A Fine Pickle

June 23, 2016 at 10:54 am (The Easy Chair)

A short history of Portland baseball. We now resume our regular programming.

I went to a ballgame last night. It was pretty good.

Pickles game

It was my first visit to Walker Field, the minor league ballpark hidden in the trees of Lents Park. The Portland Pickles are in their first year, a college-level league that keeps major league-potential talent busy playing throughout the summer. Since the Portland Beavers left town, I have been to one baseball game, the Hillsboro Hops. With all due respect, it felt like Indiana and I tend to hate Hillsboro. So I was goddamn happy to have a team to root for other than the Hops. I’d had a great time with my friend, but the baseball experience left me wanting. I wanted less Christian Youth Corps and more Bad News Bears.

As the man who founded Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlors said, “Give them the pickle!”

I’ve lived in my neighborhood for fifteen years, but don’t particularly like walking around in it. I do my multiple-times-per-day walks to the bus and light rail, but I don’t sight-see and rarely wander off the well-beaten path. (Go where you know, because there are teenagers with guns who will mug you around here. It’s play to them, just waiting until they can do real jail time. Ah, aspirations…) So to take a walk through Lents Park at dusk? I have a feeling I am asking for it.

Not knowing where I was going, I entered nearest my house. The park was busy this summer Tuesday night. There was a family party going on, with a bouncy-house and a bunch of kids. The women gathered around one set of picnic tables, the men another. The men’s table was bumping hip-hop, thanks to a portable generator, and there were eighteen-packs of Budweiser about. One of the women said, “Looks like you took a wrong turn, honey!” I was the only white face around.

“Hell, if I still drank I’d go grab a six and stay with you guys. This looks great!” I smiled and nodded and kept on walking. I didn’t feel threatened, but I didn’t want to disrupt. I walked on. A hint to those commuting to games: The #17 Holgate bus will get you closest to the field. It’s about five blocks from the MAX Green Line Holgate stop, and the Foster Road/Lents stop is about a ten-block walk to the park.

Turns out I took the long way. Eventually I saw a line of lawn-chair carrying folks, and figured that was my cue. There were about a hundred people in line, and one cashier with a laptop. In true Portland fashion, I was in line twenty minutes. Soon I had pavilion seating, first base side. So far so good. $9 down.

My assigned seat had a group of four sitting there, with my open seat between what looked a shy redneck couple on a date. They were using my bleacher spot for a beverage table, so I went to the upper row of the stands. I was as far back as you can get, about thirty feet from the field.

I loved the atmosphere. Lots of beer. The crowd got into it more and more, just keep adding those $7 cans of Bud Light. The kids were harassing the Pickle mascot, whose name is punnishment enough. It was disconcerting to have the sound-effects from the broadcaster coming from behind me, but I got used to it. One effect was the sound Flipper makes. No one knew what it was, but they giggled every time. There’s one forty-year-old faux-lumberjack that probably has a hernia this morning from giggling so much.

The play was quality. They turned double plays like the pros, snagged scorching line-drives, and scored an impressive 13 runs in the course of the evening. No out-of-the-park home runs, but there were some deep fly balls that were just as thrilling to see caught. I ended up leaving about the seventh inning; it was clouding up and I had no weather gear. Plus those $5 slices of Giant’s Pizza would not leave me alone.

I bid adieu to my 767 fellow Pickleheads and walked the short way home, smoking a bowl and stopping to visit the Belmont Goats, who have moved to the field next to the Boys and Girls Club. They were startled by a car blasting hip-hop. Guess Jay-Z just isn’t their thing.

Thank you, gods, for bringing baseball back to my neighborhood. For bringing it back to my life. These are games I will enjoy going to, without feeling like I’m paying dues. (It was paying dues to see the Hops.) A few times a year I wander off in no particular direction and end up at a baseball park. Thanks to the Pickles, it will be an experience I will love and remember.


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