Pickles treat fans to home-opening win
Some things never get old, especially when they come at the start of a new home season.
Things like a full house, great weather, 16 hits — and a runaway win.
"This was a lot of fun," said Joey Cooper, a returning member of the Portland Pickles, after the Pickles beat the Marysville Gold Sox 13-4 Tuesday night to begin their 2017 home slate at Walker Stadium.
The crowd, announced as a sellout-plus of 2,307, had plenty to cheer about. The Pickles, who went 2-4 on the road last week, led all the way as they posted their first back-to-back wins of the Great West League season.
The fans rolled in when the doors opened at about 6 p.m., an hour or so before game time.They got to see new co-owners Alan Miller of Los Angeles and Jon Ryan, veteran punter for the Seattle Seahawks, each throw out a first pitch.
Miller and Ryan have joined returning co-owner Bill Stewart in the front office of a team that last year drew close to 1,500 fans per game.
"I'm constantly blown away by how supportive the fan base is here. I've never seen anything like this," Miller said. "People are very dedicated to the Pickles.
"I just don't want to mess it up. We want to make it better and better."
The field looked great, the seating has been upgraded in spots, the sound system was good, the pizza and ice cream held up, and fans had a few more options for food and beverage, including some vegetarian and vegan food.
On the down side, lines were still painfully long, notably for beer and tickets, and internet service was spotty at best, which slowed the process. And somehow, even into Year 2, the press box still has not been finished.
Miller and Ryan will be studying these and other things as the homestand and season go on.
Ryan, 35, has been punting for the Seahawks since 2008 and as a pro since 2004. He is excited about his new role as the unofficial Paul Allen of Portland summer college wood-bat baseball.
After practicing with the Seahawks on Tuesday, Ryan made it south on I-5 in plenty of time for the first pitch in Lents Park.
"My wife picked me up after practice, and we drove down here," he said.
He'll stay for Wednesday night's middle game of the Marysville series, because it's a day off with the Hawks. Then he'll go back for a couple of practices before returning to Portland for some of the weekend series with the defending GWL champion Chico Heat.
Ryan and Miller stayed past the 10:51 p.m. finish to the game (and the short fireworks show), shaking hands with players and congratulating them after the win.
"This is kind of a dream come true," Ryan said. "All my teammates are really interested in what's going on here, and of course they all want swag."
A lot of fans said they would be back during the six-game homestand or later in the 60-game (30 at home) regular season.
Jack and Nola Borland, who live in East Multnomah County, had season tickets last year and liked it so much they upgraded this year to the area of new premium seats behind home plate.
"I love baseball, and I'm still angry about (the city) getting rid of the Beavers," said Jack Borland, recalling Portland's former Triple-A franchise.
Also in their second year as season-ticket holders were nearby residents Chris and Stacie Matthews.
"We didn't get enough last year. We're back for more," Chris Matthews said, as they stood in line to buy a new Pickles sweatshirt and T-shirt before Tuesday's first pitch.
On the field, things couldn't have gone much better for manager Jeff Lahti's Pickles.
In addition to 16 hits, Portland drew eight walks and had two hit batters, and ran the bases in a mostly successful and opportunistic way.
Starting pitcher Josh Hendrickson, a 6-5 Australian left-hander, allowed two runs over five innings before the Pickles went to four relievers.
"I had pretty good," said Hendrickson, who also started the May 30 season opener at the Chico Heat but didn't get a decision in a 6-4 loss.
"I was a little nervous for the home opener, but I also was more comfortable this time," he said. "I was able to locate the ball pretty good and get out of some jams — the defense was amazing."
In the top of the first, shortstop Colin Rubino caught a line drive and doubled off a runner at second base to end Marysville's initial threat.
In the third, Pickles catcher Cameron Mosier caught a runner trying to steal second.
Portland's first run came on an RBI single by designated hitter Aidan Malm in the first inning.
Alec Leighton's two-run single with two out in the third made the score 3-0.
In the fourth, the University of Portland's Daniel Lopez hit a two-out home run just inside the left-field foul pole. It was the first HR of the season for the Pickles and doubled their lead to 6-0.
"I just wanted to put the ball in play and hit it hard somewhere," Lopez said. "With a nice, short swing sometimes the ball goes farthest, or even goes out.
I thought I put a good swing on it."
Hendrickson gave up a two-run home run in the fifth, but the Pickles kept up the offensive pressure.
In the eighth inning, another Pilot, catcher Tate Budnick, drove in a run for a 10-4 lead. The Pickles then loaded the basis and added runs on consecutive walks to Cooper, former Benson High player Kelechi Anyanwu and Rubino.
On their trip last week to play Chico and then the Lincoln Potters in California, the Portland bats were slow to get get going.
But the Pickles did win 10-1 Sunday at Lincoln (which is off to a 7-1 start), and Tuesday was more of the same.
"The biggest thing was we weren't getting timely hits ont he road," Cooper said.
For Portland on Tuesday, leadoff batter Berry Hunt went 3 for 3 and scored three runs, and his replacement at second base, Anyanwu, was 2 for 2 with two RBIs.
Rubino and Cooper each finished 2 for 4, and Cooper drove in two runs. Leighton was 3 for 5 with a couple of RBIs. Budnick was 2 for 2 and scored three runs.
Cooper hit a team-high .424 this year for Palomar College in San Marcos, College.
"My priority was the come back to the Pickles if I could," Cooper said. "I called Bill (Stewart) and asked if I could play here. I had a great experience here last summer."