Nearly two dozen Keizer baseball players gathered to play in honor of Tony Aicher, who passed away three days before the game was played (Submitted).
If you have been to a Keizer youth sporting event in the last decade, it’s likely that Tony Aicher was in attendance.
Four of Aicher’s grandchildren (Zane, Kyle, Samantha and Sydnee) grew up playing multiple sports in Keizer youth leagues and at McNary. And Aicher was almost always in attendance.
While Aicher had a love for all sports that his grandchildren played, baseball held a special place in his heart.
Aicher was known for being a mainstay at youth baseball games in Keizer. He offered players advice, took copious statistics and always brought snacks and refreshments for anyone that needed them.
“Most of the time his paper was covered in hash marks and initials, and if you didn’t know what or where he had been, you would probably wouldn’t be able to decipher what he was doing, or what it all meant. Don’t be fooled or mistaken, he knew the inning, the score, the lineup, who hit, who grounded out, who scored, who flew out, who singled, doubled, or tripled, and he certainly knew who committed an error,” said Keizer baseball mom Tammy Ready. “His snack bag was always full, and he was always willing to share. As a matter of fact, he loved and lived for it.”
Aicher was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. At first, it rarely stopped him from attending games. But as his condition continued to deteriorate, people close to Aicher knew that he wouldn’t be around for much longer.
With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling spring sports, Aicher was unable to watch the game that he loved during his final days, which is why Jake Martin, whose son, Ian, plays for McNary, decided to organize a pick-up game for the man that was always in the stands.
“When the shutdown happened, we knew there wasn’t going to be a season, and we knew that Tony’s health wasn’t good, so I just wanted to make phone calls to people to see if we could try to organize a game in Tony’s honor,” Martin said. “Tony was a great man that was appreciated by everyone.”
Martin wasn’t sure what the response would be when he started making phone calls asking people to participate, especially in the middle of a pandemic. But nearly everyone Martin called was thrilled to get the chance to play for Aicher.
“It’s really nice to live in a community where you can make calls asking people to do something and they get excited,” Martin said.
After being informed of what was being organized, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker allowed Volcanoes Stadium to be the site of the game.
“Everyone I talked to had fond memories of Tony, and everyone was just so happy to be able to be together again. I was happy I was able to provide a spot for them to play and do whatever I could to accommodate them,” Walker said.
Because of COVID-19 related restrictions, only 25 people were allowed to be on the field. There were 20 players, and nearly all of them are in the McNary baseball program. There were also four coaches. Only one spectator per player was permitted to come and watch.
The game was scheduled for Saturday, May 30. Unfortunately, Aicher passed away three days before the game, with his loving family by his side.
Even though he couldn’t be there in person, the players still wanted to get together and celebrate the life of Aicher by playing the game that he loved.
The atmosphere was laid back according to Martin. After playing a few innings, the kids took batting practice from Patrick Levis, a former youth coach. While the players still showed their competitive nature, everyone in the stadium knew that this was a gathering that was much bigger than baseball.
“After being cooped up for so long, everyone was so damn happy to be there. The kids had an absolute blast,” Martin said. “It was a bittersweet day, not only because Tony couldn’t be there in person, but because this was the probably the last time that all these kids will get to play together.”
“There were some tears, there were many smiles, there were lots of laughs, and every kid on that field was there for all of the right reasons, even in the midst of everything going on in the world today,” Ready added. “Many say ‘baseball is just a sport.’ Those people have never met Grandpa Aicher. There was not a kid on that field that felt they were there just for the baseball.”