Sunday, October 02, 2022

THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: A hot — but fun — week at the ol’ ballgames

| August 14, 2022 1:30 AM

Apple nachos.

Baseball games, played at various paces.

And heat … oh, was it hot!

“Excessive heat warning” was the phrase of the week a couple weeks ago, when we had already scheduled a baseball road trip through that state to the West — games in Wenatchee, Yakima, the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.

It’s usually quite warm in July and August around here anyway, but during that week, in the words of Buster Poindexter, it was “Hot! Hot! Hot!”

Highs were predicted for the high 100s and even into the 110s in those cities — on the surface, hardly ideal conditions for sitting through three-hour ballgames.

But you take your time off when you can and watch the games that are available, and you grin and bear it with the weather — armed with lots of water.

So on we went.

FIRST STOP — Wenatchee, to watch the Apple Sox play the Cowlitz Black Bears, based in Longview, Wash.

The high in Wenatchee that day was ONLY 100 degrees.

Fortunately, Paul Thomas Sr. Stadium, which also plays host to the Wenatchee Valley Knights of the Northwest Athletic Conference, is surrounded by trees, a welcome touch by game time at 6:35 p.m.

So were the three tacos for $7 on Taco Tuesday.

Weird thing about college wood-bat league games — walking among the umpires and the players on the way out of the ballpark after the game. Hard to imagine that happening at a major league game.

Plus, in Wenatchee, they turned off the field lights moments after the game for some reason.

The games in Wenatchee, Yakima and Walla Walla involved teams in the West Coast League — a college wood-bat league where most, but not all, of the players are from the Northwest and West.

Two or three of the teams had a handful of Zags on their rosters, and if you listened closely during their at-bats, you could hear the crowd chanting “Go! Gonzaga! G-O-N-Z-A-G-A!”

OK, maybe not.

WHERE IS everybody?

Two nights later (Leavenworth beckoned on the off day), it was on to Yakima County Stadium, which used to host a Northwest League team before losing it to Hillsboro.

On this night, the stadium was nearly deserted moments before game time.

Maybe a dozen or so fans — mostly seeking shade, along the third base side, were there at first pitch to watch the Yakima Valley Pippins play host to the Northwest Star Nighthawks, based in Ridgefield, Wash.

We sat two rows behind home plate, and our section was EMPTY, until someone wandered into the back row a few innings in.

During parts of the game, you could hear the radio play-by-play guy in the stadium — without need of a radio.

The high in Yakima that day was 108. And maybe, after team officials noticed hardly anybody showed up on this night, it was announced during the game that Yakima’s home games on the next two nights would be bumped back to 8 p.m. starts.

The signature dish at Yakima County Stadium on this night was apple nachos — which are more apple and less nachos. Sliced apples, with caramel, some whipped creamy substance, and, for others, nuts.

No chips. No cheese.

An interesting attempt at uniqueness, in any event — though it needed a hot dog a few innings later to chase it down.

And then there was the scoreboard — part of it didn’t work. The runs, hits and errors were updated, but the scores from each inning looked like they remained from a previous game — or were perhaps some sort of cheat code only the locals would know — like a phone number to call for a good time.

As for the rest of us — and maybe it was just the two of us — we tried to keep track of what inning it was by ourselves.

TEMPERATURE AT game time (7 p.m.) at Gesa Stadium in Pasco the next night, the P.A. guy told us, was 106 degrees.

Maybe he was trying to make us feel better. We were told later the actual game-time temperature — the number reported to the league office — was a toasty 111.

By that time in the week, how hot it was was relative — it was just plain hot. But the stadium provided enough shade to make it bearable by that time. And Gesa Stadium is a nice place to watch a game, with cars zooming by on the freeway off in the distance, past the outfield fence.

And the $2 hot dogs were a nice touch, to watch the Tri-City Dust Devils play host to YOUR Spokane Indians.

ALL THE aforementioned stadiums had their own version of charm.

None was more charming — and unique — than 96-year-old Borleske Stadium in Walla Walla.

On this night (following a 106-degree day), it was home to the Walla Walla Sweets.

We showed up a few minutes before the 7 p.m. start and noticed the entrance gates were still locked.

“Game time was pushed back to 7:30,” the lady said to us, as if that was something we should have realized through osmosis.

But that was OK on this week; later was better. The sun wasn’t an issue by then anyway.

Borleske Stadium, you soon realize, is a football stadium tweaked a bit to also host baseball. The bleachers down the right field line are sizeable, because they are the football bleachers in the fall. You enter the stadium near the right field foul pole, but that entrance makes sense during football season.

Walla Walla High plays football there, and Walla Walla Community College and Whitman University used to play football there, before they dropped the sport.

For football season, they obviously cut down the mound, and lay sod over the infield dirt.

Our seats were behind the plate, a few rows back and off to the right, normally a safe place to see the whole field. But at Borleske, the first-base dugout blocked our view of first base and anything that happened in right field.

Oh well, they looked good on the seating chart. Live and learn for the next time.

That glitch aside, Borleske was a nice setting for baseball, with lots of trees for shade. During the playing of the national anthem, we wondered who left their radio on. But it turned out to be 80s music blaring from the city pool, located behind the center field fence.

But on a chips-and-cheese run a few innings in, I noticed the Sweets had large photos of past team greats on the back of their first base dugout — one of which was former Coeur d’Alene Viking and Gonzaga Bulldog Nick Nyquist.

ALL IN all, a solid four-games-in-five-nights outing in the heat in the middle of Washington.

We noticed in the two Northwest League games we saw — we also went to Avista Stadium the following week to watch the Indians again, this time on their home field — the games went faster, as they used an 18-second pitch clock.

Hopefully the major leagues will adopt a pitch clock someday soon. We didn’t miss seeing players step out of the batter's box after each pitch, adjusting their batting gloves and whatever else they could adjust, or the pitchers taking forever between each pitch.

It was like the old days — the pitcher got the ball back from the catcher, toed the rubber and quickly let ‘er fly.

And we’ll definitely try most, if not all, of those stadiums again. It’s hard to beat the intimacy of minor league, and college wood-bat league, baseball.

Hopefully it will be a little bit cooler next time, and maybe the apple nachos will have a little more nacho to them.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 208-664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at Follow him on Twitter @CdAPressSports.

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