2020 Sports in Review

Volcanoes lose MLB affiliation

The elimination of Class A Short-Season baseball in Salem-Keizer became official on Wednesday, Dec. 9 as Major League Baseball (MLB) and its 30 MLB teams announced a significant realignment of baseball’s Minor League system, contracting from 160 teams to 120 teams across the country.

The partnership between the San Francisco Giants and the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes came to an end when the Giants announced that the Eugene Emeralds would become their new Single-A affiliate.

The Volcanoes have been affiliated with the Giants since their inception — the organization began in Bellingham in 1994, but was moved to Salem-Keizer in 1997.

The Volcanoes’ time as a Giants affiliate was highlighted by five Northwest League Championships and seven division titles. More than 100 former Volcano players have made it to the big leagues.

“It’s been a great run,” said team owner Jerry Walker.

Part of the realignment included changing the Northwest League from eight teams to a six-team full season Class A league. Vancouver, Everett, Tri-City, Spokane, Hillsboro and Eugene will field teams in the revamped Northwest League in 2021. Major League Baseball has publicly stated that it will ensure baseball will be played in all 160 communities that had affiliations last year, including Salem-Keizer.

Those exact details are still being finalized and should be announced soon.

“No matter what, we’re going to be playing baseball in 2021,” Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker said. “We are excited for what the future may hold.”

Keizer baseball players pay tribute to their biggest fan

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. 

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 canceling 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.”

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 werein 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.”

COVID-19 brings prep sports to a sudden halt

When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made the decision on Wednesday, April 8 to close schools due to the coronavirus, the OSAA decided that it was best if they followed suit.

Just hours after Brown’s announcement, the OSAA elected to cancel the spring sports season for 2020.

“Today’s heart wrenching decision is difficult for all members of the OSAA family,” said Peter Weber, OSAA executive director. “We empathize with students and school communities, especially our graduating seniors, but recognize that these cancellations will allow our collective focus to remain where it’s most needed at this time — on the health and safety of all Oregonians.”

On March 18, the OSAA suspended the spring sports season initially until April 28. After the executive board held a virtual meeting on April 1, Weber was expecting the OSAA to have a decision on whether the season would be canceled, or if the OSAA would attempt to provide an abbreviated season, at the board’s next meeting on April 15.

But when Brown made the announcement, Weber was prepared to act quickly.

“We weren’t caught off-guard. We knew this was likely coming,” Weber said. “We had made the decision that we were going to be aligned with the schools if (Brown) came out and shut things down before (the 15th), so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting everyone on the board back together.”

In December, The OSAA executive board elected to push back the beginning of the sports season until March 2021. However, OSAA will still offer three separate, six-week seasons, along with an extra “culminating week” which will allow teams an option for postseason competition.

Under the current plan, traditional fall sports competition will begin on March 1. Spring sports competition starts on April 12 and winter sports will launch on May 17.

Meithof tops MVC list of all-league honors

After finishing third in the Mountain Valley Conference standings, the McNary boys basketball team had four players receive all-league recognition.

However, it was McNary junior shooting guard Nate Meithof that received the league’s highest honor.

Meithof was named the MVC co-player of the year after averaging over 23 points and 9 rebounds per game — both of which were the fourth best marks in the state. 

Despite being doubled, and even tripled teamed in most games, Meithof found a way to produce on a nightly basis and even had five consecutive games of over 30 points.

Meithof also increased his scoring average by more than six points per game from the previous season.

According to McNary head coach Ryan Kirch, Meithof had a chance to become the school’s all-time leading scorer next season. 

“Nate had one of the best seasons ever for a McNary basketball player. He wants to be great. Oftentimes I have to tell him to take time off. A lot of guys say they want to be great, but not many put in the time necessary to achieve it. Nate does. He is fearless and wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line,” Kirch said.

“In a stretch of six wins in a row by one point or overtime, Nate always made a play in the final minute to help us secure a victory. That is big-time. I’m proud of his growth as a player and more importantly as a person.”

Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth Baseball coming to Keizer

It’s been no secret that Keizer’s two youth baseball organizations, Keizer Little League (KLL) and McNary Youth Baseball (MYB), have been at odds for a number of years.

For the last three years, Brad Arnsmeier has had a plan to try and unify the two leagues, and now, he’s bringing those plans to the table.

Starting in the spring of 2021, the former KLL president is starting up a Keizer Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth league, making it the town’s third youth baseball organization. Cal Ripken baseball is for kids ages 6-12, while Babe Ruth serves as a league for kids ages 13-14.

However, Arnsmeier’s plan is not to compete with the other two leagues. He is hoping that this league will serve as a middle ground for KLL and MYB and that the two leagues will eventually come together under the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth model.

“We really want Cal Ripken to be the driving force to finally unify the baseball community in Keizer. It’s been far too long where it’s been segmented and fractured,” Arnsmeier said. “This is the best way for this baseball community to move forward and get better together.”

Arnsmeier acknowledged that even with two youth leagues in town, many kids have elected to play travel ball with tournament teams over the years. But because Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth isn’t as rigid when it comes to tournament play outside of league play, Arnsmeier believes that people will be more ready to get on board.

Ebbs wins Gatorade Player of the Year

Taylor Ebbs has gotten accustomed to receiving accolades for her outstanding softball play — she was the Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2019 as a sophomore.

But on Thursday, May 28, Ebbs received the highest individual honor of her career as the McNary junior was named the 2019-20 Gatorade Oregon Softball Player of the Year.

“It really didn’t hit me at first when I found out. After it settled in, it was just a big ‘wow’ moment for me. I’ve honestly never felt so honored and recognized,” Ebbs said. 

Ebbs’ play on the field speaks for itself. Although her high school season got canceled this year due to COVID-19, Ebbs was a standout shortstop for Northwest Bullets ASA 18-and-under club in the fall. She batted .414 and had an on-base percentage of .528 against elite national competition.

The stellar play of Ebbs has been even more profound at the high school level. With a career batting average of .596 along with 99 hits, 96 runs batted in, 73 runs scored and a .970 slugging percentage, Ebbs has proven she is one of the top players in the country — she signed with the University of Kentucky and is considered the No. 49 recruit in the Class of 2021 by Extra Inning Softball.

However, the student-athletes who win this award are not only excellent in their individual sport, they are also people that exude exemplary character and are diligent about their studies.

“Taylor’s a well-rounded person. She’s much more than an athlete,” McNary head coach Kevin Wise said. “She’s an amazing young lady on and off the softball field and she is not only involved at her school, she’s involved in the community, which speaks volumes about her.”

However, as it relates to school, Ebbs made it clear that academics come first. Ebbs currently maintains a 3.59 grade-point-average in the classroom and occasionally enrolls in advanced-placement classes.

“I want to play sports but I need my education. That is why academics are a priority for me. It’s all about managing your time well,” Ebbs said.