Peter Shelton

Dream Field

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Life in Central Oregon, More Sport by pshelton on June 16, 2015

When we got over to the first base side where Vinnie the Elk was posing for pictures, Alex wormed around my leg and said he no longer wanted to say hello. The Bend Elks mascot knew what to do. He held up a fuzzy-hoof high five to which Alex, suddenly relieved of his shyness, responded with enthusiasm.

The other big distraction was the loud-clomping girl. She was tall and gangly, a pre-teen in short shorts, part of what looked to be three generations of a tall, rangy family sitting near us in the stands. The rest wore cowboy boots. She was in flip-flops and somehow made more noise coming and going on the metal bleachers than the rest of them combined.

Of course, there was baseball too. This was Alex’s first baseball game. Other than the bastard version we play occasionally in the yard with five-year-old Lily and Kate from next door. That game has fluid rules depending on who needs extra at-bats and whether Grandpa is flexible enough to reach under the small pines to retrieve a batted ball. Alex is almost seven.

This was the real thing, a real ballgame in a beautiful old stadium in downtown Bend. Vince Genna Stadium, opened 1946, named for a former director of Parks and Rec. A Sunday day game. Six dollars general admission. Cobalt blue sky. Peanuts and beer. The Elks hosting another collegiate summer league team from the West Coast League, in this case the Victoria Harbourcats. (Note the spelling of “harbour,” proper portside English in British Columbia’s capital.) Alex liked their snarling logo. He wondered aloud that our Bend team hadn’t chosen the peregrine falcon for its animal – his favorite animal.

There are 12 teams in the WCL: two in B.C. (Victoria and Kelowna); six in Washington state (Bellingham, Cowlitz, Kitsap, Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, and the Wenatchee AppleSox; you gotta love it); with four Oregon clubs comprising the South Division (Bend’s Elks, the Corvallis Knights, the Klamath Falls Gems, and the Medford Rogues).

The teams are made up of college players from around the U.S. hoping to make it to the pros. They play with wooden bats, like the pros and unlike college ball with its awful, aluminum ping. They play a 56-game schedule, June to August, home and away, and are unpaid. They stay with host families so as not to jeopardize their collegiate (amateur) eligibility.

Plenty of West Coast League players make it to pro ball. As of 2013, there were 166 WCL alums in professional baseball, 20 of them in the Big Leagues. Jacoby Ellsbury, who played for the Elks, starred in center field for the Boston Red Sox’s last two World Series teams in 2007 and 2013. The Yankees are paying him $21.14 million this year.

Former Elks second baseman Eric Sogard now turns double plays for the Oakland A’s. And Chris Davis, a slugging first baseman for the Kelowna Falcons, led the majors in home runs and RBIs in 2013, with the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s part of the fun of watching a game here. Who might be the next breakout star? Might it be Bend’s slick fielding shortstop, Evan Haberle, out of Santa Clara University? Or the Harbourcat’s hulking catcher, Jackson Thoreson (St. Mary’s College), who had two hits on Sunday and is batting .368?

Alex and I didn’t talk about those kinds of numbers. It was all too new for him. I was 10 and already devouring the sports section when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and my dad took me to my first game. It was enough for Alex to try to decipher the scoreboard, which we did together in small arithmetic bites. He got the balls and strikes right away and grokked that strikes were a good thing when the Elks were pitching and an accumulating disadvantage when we were batting. Walks: check. Strikeouts: check. Runs scored: check. He followed the number of outs with alacrity. Innings and half innings were another matter – a bit confusing. But no worries. There was so much to take in: the thwack of a fastball in the catcher’s mitt; the recorded tinkling of shattered glass over the loudspeakers when a foul ball arced overhead into the parking lot (after the second one, Alex said of the announcer in the booth, “He’s tricking us!”); the ambrosia of pink and blue cotton candy melting on the tongue. Two national anthems!

After two outs in the top of the fourth, Alex announced that he was ready to go home. I was ready, too, despite my reborn pleasure in the game so perfectly presented. But ball caps are not really protection enough against the high-desert sun. And there was the clomping girl. She wasn’t that much of a distraction, but my, the kid must have had a hollow leg so many trips did she make to the snack stand in the otherwise timeless languor of afternoon.

2 Responses

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  1. Frank Koster said, on June 17, 2015 at 4:50 am

    Hey Peter,

    Great fun read! Sounds like you’re really enjoying being a grandpa, fun times with the grandson at the baseball game… doesn’t get much better (or more classic) than that for a summer past time! J That is awesome taking him to his first game and explaining the nuances of the game. I think the Boston Red Sox center fielder you mention would actually be Jacoby “Ellsbury”… who graduated from Madras High School just up the road (Hwy 97) and Oregon State University (Corvallis).

    Fun to get your blog, very entertaining read as always. Hope you and your family have a great summer and maybe I’ll see you around town… maybe downtown at the Cascade Cycling criterium next month.

    Thanks for sharing!


    Frank Koster – Realtor/Broker

    Cascade / Sotheby’s International Realty

    Bend, OR 97702

    Cell: 541-419-6913

    541-383-7600 xt. 156 office

    Licensed in the State of Oregon

    • pshelton said, on June 17, 2015 at 5:03 am

      Thanks for the correction, Frank. I knew it was Ellsbury. What is happening to my mind?

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