With the Vancouver Canadians out of town, the missus and I decided to take a quick trip over the border for some shopping and of course, some baseball! We paid a visit to Joe Martin Field in Bellingham, Washington to see the hometown Bells host the Walla Walla Sweets in West Coast League summer collegiate action. There are 11 teams in the league, two of them from Canada in the Victoria HarbourCats and the Kelowna Falcons. The majority of the players are from Pac-12 schools, community colleges or, in one case anways, the UBC Thunderbirds where Bellingham infielder and Surrey, BC native Mitchell Robinson played this past season.
Joe Martin Field was once the home of the Bellingham Mariners of the Northwest League, where Ken Griffey Jr. began his professional career. With Junior being inducted into Cooperstown later this summer, the Bells donned the colours and uniforms of the Bellingham Mariners for this Sunday afternoon contest instead of their usual blue, green and white garb. I am quite partial to powder blue because it brings me back to the early days of watching the Blue Jays so I was more than okay with the Bells choice of uniforms. The Bells also had a commemorative ’24’ sleeve patch denoting Bellingham 1987 and Cooperstown 2016.
The Walla Walla Sweets showed some creativity in their road uniforms. Instead of trying to fit the whole town name on the front, they just went with Walla² or Walla squared.
The one drawback of Joe Martin Field is the newly installed synthetic turf so the facility can be used year-round. While I can understand the reasoning why, it just doesn’t look pleasing to the eye, especially the infield. Even the Blue Jays have a real dirt infield now.
Other than that, watching the game from behind the home plate grandstand, it’s a pretty intimate view of the action and the shade was much appreciated on a hot day. The team has good media coverage with a radio broadcast of the game and I also liked the P.A. man announcing the college/university where each hitter came from before the at-bat.
It was a nice afternoon at the ballpark. The free parking and programs were nice, the ticket lady was very welcoming, team mascot Dinger the Hamster greeted everybody and the concessions were decently priced.
Bellingham won the game by a score of 2-0. Both runs came in the first inning when Andru Cardenas (Cal State Chico) walked, stole second and scored on a Shane Hanon (Edmonds CC) double. Hanon would score on a David Banuelos (Long Beach State) sacrifice fly as the first two hitters came in to score. Jon Olsen (UCLA) made that lead stand up with 7-1/3 shutout innings and Jared Horn (California-Berkley) preserved it with the final two outs of the eighth along with Sam Hellinger (Gonzaga) working a 1-2-3 ninth.
Walla Walla starter Bobby Ay (Cal Poly) gave up the two runs but stranded a pair of runners in the second to limit the damage over his three innings. Ay, who is heading to the West Coast League All-Star Game, gave way to Nick Scheidler (UCLA), who tossed three perfect frames. Ryan Anderson (Nevada) worked the final two innings, giving up just one hit.
My first collegiate summer league game involved a game between the Madison Mallards and the visiting La Crosse Loggers in the Northwest League in 2007 where I got to see future Blue Jay/Mariner Eric Thames, who is doing bigger things in Korea these days.
Among Bells major league alumni are former Blue Jays pitchers Ty Taubenheim, Mark Rzepczynski and Jeff Francis. It’ll be interesting to look back on this game and see if there will be a player or two that will emerge and get to the majors one day. Maybe there won’t be a Ken Griffey Jr. in this bunch but it’s always neat to say I saw this player before he made it.