Summer baseball in Oregon is back in a new way.
Earlier this month, the Portland Pickles baseball team took to the field for the first time in 2020 to play ball against the Portland Gherkins.
Normally around this time, the Pickles would be in the middle of their summer season as part of the West Coast League, a collegiate wood bat league with teams in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the WCL had to shut down for the year.
But instead of canceling the entire season, Pickles owner Alan Miller and officials from other local ball clubs, came up with a plan to create a new league.
The result was the inaugural Wild, Wild West League.
The new league was able to play for about two weeks before some players tested positive for coronavirus. As a result, the players were quarantined, and games have been canceled for the next week so that everyone can get tested.
If they receive the all clear, the season will pick back up again.
“We built our own league to play in and brought three other teams, including the Pickles, together, for a 30-day league tournament,” Miller said.
Under the new league, the Pickles, along with the Gresham GreyWolves, the Portland Gherkins, and the West Linn Knights, planned to play baseball at North Marion High School in Aurora for the entire month of July, ending in a championship game in August. That timeline is now up in the air while players get tested for COVID-19.
Miller serves as the league’s commissioner, or marshal, as he likes to say, and said that the league was created to bring a little bit of joy to the fans and the players, who have missed live sports due to the pandemic.
“We've all experienced loss. We've all experienced depression. We've all experienced doing things that we've never done before ... and I think the more aspects of culture that we can bring back to the people of Portland, the easier this transition into our new normal is going to be,” he said.
Outfielder Gabe Skoro is going into his third season with the Pickles. He appreciated the league’s attempts to bring baseball back to Oregon, even if it’s only for a month.
“Just getting back to what I've done since I've been a little kid, just play baseball, has really been awesome. I've had a lot of fun so far and hopefully will continue to have fun,” Skoro said.
A lot of logistical challenges came up when the league was being formed, like where the teams would play, how they would get there, and what they would be allowed to do when they arrive.
Eventually, they settled on playing in Marion County, which is currently in Phase 2 of Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plan. This means that crowd gatherings of up to 250 people are permitted.
Certain rules had to be put in place to ensure the safety of both the fans and the players.
For instance, prior to the season, players were required to sign waivers, have regular temperature checks and quarantine themselves for at least seven days before the first game.
And during the game, players have rules of their own to follow.
“We’re not supposed to spit at all. Whenever you're in the dugout, you're going to have to be wearing a mask at all times, but if you're on the field, you don't have to wear one there. Also everyone has a little bottle of hand sanitizer in their pockets,” Skoro said.
Only a limited number of fans were permitted into the ballpark and all were required to wear masks, get a temperature check, and sit in designated bleacher spots allowing for maximum social distancing.
“We really want to keep numbers close to a hundred right now, and when we're talking about a hundred people, it's not a hundred people in a small bar. It's a hundred people in a giant field. So you can sit very, very far away from each other and still be in a safe environment,” Commissioner Miller said.
But even with the rules, fans like Rachael Skelton are still happy to support their local teams in person.
“They’re our team, they’re our kids, they’re our community and we enjoy them and we support them. And so I think as a full circle, we need to be here support them like they’re here to support us.”
At a time when most people are still hesitant to leave their homes, Commissioner Miller said that having baseball in Oregon may be more important now than ever to bring communities together.
“In summertime, you take your family out to a baseball park and this is how you build memories with your family. A lot of sports don't do that. It’s something that you experience and the older you get and the more you go to it, I think the more perspective you have you begin to enjoy it even more.,” he said.
And as for the fans and players like Skoro?
They’re just happy baseball is back in whatever form that takes.
“It gives people a little glimmer of hope that hopefully things go back to the way it was.”