Wild Wild West League descends on Marion County
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 month-long season in Marion County. Created by the Pickles when the West Coast League canceled its season because of the coronavirus, 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 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 to the game with several friends to catch the game. "They're making sure everyone is staying safe and behaving responsibly."
During the month-long 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 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 each other, 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."
Down 2-1 in the top of the ninth, Noah found himself the tying run on second with two runners on base. With two outs and the game nearly wrapped, Hunter approached the plate for his first at-bat, looking to keep the inning alive for the Gherkins.
"These guys are throwing pretty hard, so I was just looking to put a bat on the ball and not do anything special," Hunter said.
Hunter found himself down 0-2 after the first two pitches, but patiently waited on the next four — all balls — to draw a walk and load the bases. But a game-ending strikeout in the next at-bat left the brothers stranded to finish their first official game in their new blue and white uniforms with brand new teammates.
"The first time we were actually able to meet was yesterday," Hunter said. "We went down to Walker Stadium and got our new uniforms, so that's when we went over protocol and got our unis and went to meet with everyone. We get along super well."
The three former Huskies, along with the rest of their teammates, were knighted as newly-christened Gherkins in between the third inning by team mascot Lil' P, who used a loaf of hamburger buns courtesy of sponsor Dave's Killer Bread in place of the customary sword.
It was a fun, surreal experience for the three teammates unaccustomed to viewing the game from the visitor's dugout.
"It's a little weird," Noah 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 returned to the field Sunday to face the Gresham GreyWolves and the West Linn Knights, respectively. The four clubs will play each other in double-headers six days a week over the course of the next 30 days before crowning a WWWL champion in mid-August.
With the four teams of the Wild Wild West League comprised of collegiate talent from the Pacific Northwest, including a stacked Pickles roster almost entirely composed of of Division I players, Noah, Hunter and Brady will have plenty of opportunity to compete against high-level competition before taking the field for Chemeketa Community College next spring.
"I think it'll definitely help with the future when I go to Chemeketa, seeing some at bats with some D1 pitchers is really going to help transition to college ball," Noah said.
"I'm super excited to face competition like that, because it only makes me better facing those kind of pitchers and hitting against them," Hunter said.
To follow the full season, go to https://www.portlandpicklesbaseball.com/wwwlhome.
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