in Wild Wild West League history when Miles Norman of Eastern Oregon raced home on a passed ball to put his team up 1-0 in the sixth.
The advantage didn't last long. The Pickles tied it up in the bottom of the inning when Portland Pilot Christian Cooney, a former Central Catholic High standout, blasted a leadoff home run to left field. Oregon's Kenyon Yovan, a Beaverton native, scored four at-bats later .
The Gherkins had an opportunity to take back the lead in the final inning behind the bats of hometown brothers Noah and Hunter Wierstra. The pair, along with Gherkins teammate Brady Hansen, all graduated from North Marion High School in June and missed their senior baseball season. Saturday's game was their return to their former home field.
"It's amazing being out here on my high school field," Hunter Wierstra said. "It looks great. I'm super excited for this season to play here."
With his brother on second base as the tying run, Hunter Wierstra faced an 0-2 count with two outs in the ninth inning before drawing four straight balls to keep the inning alive. But a game-ending strikeout left the brothers were stranded, .
"It's a little weird," Noah Wierstra said. "It's nice to get on the field and play, even if it's not in our home uniform. It's nice to just come out here."
The Pickles and Gherkins return to the field Sunday to face the Gresham GreyWolves and the West Linn Knights, respectively. The four clubs will play one another in double-headers six days a week over the course of the next 30 days before crowning a WWWL champion in mid-August.
To follow the full season, go to portlandpicklesbaseball.com/wwwlhome.
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