McNary seniors get final sendoff on the diamond

FROM RIGHT TO LEFT: Jamison Martin, Alex Tavera, Danny Okada, Ethan Patterson and Alex Simpson got to play one final time in their Celtics uniform in the senior day tournament at Volcanoes Stadium (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

Even though they didn’t get their final year of prep baseball, five McNary seniors got to experience one last hurrah on the diamond.

Alex Simpson, Danny Okada, Ethan Patterson, Jamison Martin and Alex Tavera all competed for Team Lincecum last weekend as Volcanoes Stadium played host to the 2020 senior day series, which featured more that 100 high school seniors from 48 different schools across the state.

The prep baseball season was canceled in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes to honor the seniors in a different capacity — by giving them the opportunity to play with their high school jersey for the final time.

“One of the most cherished events in high school baseball is Senior Day at the field. It’s usually the last home game of the season and provides a final recognition for the senior players and their parents who have supported their efforts for so many years,” said Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker, who’s also an assistant coach for McNary. “COVID-19 destroyed this emotional opportunity, along with all high school games, this year. We wanted to do something for the seniors, and providing them an opportunity to take the field again seemed to be the perfect scenario.”

The seniors were divided into eight different squads, named after Volcanoes and San Francisco Giants legends. Each team played two games in the round robin tournament that was held from July 31 to Aug. 2.

The attendance was capped at 250 and fans were required to practice social distancing. Masks were being worn in the dugout and balls were sanitized regularly. But even in the midst of a national pandemic, both players and coaches found joy in the return to semi-normalcy.

“Honestly, it was actually really nice just being able to be in the coach’s box and talk to kids when they were coming around third. It was fun. I really enjoyed it,” said McNary head coach Larry Keeker, who was one of the coaches for the Lincecum squad.

To begin their opening game against Team Sandoval, Team Lincecum trotted out an all McNary infield in the top of the first, with Okada getting the start on the mound. Tavera and Simpson played up the middle while Patterson and Martin took position at the corners.

Scappoose coach Cameron Webb came up with the idea to have all Celtics in the infield in front of the hometown fans.

“Cameron told me that we should fill the whole infield to start the game with McNary kids and I said ‘that would be fantastic’,” Keeker said. “I wasn’t going to try to influence the lineup, but he was really gracious and recognized that it would be a cool thing to do.”

Okada retired the first batter on a fly-out to left field then struck out the second hitter with a nasty 3-2 breaking ball. He gave up a bloop single later in the frame, but a sweet play from Tavera at short on a dribbling ground ball got Lincecum out of the inning.

Okada threw another scoreless frame in the second inning, getting a pair of fly-outs after a base-runner was caught stealing.

“I just tried to pound the zone and I let the defenders behind me back me up,” Okada said.

“Danny did a good job. He’s a strike thrower He’s always been efficient that way,” Keeker added.

Tavera replaced Okada on the hill in the top of the third, but a trio of errors and free passes allowed Team Sandoval to get six runs in the inning.

Patterson, who drew a walk, was the first player to get on base for Lincecum in the bottom of the third. Tavera reached on an error later in the inning and Patterson eventually scored as the Sandoval catcher could not throw out Tavera, who stole second on a first-and-third situation, which allowed Patterson to come home.

In the top of the fourth, Okada and Tavera pulled off a highlight-reel double play in the infield. With runners on first and second, a ground ball was hit to Tavera, who moved to second base. Tavera flipped to Okada, who was playing shortstop, for the first out. Instead of trying to throw to first to get the traditional 4-6-3 double play, Okada noticed that the runner on second was attempting to score on the play. So Okada faked the throw to first and fired home to nail the runner at the dish.

Simpson took the mound in the top of the sixth, striking out one and giving up a run in the frame.

Simpson, along with Patterson, drew walks in the bottom of the sixth. But Team Linceum couldn’t take advantage as they dropped the first game 11-2.

Team Lincecum lost their second game 10-3 against Team Crawford the following day, but had better offensive performances from the Celtics hitters. Martin and Okada each had base hits and Tavera came through with an RBI via sacrifice fly, along with making several key defensive plays.

While it didn’t make up for the season that was lost, the Celtics players cherished their final time on the field.

“It was a lot of fun getting to play ball again with kids that I have played with for all four years of high school,” Okada said. “I’ve come to Volcanoes games for years. I was even at bat boy when I was younger. It’s a dream come true to play on this field with my best friends.”

“It felt really good to have the opportunity to play one last time with guys that I have know for years. It was special,” Martin added.