‘Portland Pickles’ baseball returns to Lents

As the team plays before sell-out crowds, find out why folks from all over are heading to the ball field in the Lents neighborhood for good family fun …

Streaming into the Charles B. Walker Stadium in outer East Portland, families are ready to see their first action-filled Portland Pickles baseball game of the season.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The “boys of summer” returned to the Charles B. Walker Stadium in Lents Park on the evening of June 6 – as the Portland Pickles collegiate, wood-bat baseball team played their first home game of the year.

For longer 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.

Ready for the game are Pickles fans Jim Hall, Allison Hall, Heidi Hoshiba, and Nancy Williams.

Portland Pickles’ co-owner Bill Stewart watches, as the stadium and outfield areas fill  with more than 2,300 fans on this year’s opening night.

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 East Portland News.

Coaches give Portland Pickles players a pre-game pep-talk.

About the team, Stewart said that the Portland Pickles 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 informed. “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 stands fill with fans, hoping the Portland Pickles will play well in their season opener.

Coming to the game are Ryan Conner and Tracie Conner, who hold their very young Portland Pickles fan Mia.

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.

Pickles mascot “Dillon” gives fan Sherri Ivy a big, briny smooch.

“The Lents Neighborhood Association and neighbors here have been phenomenal to work with, so we’re glad to be part of this. It’s becoming a neighborhood that’s growing and growing,” he said.

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.”

PP&R Director Mike Abbaté contemplates how to throw his opening pitch at the Portland Pickles’ home game opener.

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.”

In addition to providing a home for the Portland Pickles baseball team during their short season, local leagues get the benefit using the upgraded Walker Stadium during the rest of the year, Abbaté said.

“We do a lot with different sports teams all over the city at our soccer fields, and baseball and football areas, because we want to provide facilities where people enjoy playing and watching sports activities.”

All stand for the singing of the National Anthem.

While fans were buying food and beverages, they were serenaded by the live music of Chihuahua Desert, and then began settling down for the game.

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.

With his home in Wellard, Australia, Portland Pickles pitcher Josh Hendrickson throws the first strike of the game.

Clackamas Community College freshman Berry Hunt slides into home base, scoring another run for the Portland Pickles.

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.

Throughout the summer, Walker Stadium is the place to see great Portland Pickles baseball action.

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 weekend, as the team faces the Chico Heat for three more home games in Walker Stadium on June 9, 10 and 11.  Their next home stand begins on June 19.

To keep up with the team, to listen to games streamed online, and to securely purchase tickets, visit their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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