For more than two years, the Portland Diamond Project has been working to bring Major League Baseball to Portland, but a lot more needs to happen before that theoretical first pitch is thrown in 2023.
Lucky for Portlanders, the city already has a baseball team, playing just a few miles from downtown in the Lents Neighborhood — the Portland Pickles.
Each summer, college athletes from around the country forgo a traditional summer break to play ball for the Portland Pickles. Right-handed pitcher Trent Bixby is one of them.
“I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old,” Bixby said. “Ever since I could pick up a bat and a ball and throw it.”
The Pickles are part of the West Coast League, and play against everyone from the San Francisco Seals to the Victoria Harbourcats of Canada.
During the spring, Bixby plays for the UNLV Rebels in Las Nevada, Nevada. This summer is not only his first season playing for the Pickles, but it’s also his first time in the Pacific Northwest.
“The traveling in this league is really cool because it’s all brand new to me,” Bixby said.
Another new experience? Living with a host family. All of the Pickles players stay with local host families throughout the year.
Patti Johnson and her family have hosted players since the very first Pickles season, often hosting more than one player each summer.
“We’ve hosted 11 maybe 12 [players],” Johnson said. “We’ve got all of our kids that we’ve had over the four years in picture frames. It’s just like our own kids.”
The atmosphere at a Portland Pickles baseball game is both familiar and unusual, for fans and players alike.
According to Bixby, there’s often more fans at a Pickles game than any of his college baseball games.
“It’s so crazy, I’m not used to that — 2,500 or 3,000 people per game? It’s awesome,” he said.
Along with the packed stadium, you’ll see fans decked out head-to-toe in team gear. People pose for photos with the team mascot, who happens to be a 7-foot-tall pickle named Dillon.
“You gotta experience Dillon to really, really appreciate what Dillon is,” Pickles co-owner Allen Miller said. “There’s probably 10 or 15 great pickles out there around the world — Vlasic probably has a guy running around — but he’s not Dillon.”
Miller came on as a minority owner three years ago along with pro football player Jon Ryan. In February, the pair took over full ownership of the team.
“I sort of see my job in this as a way to amplify the community,” Miller said. “Baseball is part of this, but we’re creating what this area hasn’t had in a long time and it’s really meaningful. And seeing the community come out together and all support something collectively, I think in this day and age is really important.”
Even though they are only in their fourth season, it seems like the Pickles have already made at least a few lifelong fans. This year, the team invited a mobile tattoo studio called Ink Bus to the stadium to tattoo fans with Pickles-themed art.
More than 100 people were on the waiting list, but only 20 were able to get tattooed. Shannon Dale waited five hours for her tattoo.
“I knew it had to be Dillon,” she said.