The weather in early May could not have been better, with a playing time temperature of 68 degrees under the sunniest sky.
The grass was juicy and thick, cut into a circular pattern in the infield with the must in the mound.
Fans were also back, but with a limited capacity of 1750 for a pandemic. Some of the pomp and circumstance was lacking due to on-site entertainment restrictions, but no one seemed to care as much, since baseball was finally back.
For the first time since a playoff game in the Northwest League on September 4, 2019, baseball in the minor leagues returned to Spokane on Tuesday with a new league, affiliate and higher player caliber.
But the ball carried, and the road team was better.
Eugene hit four home runs in the middle of the innings, running up a seven-run lead, and the Emeralds beat the Spokane Indians 9-5 in the High-A West season opener at Avista Stadium.
The Indians blew up three solo home runs, by Jack Blomgren, Michael Toglia and John Cresto, but that was not enough.
The Indians ‘starting point Helcris Olivarez, Colorado Rockies’ No. 7 prospect, was made after four rounds. He allowed three races – all solo homers – and six hits and a trip with three strikes on 77 courses, 45 for strikes.
Still, it was baseball, and it was played before they paid fans in the stands for the first time in more than 600 days.
“It’s great to see,” said manager Scott Little. “I mean there were actually more people in the stands than I thought there would be. I thought they were excited – you can tell they love baseball here. “
“You know, it’s literally been, what’s 18 months, something close to that?” In Toglia. “I mean, it just felt so good to be out there in full uniform and have an actual ump – not a trainer behind the pile – and fans behind it too. Man, that was great.”
All homers surprised Little a little.
“The very first one was a little shocking,” he said. “I thought it was a fly ball and the next thing you know it carried far out. But you know, we got some balls up over the middle of the plate and they took advantage of them. They probably went where they deserved to go.”
After a 1-2-3 first half, Olivarez came in some hot water in the second. With runners on first and second, Franklin Labor lost a single to the left. Cade Harris put clean and threw an arrow on the plate to nail Logan Wyatt to keep it pointless.
There was more leather in the third. Aaron Schunk hit a ball deep into the third and shot a jump to Toglia, who went to a knee to make a great scoop for out.
The first race of the year at Avista came off the bat of Emeralds catcher Patrick Bailey in the third, who drove one to the left center who only continued to carry for a solo homer.
On the first pitch on the fourth, Eugene third baseman Sean Roby struck an undoubted shot to center Olivarez for a 2-0 lead. Three lanes later, Diego Rincones smashed one to the left center to make it 3-0.
“You did not see the guy you are going to see at some point,” Little said of Olivarez. “You saw a guy who did not hit with his secondary courses and had to throw fast balls and put fast balls over the plate. I can tell you one thing, (Eugene) is a good team that hits fastball. ”
Moises Ceja took over in the fifth and immediately gave up four straight singles for a new race. A 5-2-3 double play helped, but Tyler Fitzgerald started at a 3-2 pitch for a three-run shot, and the Indians’ deficit grew to 7-0.
The Rockies’ 2016 first-round draft pick Riley Pint, who has battled injury all his career, put up a pointless sixth with two strikes and a walk, with a couple of balls in the backstop in between.
“The guy hit outstanding,” Little said. “He had big misses and big hits, if that makes sense. He’s so electric. He has such a great arm, and he’s a great boy, and I just want nothing for the best for him, and it was a good trip for him. ”
The Indians came on the board in the lower half of the sixth with a solo shot to the short porch to the right of shortstop Jack Blomgren, a fifth round picked out by the University of Michigan in 2020.
It was Blomgren’s first professional hit.
“It felt good,” he said. “At any time, you can start the season with a barrel and move on. It’s always a good thing to get the first one out of the way. It’s a shame we lost, but it felt good. ”
Toglia, the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2019, added a solo shot opposite the field in the seventh.
“It was good to see,” Little said. “Nice to see him stay on the ball.”
Patrick Bailey, the San Francisco Giants’ first-round pick in 2020, delivered a two-run single for the Emeralds in the eighth of Native American reliefs Derrik Watson.
The Indians scratched out a couple of races in the eighth in a row, a couple of singles and a selection, with Eddy Diaz and Willie MacIver collecting RBI.
John Cresto delivered a solo homer for the Indians on the ninth.
“The children did not give up,” Little said. “We stayed a bit in the match, and maybe if we had a call early in the match before the home race (three races), it might have been a little closer to the game.”
Emeralds starter Caleb Kilian went four innings and allowed two hits and no trips with nine strikes. Reliever Nicholas Avila picked up the win despite allowing two homers in his three innings.