Bat-swinging ‘Pickles’ pack Walker Stadium

Baseball has returned to Portland! Take a look at the throngs of folks who came to Lents to watch the ‘Portland Pickles’ in their first home game …

University of Oregon student, and Portland Pickles intern, Maddy Kunstel gets T-shirts ready for sale on the day of their first game at Walker Stadium in Lents Park.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Team co-owner Ken Wilson says that starting a wood-bat, collegiate team within the Portland city limits, with the “Great West League”, looked to be a daunting challenge – but one he readily accepted.

As the grounds crew was putting the finishing touches on Walker Stadium in Lents Park before the first home game on June 10, Wilson reflected that this first outing of the Portland Pickles baseball team was three years in the making.

After a passing rainstorm on the morning of the opening game of the season, a member of the field crew pulls tarps off home base.

“It’s been a long, hard road – but it is worth it when you see people smiling and wanting to come in and see baseball,” Wilson said.

“The biggest obstacle was being faced with doing a little more than a million dollars’ worth of renovation with very little money,” Wilson told East Portland News. “It was probably not the smartest thing to do; in fact it looked like an impossible project. But it would be a shame to watch Walker Stadium disintegrate to almost nothing.

“You take a chance, and hope people will jump on the train and get out of the station with you, and go on the ride with you,” Wilson added. “That is exactly what happened here.”

Lines of new baseball fans snake out and around Walker Stadium, waiting to see the Pickles’ first game.

That evening, long lines formed outside the stadium before game time. Wilson was all smiles, and said, “It’s great seeing that people appreciate the affordable family fun and the entertainment that we provide. We think we’re going to show them some pretty darn good baseball.”

The start of the 7:05 p.m. game was delayed to accommodate the crowd streaming into the park.

Portland Parks & Recreation Director Mike Abbaté says the baseball team pays rent to use the stadium – a facility available to other leagues, when the team is out of town.

“Oh, this is awesome; baseball is back in Portland!” said Portland Parks & Recreation Director Mike Abbaté. “Just look at the crowd!”

In addition to bringing college baseball to town, Abbaté observed that the renovations at the stadium and ballfield will make it one of the best ballparks in the PP&R system – one that can be used by other leagues when the Pickles are playing out of town.

“Another reason this is important to the Parks Bureau,” Abbaté continued, “is that we make places where the community gathers, and so, we connect people in the community. Just look around; there is a real sense of community here tonight.”

Holding a baseball mitt, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz grins that she’s eager to see the game begin.

Coming into the park, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the Portland Parks Commissioner, said, “I am so excited; this is wonderful. Our Parks staff has done an amazing job with the stadium. Somebody was saying the grass looks like artificial turf – but it is real grass!”

As Fritz pointed out that the dark clouds were parting, and suddenly the skies were sunny. “It looks to be a beautiful evening.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, his wife Nancy Hales with her mitt in hand, and Ken Wilson, all enthusiastically await the start of the game.

“This is a great day for Portland!” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales

told East Portland News, pointing out that his wife, Nancy, had brought her baseball mitt to the game.

“The most important thing about this is that it is happening in outer East Portland, in Lents,” Hales said. “This shows that not all good things in Portland happen downtown. Nancy and I will be coming back – we are baseball fans.”

For the first time, the Portland Pickles baseball team members are introduced: Outfielder Denis Shanagher, a Vassar College student from San Francisco, “high-fives” his teammates as the opening ceremonies start.

As Portland Pickles co-owner, and the CEO of Rose City Baseball, LLC, Ken Wilson warms up the crowd.

As part of the opening ceremonies, Wilson took the microphone and addressed the packed stadium, and those seated on the grass.

“Everybody worked hard to make Walker Stadium something beautiful, instead of an aging relic,” Wilson said. “My partner, Bill Stewart, and I are listed as owners – but that’s not really the way it should be. Look at the persons on your left and on your right, and think of yourself as owning this team.”

Portland Fire & Rescue Station 11 Firefighter Travis Hull (in back to the left) sings the National Anthem, while crewmembers from the station present the American flag.

Mayor Charlie Hales throws the first pitch.

Before he threw out the inaugural pitch, Mayor Hales asked the crowd rhetorically, “Do you know where the first baseball club in the Pacific Northwest was? It was the Pioneer Baseball Club of East Portland, started in May, 1866.”

Then it was time to play ball, as the Portland Pickles faced off against the Marysville Gold Socks from Marysville, California.

Portland Pickles pitcher Jacob Allbee, a student at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, fires off the first pitch of the game.

Portland Pickles infielder Kevin Jordan – he’s from Brisbane, Australia, and attending Loyola Marymount University – catches a fly ball, ending the first inning of the game.

Both in the grandstands – and in the outfield “berm” – fans pack Walker Stadium for an evening of baseball.

In the second inning, with the Portland Pickles up at bat, outfielder Marcus Doi from Honolulu’s University of Hawai’i, hits the ball — and takes two bases.

The Portland Pickles played valiantly but, with the game going into extra innings, the Gold Socks won by a score of 8 to 6.

The Portland Pickles baseball team is now on the road, but they’ll be playing 32 more home games this year. The next one is Tuesday, June 21 – get your tickets now – or learn more about the team at the official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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