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LO will soon have ball field of its own

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego’s new baseball field is expected to be ready for the Lakers’ home game on Friday against Putnam. Installation of the new turf field was slowed several times because of rainy weather, which was partially responsible for the Lakers playing their first 18 games of the season on the road. But the Lakers will now have a state-of-the-art artificial surface that will allow the team to play even during a light rain.

One way or another, the Lake Oswego baseball team will play its first home game of the season on Friday.

By press time, the Lakers' new turf field was nearly ready for play. But a number of last-minute things still needed to be completed, which seemingly could have pushed back the timetable for that opener.

However, Lake Oswego coach Jake Anders promised the game would be played, regardless of the number of complications still to be encountered.

Anders had been hoping that his team's initial home game would have been closer to the midway point in the season. But this spring's dismal weather slowed construction on the new field and kept the Lakers on the road for approximately the first two-thirds of the campaign.

'What people don't understand about laying this (artificial surface) is you can't do it in the rain,' Anders said. 'Everybody thinks you can do it in the rain, because with these fields, you can always play in the rain. It kind of works the opposite for installation.'

West Linn is the only other team in the Three Rivers League that plays its home games on an artificial surface. And the Lions have discovered how valuable a field like that can be during bad weather. With the field's state-of-the-state drainage system, like the one the Lake Oswego field now has, games that normally would be rained out can now be played as scheduled.

Plus, there no longer will be worries about over-usage damaging what used to be a natural-grass field. So, virtually everyone will be allowed to use the field, including some of Lake Oswego's youth teams and the high school's football team (for practice) during the fall.

Maybe the best part, especially from a conservationist's point of view, is the fact that the field won't need a large dousing of water every day to keep the grass green.

But there were some trade-offs as Anders and his players waited for the installation to be completed. As noted earlier, the most noticeable problem was the fact that the Lakers had to play their first 18 games of the season on the road.

But practicing was even a bigger problem. On off-days, the Lakers got to practice three times at Waluga Park. They had planned to work out there more often but inclement weather often made that impractical. The rest of the time, the players worked out on the high school's football field or in a nearby batting cage.

'No one could anticipate that the weather was going to be as bad as it was,' the coach said.

Despite all of the problems, it's a wonder that Lake Oswego has played so well this year. Through the end of last week, they had compiled a 7-3 record, which was good enough for second place in the TRL

'We're lucky to have an experienced group coming back. That's one thing,' Anders said.

'The other thing is we kind of prepared our kids prior to the start of the season. We just told them that not having a field or practice (facility) wasn't going to be an excuse. If you want to use that as an excuse, then you don't show much of an ability to over-come adversity.'

Even though excuses haven't been allowed this season, it's clear to see that the Lakers could have used a little more practice time preparing themselves for situations that often present themselves during games.

'I can tell you that in our losses against Putnam and Milwaukie, our inability to score runs had a lot to do with not being able to put our kids on a field for practice. There are things that you just can't simulate in the (batting) cage,' the coach said.

'Has it hurt us in some ways? Yeah, but it's still not an excuse.'

Excuse or not, last Thursday's 2-1 loss to Milwaukie was a bit of a surprise. During the past few years, everyone in the TRL always pounded on Milwaukie. Even though it was just their second win of the league season, the Mustangs are a much improved team.

'This is probably the best Milwaukie team that I've seen in a long time,' Anders said. 'And any time (Jake) Waker is on the mound, he gives them a chance to win.'

Waker was on the mound the last Thursday, and the hard-throwing right-hander out-dueled Lake Oswego's ace - Jared Van Hoon.

Waker pitched a great game, but he got some help when one of Lake Oswego's outfielders bobbled a long flyball, then lost it over the fence for a home run before he could coral it. That tied the game at 1-all in the bottom of the sixth.

The Mustangs' next batter then singled and advanced to second on another fielding miscue.

'Then, on probably the only bad pitch that Jared made the entire game, the next guy singles to score the guy (from second),' the coach lamented.

That ruined a great outing by Van Hoon, who pitched a complete game while striking out eight batters and yielding just one walk.

Lake Oswego's only run scored on a sixth-inning double by Duncan White. But it's hard to win when the offense only produces one run.

'Well, we didn't come prepare to play,' Anders said. 'Everybody expects to beat (Milwaukie), but if you take a team for granted they're going to beat you.'

The Lakers took their frustrations out on Oregon City the next day when they claimed a relatively easy 8-4 victory.

After the disappointing loss the day before, Anders had an important pep talk with his players before they played the Pioneers.

'I challenged my kids to show me that this (game) was important them,' the coach said.

But the game was also imporant to Oregon City and the Pioneers put up two runs in the first inning. But Lake Oswego responded with four runs in the top of the second.

'And we pretty much just kept on scoring from then on out,' Anders said.

Matt Stutes, Alex Freeman, Cooper Mandelblatt and Mike Wesner had the team's big hits in the game. On the mound, Bennett Frazier pitched a complete game to earn the victory. 'And he did a great job,' the coach said.

Frazier has shown in the past that he pitches better when the weather starts warming up. So that should be good news for the Lakers as they head into the stretch run of the season. But they'll also need more offensive games like they had against Oregon City.

'Our pitchers are keeping us in games right now,' Anders said. 'Offensively, we can't be waiting until we're behind or until the later innings to win games.'