It's not just a game. It's an experience.
And while the heat may have deterred a few from attending the Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game, the majority of the more than 4,000 fans who filled the seats at Ron Tonkin Field Tuesday night made the most of a terrific baseball experience.
"If you like baseball, you can't help but like this," said Hillsboro's Rob Crawley. "It's fun to think of who some of these guys might become. You never know, we could be watching the next Ken Griffey or whoever."
The Northwest League edged their Pioneer League counterparts 5-4 in a game that featured only two innings of scoring. The rookies from the Pioneer League struck first, parlaying five singles into four second-inning runs, while the Northwest League — featuring seven of the hometown Hops — one-upped their opponent with five runs in what would ultimately be the game-deciding fifth inning.
But while the game was the primary attraction, it was also the culmination of three days of activities that Hops President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher couldn't have been happier with.
"It's been outstanding," said Wombacher. "We had two days of Fan Fests with great crowds both Sunday and Monday night."
Sunday was a kid-friendly day with activities ranging from inflatables to virtual reality, skills challenges to obstacle courses, and a world-record attempt for the largest game of catch. Monday was geared more towards adults, with three separate bands, craft beer and wine tastings, and an introduction to the game's all-stars mixed-in.
"Last night had to have been one of my favorite events we've ever done in this stadium," Wombacher said Tuesday. "My staff has done a great job of planning and executing the events. Hopefully the fans have enjoyed them as much as we have."
In addition to the two days of Fan Fests, Tuesday's game was preceded by the two leagues facing off in a home-run contest, featuring three of the top sluggers from each league and emceed by ESPN and University of Oregon alum Neil Everett. Boise's Daniel Jipping won the contest, beating Idaho Falls' Robby Rinn in an overtime period.
But prior to the 6-foot-2, 230-pound slugger's victory, the crowd was treated to nearly an hour's worth of an unrivaled minor-league power display by some of baseball's future stars.
Jipping, after getting a second life when Rinn shriveled late, hit five consecutive bombs to start the overtime period and eventually end the competition and take home the $1,000 first prize.
"I don't know where that came from," Jipping said with a smile. "Maybe a gift from God?"
Wombacher said the outside players and executives present at the all-star festivities have enjoyed themselves, and echoed many of his staff's sentiments that they really wanted to provide these players with a big-league type of experience.
"Some of these guys may not make it to the big leagues," Wombacher said. "So it's important to us to give them an experience close to that."
And what about his players?
Six of the seven Hops on the all-star roster played in the game, with pitchers Riley Smith and Erbert Gonzalez combining for 1.2 innings of one-hit baseball, and third baseman Eudy Ramos, shortstop Camden Duzenack, and first baseman Pavin Smith all notching hits.
Pavin Smith, the Diamondbacks' first-round pick from the University of Virginia, enjoyed his first all-star experience, finishing 1-for-2 with a fourth-inning single to left field.
"It was a ton of fun," said Smith. "I got to meet some of the other guys and forge some new friendships and it was cool playing in front of our home fans."
Varsho, a catcher who's hitting .336 with three home runs in his first professional season for the Hops, also enjoyed his experience, as well as some of the activities prior to the game.
"We went to the Nike headquarters yesterday and that was cool to see the company's history," said Varsho. "Then this morning we went to the employee store. I've been there before, so I didn't go to crazy this time."
The Hops players, who mostly live with host families during their time in Hillsboro, were able to stay in the hotel with the rest of their all-star teammates, which Wombacher said was nice due to a number of the players already knowing or getting to know each other.
"A lot of these guys know each other from the Dominican, or even from college," said Wombacher. "So it was added opportunity for them to spend time with their old — or relatively new — friends."
In all, the extended weekend was a success. The Hops' Northwest League team won the game, a Northwest League all-star won the home run contest, and the organization, fans, and community of Hillsboro won the respect of the minor-league community present for three days of baseball fun.
"Every time I saw our guys they had a smile on their face and were proud to be Hops," said Wombacher. "We may never get this opportunity again, so we just tried to make the best of it."