Pilots showing progress for Pickles
Friday night's game wasn't the most fun they've had, but this summer has been good and enjoyable so far for the Portland Pickles' two players from the University of Portland .
Shortstop Daniel Lopez and catcher/pitcher Tate Budnick have been solid contributors for the Great West League team.
On Friday, Lopez was 2 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored, but the Pickles lost 7-5 to the Marysville Gold Sox before 1,577 at Walker Stadium.
Lopez and Budnick live in the same North Portland house, not far from Joe Etzel Field, so they carpool to the games in Lents Park, hang out between games and lift weights together.
When they're not between the lines and in uniform for the Pickles, though, they make sure to get a break from otherwise being all baseball, all the time.
"Most of the time, like when we're lifting, we're not talking about baseball," Lopez said.
It's mentally good to have some escape from baseball, Lopez said, because there are plenty of games this summer.
Portland played 11 times in a nine-day stretch before getting a rare day off on Thursday.
The rest helped the Pickles refresh, but it wasn't enough to snap a losing skid that reached four games.
The Gold Sox rallied from a 5-4 deficit with a three-run seventh inning and thwarted the Pickles' offense the rest of the way.
"We didn't take advantage in crucial situations when we had runners on base," Lopez said. "Early in the season, we were winning games in the ninth.
"But the energy is there, and I feel like we're in good shape (for the rest of the season). We've got guys who are swinging the bat well, and we're playing good defense. That's keeping us in ballgames."
The Pickles were coming off a 1-5 week of games against league leader Medford, and Portland needs to do well in this three-game series with Marysville to stay ahead of the Gold Sox in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot.
The Gold Sox took a 1-0 lead in Friday's third inning on a single, walk and wild pitch.
Both teams scored three runs in the fourth, with the Pickles' Matt Hardy, from UC Riverside, getting a three-run home run, his third HR in 15 games with Portland this summer.
Portland took the lead in the fifth on Lopez's two-run double.
Marysville regained the lead for good, though, with four hits in its three-run seventh.
Portland starter Jack Gordon, from Northern Colorado, got through only 3 2/3 innings. He was touched for four runs on five hits and three walks.
The loss went to Zach Johnson, the fourth of six Portland pitchers.
Lopez and Budnick will be seniors next year for the Pilots.
Saturday will be another day for the Pickles and their two Pilots.
Lopez, a 6-1, 190-pounder from Pico Rivera, California, is batting .257 this summer, with eight home runs, four doubles and 19 RBIs in 31 games.
Budnick, a 5-11, 200-pounder out of Edmonds, Washington, has been limited to home games because he is taking summer classes. He has hit .306, with five doubles and 10 RBIs in 15 games.
Budnick has made only one pitching appearance for the Pickles, and that was for just two-thirds an inning, but he is expected to start soon and possibly see more duty on the mound.
This spring, in his first year on The Bluff, Budnick had eight starts and nine relief appearances for UP, along with 66 at-bats.
He's used to a dual role, having done it for Everett Community College, in high school (all-state at both his positions) and in youth ball.
"I was recruited to UP as a pitcher/catcher," he said. "The Pickles have needed me more as a catcher, but hopefully next year in college I can catch the first two games (of a weekend series) and then be the third-day starter."
Keeping busy that way isn't too challenging, he said, "and it's an advantage in some ways, You've got to be mentally into the games at either position."
Budnick played last summer for the Bend Elks of the West Coast League. The Pickles are faring better than the 2016 Elks did, and the Portland fan base is supporting its team with a GWL-high average attendance of 1,550.
"Summer is about getting better, meeting new guys and winning games," Budnick said. "The most fun for me has been getting to know the guys on our team, and winning games."
The fun for Lopez has come largely because he's been able to play a lot and get plenty of cuts at the plate.
"I think I've been doing a good job taking good at-bats," he said.
Pickles fans have taken to several players in particular, and the crowds seem to appreciate having a couple of Pilots in the lineup.
"It seems like they cheer a bit louder when we come up to bat," Budnick said.
Elsewhere in the GWL on Friday: the first-place Medford Rogues fell at home to the Lincoln Potters, 8-2, and the Chico Heat battled back for a 16-11 win at the Yuba City Bears.
Standings: Medford 25-10, Lincoln 22-12, Chico 20-16, Portland 14-20, Marysville 13-22, Yuba City 10-24.
The Pickles and Gold Sox will play at Walker Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday.
Then Portland and Marysville will meet three times in California, with the Gold Sox playing host to games Tuesday through Thursday.