PORTLAND — The Ridgefield Raptors will make their first trip back to the Portland Pickles’ home field, Walker Stadium, for a three-game series this week following a playoff game last August disrupted by multiple verbal altercations between fans and Raptors players, which sparked conversations between the West Coast League and its 16 baseball teams during the subsequent offseason.
That Aug. 10 playoff game, a back-and-forth affair which Ridgefield won 7-5, clinched the Raptors’ first WCL playoff series win and was a landmark moment in team history.
The game was also infamous for its off-the-field antics, which included two stoppages in play. The first came in the seventh inning, when, after Portland hit a game-tying home run, a Pickles fan entered the Raptors’ dugout area yelling expletives at players and coaches. The next inning, a shouting match ensued between Portland fans and Ridgefield batter Safea Mauai as he warmed up in the on-deck circle.
The two episodes resulted in multiple fans getting ejected from the stadium.
“You don’t want to see, obviously, any situation with a player involved with a fan or fans,” WCL Commissioner Rob Neyer said last week ahead of Tuesday’s series opener. “So of course it was a topic of conversation.”
What came of the incident, Neyer said, were general discussions during offseason meetings involving the league, owners and general managers from all teams about improving player safety and fan experience. From that dialogue, the league identified a need to look closer at areas of stadiums where fans and players are in close proximity, particularly dugouts and bullpens, Neyer said.
“One of the appeals of our stadiums is that they’re small and you’re on the field, you’re next to the dugouts. We just need to be probably a little more sensitive to that,” said Neyer, who’s in his sixth year as commissioner of the WCL. “I think everyone in our league has taken a fresh look at those areas around the bullpens and around the dugouts, just to identify any potential problem areas.”
Because dimensions and accessibility vary ballpark to ballpark, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule for the whole league to follow, but Neyer said he believes every team is operating in good faith to address fan-player interactions.
At Portland’s Walker Stadium, which annually leads the league in attendance and is averaging 3,708 people per game this season, both home and visitor dugouts are in close proximity to spectator seating on both sides, with minimal barriers between them. However, Neyer suggested access to the dugouts will likely be more restricted for this week’s series.
“If you go to the Pickles-Raptors games (this) week, you’ll probably see something you didn’t see last year, just in terms of … how close the fans can get to the dugouts,” Neyer said.
“Will there be added security? I don’t know. That’s a team operational thing. But I’m very confident, having had conversations with the parties … I’m very confident that we’ll avoid any incidents this time around.”
On the topic of security, Portland Pickles general manager Parker Huffman said a minimum of six, and “up to 10 security staff will be at each game” of the series, which runs Tuesday-Thursday. Each game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m.
The Ridgefield Raptors declined to comment for this story.