PK Park’s stands were empty when I showed up to the ballpark; it’s a few more days before the weekend home series against Hillsboro Hops puts some butts in the seats. The sun blazing down on my sunscreen-less skin, I saw the whole Eugene Emeralds roster was relaxing underneath a canopy. The team had another 20 or 30 minutes until open practice, but, for now, the group of guys sat back, enjoying some sandwiches.
Alongside other media outlets, I was there to find out how the team — with a roster about half-filled with fresh faces — and a new general manager was going to approach the 2019 season, especially after the team had a ballpark miracle taking home the championship despite a dud season.
New faces are inevitable with a minor league baseball team. That’s the point of minor league baseball: You want to advance up the ranks.
This season, Lance Rymel leads the Ems. Rymel made it up to the Triple-A level of minor league baseball for the Chicago Cubs franchise. He hung up the glove in 2016 when he rejoined the Cubs organization in the coaching realm.
All that you need to know about Rymel is that he’s a Big League Chew guy. But when the taste goes away, he pops in sunflower seeds.
If you want to know more, he has a lot of love for the game of baseball. It’s what drove him to pursue coaching. He says he wants to do his best to get some of the younger players to move up the baseball hierarchy — and maybe even help the Chicago Cubs win a World Series.
According to recent memory, the Ems’ managers have a good track record of moving up the ladder. Although former manager Jesus Feliciano got snagged by local police for a DUII a few years ago, he was hired as a first base coach for the Los Angeles Angels (the team that became too good to associate with Anaheim). Steven Lerud, who I saw get thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire last season at least once, picked up a manager position for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a higher level minor league team.
Rymel’s long term goals are pretty open, but he says he doesn’t want to be a “one-trick pony.”
“Coaching the big leagues would be awesome,” he says. “Maybe the big leagues. Maybe coordinator. Maybe work in the front office. I’m open to anything.”
Although Rymel is fresh to the Ems, some of the returning players are there to help guide the new guys, who are stepping on the field as newcomers to professional baseball.
One of those Ems veterans is Casey Ryan, a pitcher, who’s hoping to move up the minor league ladder after this season.
He wants some more strikes, which begs the question: How does he do when under pressure — like when $3 Ninkasi beers are on the line for fans (a few times a night, the Ems mark down beer if an Ems pitcher strikes out an away batter).
“I’m not very successful striking out the beer batter,” he says with a laugh. “I definitely want to get that guy out for the fans.”
The Ems can claim a native Oregonian in this year’s roster, too. Dalton Hurd, an outfielder from Bend, says he’s looking to be a consistent player his first season in the minor leagues. He doesn’t want to get distracted with a winning high or losing frustration; he wants to play rationally.
Hurd went to college at Seattle University, so now playing for a Chicago Cubs affiliate, he was a fan of the Seattle Mariners.
Being from the Pacific Northwest, he’s played in a lot of ballparks in the region, so he’s no stranger to PK Park.
“While I was growing up I would go to Spokane Indians games. I’d play a high school championship game in Salem-Keizer,” he says. “I didn’t know at the time I’d be playing at that level and those would be my regular stadiums. It’s a surreal feeling to be one of those players.
The highlight of the media day, though, was when Hurd clarifies a call from my one and only season of baseball. He tells me that I, indeed, hit a single in Little League baseball. It was a play that I was always disappointed in. Although I finally hit the ball and overran first base (you know, like the professionals), the First Base Umpire called me out. Hurd tells me that it’s still a single.
So there it is, world. In my one season of baseball, I had 1 single — and far too many strikeouts.
And maybe Hurd’s reassurance of my baseball statistic is a reminder of what the Ems’ previous season was: Even the losers get lucky sometimes.