Well, Wednesday, June 17, should have been Opening Night for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Reflecting for a moment on what would have been my 32nd Opening Night in professional baseball spanning five decades, the 1980s through the 2020s.
The two most memorable nights came in 1989 and 1997. It was total euphoria in 1989, the first Opening Night. Everything was new, excitement was in the air, Jeff Smulyan, owner of the Seattle Mariners, delivered a special Mariners’ bouquet of flowers that were situated on home plate adding to a festive pre-game ceremony. Tuxedos were donned by my partner and I for the special occasion and many first-time experiences were about to unfold.
The Bellingham Mariners trailed 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. While winning the game appeared hopeless, it also seemed secondary in importance to the overall experience—that was until Corey Paul stepped to the plate. With runners on first and second, Paul launched a long home run over the right field wall and it was game over—Bellingham Mariners win on a walk-off home run.
Memories of 1989 were easily surpassed by those of 1997, a year that celebrated an almost unbelievable accomplishment of building Volcanoes Stadium in just under five months and bringing professional baseball back to the mid-Willamette Valley. Fans numbering 4,906 came, in a steady light rain, to help dedicate the stadium. The glamour of tuxedos in 1989 was replaced with a sensational stadium dedication speech by City Councilor Al Miller, concluding with, “It is with great pride that I hereby dedicate this stadium. May it long serve as an inspiration to others and as a symbol of who we are and what we are.”
The first pitch was brought in via helicopter by Mayor Dennis Koho. Due to wet grounds, the game was never played. This fact seemed lost on all those who attended, who left in delight, as the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes had been born and the community had a terrific new stadium.
It is hard not to wonder what the future holds. The coronavirus has taken its toll and the damage is far from over. As some businesses are finally reopening, others are closing forever. Civil unrest has unfolded and America is fighting for its survival as we once all knew it. Our liberty in in question. The virus has shutdown all professional sports and has impacted society in a manner greater than words can express. What will be next? At times like these, we need to remember everything we have to be thankful for —sometimes we forget and sometimes it is just hard to do because the impact of what is happening is so great.
We will miss the smiles of all the fans that will not be attending Opening Night ceremonies. Opening Night is so special as it is a new beginning while at the same time it creates memories. As James Earl Jones’ character in Field of Dreams so eloquently spoke, “And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”