Home opener for Clark County’s new team draws thousands
RIDGEFIELD — The ceremonial first pitch from the mayor was a strike.
And just about everything else, it seemed, was a hit for the new Ridgefield Raptors.
Well, maybe not the result on the field. Clark County’s new summer league baseball squad lost its opener at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
However, by appearances — from the lines for concessions and souvenirs, and the number of fans in the premium seats, filling the bleachers, and sitting on the grass hills — it sure seems like the Ridgefield Raptors had a victorious Tuesday.
That day would end with another celebration: a post-game fireworks show.
“It’s an incredibly exciting day for Southwest Washington,” said Steve Stuart, Ridgefield’s city manager. Stuart led Prairie High School to a state baseball title in 1989 before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1989 Major League Baseball Draft. “Baseball is finally here.”
Ridgefield city and school district officials were honored pre-game. The national anthem was performed by Payton May, Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen and a junior from Skyview High School. Ridgefield Mayor Don Stose got the honors for the first pitch.
Then it was game time.
Raptors pitcher Michael Spellacy struck out the first batter he faced.
Grayson Sterling got Ridgefield’s first hit on its home field. He would also score the first run, stealing home as part of a double steal.
Later, Dominic Enbody hit the first home run for the Raptors.
In the end, though, the Yakima Valley Pippins would pick up the 4-3 decision on the field.
This was so much more than just another day, another game on the summer schedule, though.
This was the first night of Raptors baseball in Ridgefield, playing in the West Coast League, a league for college-eligible players.
“This atmosphere was great for college baseball,” Sterling said. “By far, the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for.”
Gus Farah, the general manager of the Raptors, estimated the attendance to be 2,200.
Sterling just about forgot where he was when he got the first hit.
“I almost wanted to clap and smile at the stands,” he said.
He also wanted to thank all who made this possible, the city of Ridgefield and officials for creating this facility.
“I can’t thank them enough for giving us the opportunity to play for Ridgefield,” Sterling said.
Enbody hit a shot that just cleared the right-field fence for his home run.
“I haven’t felt that energy from a crowd in a while,” Enbody said. “The community of Ridgefield is excited for this opportunity. For a small town, this is a great thing. The guys are amped up to play here.”
The fans were lined up early to get into the seating area, too.
Fred and Mary Horn were among the first to find their seats. Fred, a retired teacher and coach at Ridgefield High School, said he bought the tickets the first day they became available.
“I think it’s great. Well past due,” he said of Clark County getting a team.
“We like baseball, and this is a great opportunity to see these young guys,” Mary Horn said.
John Burrow also showed up to show his support. He is a former Ridgefield High School baseball player who went on to play semi-pro ball.
Did we mention he is 103 years old? That he graduated from Ridgefield in 1933? He was even the mayor of the town from 1960-64, more than half a lifetime ago.
“It’s a wonderful game,” Burrow said of baseball. “It’s changed an awful lot. Back when we played, it wasn’t unusual to have a two-hour game. The players today are better, faster, bigger, and hit the ball farther.”
He said he was a pretty good hitter in his own baseball career. He remembers connecting for a two-run home run in the 12th inning of a semi-pro game in Portland to win a championship.
“I’ve got the newspaper clipping to prove that,” he added.
He has lived his whole life in Ridgefield and now Ridgefield has its own summer league team.
Beyond right field is a grassy hill that is general admission seating. Put a blanket down, and it’s a perfect spot for some.
“Sun tan,” Briana Adams of Vancouver said. “Plus, it’s easier to play catch here.”
She had three children with her, and they were running around, tossing a ball. They were with the Bridgetown Baseball youth team.
Joe Whisenhunt was there with his son Carter, also representing Bridgetown.
“We wanted a team event where all the kids could see the older baseball players,” Whisenhunt said.
But he shared a laugh when he found out he could sit wherever he wanted in this particular section of the RORC.
“It’s easier at the Mariners games,” he said. “They tell you where to sit.”
Farah acknowledged some growing pains, especially with the ticket scanning. Fans did wait longer than what would be preferred to get into the stadium.
“We had our hiccups,” Farah said.
During pre-game, he told the crowd that the Raptors will work to improve the experience.
Overall, though, the inaugural home game was deemed a success.
“I’m overjoyed,” Farah said. “The relationship we have built with all of Southwest Washington is paying off.”
And that crowd was special, he said.
“For us as a business, we made a great choice coming to Ridgefield.”