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Official Review by Paul Hilchen, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
“Baseball is back in Portland” is a phrase many have longed to hear since the Portland Beavers relocated to Tucson back in 2011. The team isn't a "Pro" team, but I think that matters little to the myriad of sports fans in town. The Portland Pickles are part of the Great West League, a league started in 2014 to help develop current, eligible college talent. The season runs from early June to mid-August with six teams from Oregon and California. The league's teams are operated just like professional minor league teams. The league has an MLB connection in that one of the owners of the Chico Heat is none other than Pat Gillick, former President and General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Walker Stadium is named after Charles B. Walker, who was named Portland’s first Sports Director in 1935. From 1944-1945 he served in Germany as an American Red Cross Field Director, and upon his return to the state, he helped organize the first men's and women's softball tournaments west of the Mississippi River.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is a trend for teams/stadiums to recruit local restaurants and bars to handle the concessions and the Pickles/Walker Stadium is no different. One of the first things you see when you walk through the gate is Giants NY Pizza & Subs. They offer cheese and pepperoni slices for $4 & $4.50 (recommended). Handling the hot dogs is Zenner's Home Run Grill. Zenner's has been a Portland favorite since 1927. Hot dogs can be had for $4.75, brats and Italian sausage for $5.50 (recommended), burgers $5 & $5.50, and maybe not so oddly enough, they feature pickles. Must say I've never seen a pickle on a stick before, but they're here as well as fried pickles for $3.50. Beer drinkers can sample from a couple local bars such as Double Mountain Brewery and Zoiglhaus. They both feature a variety of brews for $7. There isn't a large variety here as a whole, but what is here is good.
Attending a game at Walker Stadium is much like going to a high school or lower level college game, and that's not a negative. Pickles fans are there to watch the games, the contests and other attractions are an added bonus. The management and staff at the stadium have done a good job making the stadium a pleasant place to watch a game.
Lents neighborhood is in the southeast part of Portland. It is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse neighborhoods in Portland due to its large Asian, Russian, Latino and eastern European immigrant population. Lents Park, which Walker Stadium resides in, is the oldest city park in the area. The neighborhood is predominately residential, with businesses scattered throughout. Many of the sponsors of the team are relatively close to the stadium (2-3 miles).
Downtown Portland is about a 10-15 minute drive from the stadium where you can find attractions such as Voodoo Doughnuts, Lan Su Chinese Garden or the Portland Art Museum. A little farther west you can find the Washington Park Zoo and Portland's Japanese Garden (a must see). East of the stadium about 30 minutes is the Columbia River Gorge that features Multnomah Falls and Bonneville Dam.
Portland baseball fans have been waiting for a team to return to town. Walker Stadium's capacity is 1577 and the attendance on the night of this review was upwards of 1700 fans. One will see plenty of Pickles gear walking around the stadium, and the people wearing it are by and large the ones who cheer the loudest. You will find lots of families, most creating lasting memories attending America's pastime together. I have said Portland is a sports starved city, in spite of being home to the Trailblazers and the MLS champion Timbers. Seeing the amount of support that the Pickles get, I have no doubt this city can support a higher level team.
Walker Stadium is a short drive from I-205 via SE Foster or SE Powell. There are bus routes that go right by the stadium and the MAX line is an option to get to the stadium although that is a little bit of a walk. Parking is free in the park's parking lot and there is ample space on the streets to park (show up early because it fills up fast). Once inside there is room to maneuver. There is one set of bathrooms and those are a little small, but the team has supplied porta-johns along each baseline. I did not see any handicapped fans but there is space for them as well.
Attending a Pickles game at Walker Stadium is a good family activity that won't empty your wallet. Tickets range from $7 on the berm along the left field line to $13 for the FieldBox seats behind home plate. Season tickets range from $210 for Pavilion to $330 for FieldBox.
Food is reasonably priced, team gear costs about what you would expect at most venues, and the ability to treat the family without breaking the bank makes a Pickles game and good family affair. One can do far worse.
Pickles gear is available at the tent in the walkway featuring - hats $25, shirts $20, sweatshirts $35, balls $7. I didn't see much that catered to the kids, although they were included in many of the contests between innings. Dillon the Pickle races kids around the bases in one of the between inning activities. There is a kid's zone area in the right field corner, and there is a large area behind the berm on the third base line where there is plenty of room for kids to play catch.
The team has taken baseball introductions for basketball in the sense that each player is introduced by each individual position. This may be done other places, but this reviewer has not seen it in baseball before. It's a nice change of pace.
Walker Stadium recently went through a renovation in 2015-2016 upgrading the field, demolishing the press box, getting a logoed scoreboard and moving home plate 10 feet closer to the fence to create the FieldBox section. There are more improvements to come such as a new press box built where the old box used to sit, a deck in front of the new press box and seat back chairs in the FieldBox section.
The possibilities for Walker Stadium are almost limitless and the management and staff of the Pickles are committed to a family-friendly experience for their fans.
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