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Area baseball players find opportunity in Wild Wild West League
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Area baseball players find opportunity in Wild Wild West League

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James Anderson was left with nowhere to play baseball this summer after an opportunity was wiped out by the coronavirus.

The same for former Crescent Valley High School teammate Ben Leid, who was also looking for somewhere to get ready for another collegiate season next spring.

With few possibilities to swing the bat in an organized setting, both jumped at the chance to play in the four-team Wild Wild West League, which will play a one-month season with extensive precautions in place to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I am absolutely blessed,” Anderson said. “I know a lot of guys aren’t able to play this summer. I’m just really thankful that I’m one of the few that got chosen to play in the Wild Wild West League.”

Added Leid, of being asked to play: “I basically said yeah on the spot because I thought it was a really cool opportunity. Obviously there’s not a lot of baseball or anything going on. Any chance to play is something that should be taken advantage of.”

Anderson, who played at Skagit Valley College this spring, and Leid, at Wenatchee Valley Community College, will be reunited with fellow Crescent Valley alums Taylor Holder, Briley Knight and Ethan Krupp.

Holder just graduated from CV and will play at Oregon. Knight recently transferred to University of Portland after two years at Utah. Krupp plays at Chemeketa Community College.

The West Linn 26-player roster also includes seven Oregon State players: Andy Armstrong, Jake Dukart, Thomas Dukart, Cooper Hjerpe, Joey Mundt, Jake Pfennigs and Jack Washburn.

Jake Dukart was batting .323 and Armstrong .321 with a home run and eight RBIs through the Beavers’ first 14 games this spring before the season ended. Pfennigs was 2-2 with a 3.57 earned-run average on the mound.

“It will be a blast. I’m really looking forward to the team itself,” said Brooke Knight, Briley’s father, who will coach the team along with Lake Oswego High assistant Mitch Moses. “Talent-wise, I like the lineup and I like what we’re running out there on the mound. It should be a lot of fun.”

The West Coast League, a collegiate wood bat summer league of which the Corvallis Knights are the four-time defending champions, canceled its season. Brooke Knight is head coach of the Corvallis Knights.

The West Linn Knights open their 25-game schedule Sunday against the Portland Gherkins at North Marion High School in Aurora. All of the league’s games are scheduled at North Marion.

The league is allowing fans to attend, with a maximum of 200 per game to allow for social distancing. Single-game tickets are available at portlandpicklesbaseball.com.

The playoffs are scheduled for Aug. 11-12.

All games will be broadcast free on Facebook Live and YouTube Live.

Briley Knight and West Linn teammate Jake Holcroft, also at the University of Portland, had big seasons for the Corvallis Knights in 2019. Knight was the West Coast League’s most valuable player and Holcroft won the WCL batting title at .368 while setting the league record for single-season hits.

The West Linn roster also includes former Corvallis Knights Colton Meyer (Linfield) and Chad Stevens (Portland).

Philomath grad Brandn Vogler (Chemeketa) is on the Portland Gherkins’ roster along with Linn-Benton Community College players Caden Hennessy and Taylor Ott. Oregon State’s Kyle Dernedde plays for the Portland Pickles, another West Coast League team. The Gresham GreyWolves, a former WCL team, is the fourth team participating.

The Wild Wild West League is the brainchild of Pickles co-owner Alan Miller and general manager Ross Campbell.

Brooke Knight, who put together his team’s roster, said the players are thankful for the opportunity.

“They’re starving, physically and mentally, for a competitive and athletic atmosphere. I just cross my fingers that everything goes OK and we don’t have more than a case or two (of coronavirus) that we can hopefully can manage,” Knight said, adding that because of the small size of the league and the rosters, an outbreak could have a major impact.

“I think it’s inevitable. I think we will absolutely have one, two, three, four, five cases. It’s going to be disappointing, but hopefully we can manage that properly and get those people quarantined and get other people tested.”

But with the league’s safety protocols, “I think they’ve gone actually above the normal protocol, what comes from the governor or the local county, Marion County,” he said.

The league’s lengthy safety plan notes that all players and staff will undergo daily medical screenings before entering the ballpark. Players will wear masks in practices and while not on the field during games.

Any equipment used will be screened and sanitized. Sharing equipment is prohibited. Players will be asked to wash their hands before and during games. Spitting is not allowed.

Everyone entering the stadium will be given a temperature check and must sign a responsibility pledge to follow workflow, process, hygiene, sanitation and separation guidelines.

The league said it will work closely with medical professionals to ensure protocols and testing are done safely and efficiently.

Anderson said he feels “very safe” playing and that an emphasis on making sure players follow the rules is important.

“Obviously with anything, especially now …there is a certain level of risk,” Leid said. “But I am confident with the precautions.”

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