“ … The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh … people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” — James Earl Jones as Terence Mann in “Field of Dreams”
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It’s been said by those inside the game that the baseball world is small. As widespread as the game is across the country on Little League fields, high school and college fields, and in professional stadiums, baseball has maintained a decidedly intimate feel with myriad small-town connections.
The sport reaches deep into communities, spreading tendrils that intertwine with those in other counties and states who share a love for a game that brings back those memories of simpler times. An example? Consider the cities of Salem, Ore., and Yakima, separated by 230 highway miles but tied more closely together by threads of baseball history.
The Senators were the first professional baseball team in Salem in 1940. Their first game that year brought in a crowd of 4,865 fans. At the time, it was the largest crowd ever for a sporting event in Salem.
The Senators’ opponent on that first night was the Yakima Pippins, the first professional baseball team in Yakima that was founded in 1937. The current Yakima Valley Pippins, who will start their seventh season this summer in the West Coast League, is named in honor of that original team.
On that 1937 Pippins team was Bob Garretson Sr., grandfather of current Yakima Valley Pippins general manager Jeff Garretson. Nicknamed “Lefty,” Garretson Sr. played first base for the Pippins.
In 1961, the Senators were renamed the Salem Dodgers, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As the years rolled by, Salem was renamed a few times and played in the Northwest League as affiliates of the Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels and even as an independent team.
The Salem Angels changed their name back to the Salem Dodgers in 1988, and again became an affiliate of Los Angeles’ Major League team. Two years later, the Salem Dodgers relocated to Yakima and became the Yakima Bears. The move returned professional baseball to the Yakima Valley for the first time since the mid-1960s.
In 1990, the Bears debuted at Parker Field, original home of the Yakima Pippins, earlier incarnations of the Yakima Bears, and current home of the Yakima Valley College Yaks and the Yakima Beetles American Legion team. Garretson Sr. and his son, Bob Garretson Jr., coached the Legion squad in the 1960s through the late ’80s. Garretson Jr. also coached at YVC in the 1980s through the early 2000s.
In 1993, the Bears moved to newly constructed Yakima County Stadium, current home of the Pippins. After the 2012 season, the Bears left Yakima for Hillsboro, Ore., and became the Hillsboro Hops. Following a year without summer baseball at the stadium, the Pippins played their inaugural game at the facility, nicknamed by the organization as “The Orchard,” on June 6, 2014, in front of 3,209 fans.
Just as the Bears were reborn after a long absence, the Senators are returning to Salem this year as part of the four-team Mavericks Independent League, which will feature non-drafted and released professional players. The league also includes the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, which played in the Northwest League until the reorganization of Minor League Baseball teams and leagues late last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic cut short or canceled 2020 baseball seasons for countless players, teams and fans across the country. The former college players headed to the Senators and other teams in the Mavericks Independent League are scheduled to start play in May. The current college athletes joining the Pippins and other teams around the West Coast League return in June.
On this day — Feb. 19 — in 1914, Bob Garretson Sr. was born. On the anniversary of his birthdate in 2021, college baseball begins again in earnest.
Happy birthday, Lefty.
Welcome back, college baseball.