At The Ballpark: Total Eclipse of the Park

Day gives way to night,

totality sweeps the park;

Baseball in the dark.

Keizer, OR – In 1979, two exceedingly rare events took place. On February 26, the Moon passed completely between the Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow over the Pacific Northwest for 2 minutes and 49 seconds. Later that year, National League MVP voters inexplicably awarded 216 points to both Willie Stargell of the Pirates (2.5 WAR that year) and Keith Hernandez of the Cardinals (7.6 WAR). It was the first and only tie MVP vote in MLB history, a shadow cast for 38 years and counting.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days, you’re likely aware that for the first time since the National League shared MVPs, a total solar eclipse swept across the contiguous United States. The path of totality passed directly over the Salem-Keizer area of Oregon, home to the Class A Short-Season Volcanoes of the Giants organization. On Monday morning, I was at Volcanoes Stadium to take it all in.

Terrified of watching the eclipse enveloped by traffic on the highway’s shoulder (as several of those giant digital traffic signs would indeed warn us not to do), my wife and I resolved to get up early. So, when the alarm rang at 3:45am, an hour that only a possum could enjoy, we begrudgingly rolled out of bed, grabbed a quick shower, made a cup of coffee, and hit the road. As luck would have it, the 45-mile drive from our friends’ place in Portland to Salem-Keizer went much smoother than the weekend’s traffic reports had led us to expect, and we arrived at Volcanoes Stadium in only an hour. A small army of parking attendants navigated us to a spot on the edge of lot, and we made our way towards will call right around 6:00am.

The Sun arrives at the ballpark.
The Sun makes its first appearance at the ballpark.

Pre-Game and First Pitch

Walking into the stadium, it was clear the Volcanoes had committed to creating an experience. People crowded around an info table manned by excited NASA scientists on the concourse behind home plate. Eclipse fact sheets and posters were hung from walls around the park. A pre-recorded astronomy Q&A session played on the scoreboard. Staff was beginning to set up breakfast reminiscent of a hotel’s continental buffet – pancakes, ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy – in the left field Lava Lodge pavilion. Yellow breakfast tickets could be purchased for $10, with mimosas and Bloody Mary’s available for an added charge.

Have a question? Ask NASA.
Have a question? Ask NASA.

At around 9:15am, only 20 minutes from scheduled first pitch, a few of us sitting on a grassy hill adjacent on the left field line noticed that although the Volcanoes players had been warming up for a good hour or so, the Hops players were no where to be seen. As a nearby couple chatted about how they’d barely made it to the field on time, the PA announcer relayed the game’s first pitch would be shifted back by 10 minutes, struggling to mask his amusement, on account of only one of the teams being present. The Hops, ironically, were still sitting in traffic a few miles away.

Early morning batting practice.
Early morning batting practice.

Just after 9:30am, the Hops arrived to sarcastic applause and frantically began to warm up. Because eclipse totality would arrive at 10:17am, there was little time to waste if the first “professional sports solar eclipse delay” were to proceed as planned. At 9:51am, Volcanoes right-handed reliever-turned-temporary-starter John Timmins delivered the first pitch. That ball, as we’d be told, would in turn be delivered to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

A First of its Kind

Whether it was the untraditionally early game time start or just eclipse day jitters, Timmins got knocked around early. After inducing a ground out to open the frame, he allowed three straight singles, followed by a sac fly, and a home run to give Hillsboro a quick 4-0 lead. At roughly 10:15am, the umpires pulled both teams off the field and signaled to the 5,297 fans in attendance that we were under an official eclipse delay.

Members of the Hops bullpen don their eclipse shades.
Members of the Hops bullpen don their eclipse shades.

Players and fans alike scrambled to apply their ballpark-issued protective eyewear as Jerry Walker, the Volcanoes owner and chief hype-man, delivered a campaign rally-esque speech thanking both teams, the Giants and Diamondbacks organizations, the fans, and NASA for helping make the event possible. The Moon continued its slow diagonal crawl. A hush then swept over the crowd.

Having been somewhat of a science geek growing up, I was familiar with what happened during a total solar eclipse. Daylight would give way to dusk, strange shadows would appear, temperature would drop substantially (78 degrees in the moments prior, 66 during totality), and the Sun’s corona would dance around a magnificent black hole. But like all natural wonders, photos and articles alone do no justice. Totality lasted over 1 minute 49 seconds, but it couldn’t have felt any more than a fraction of that. Just as quickly as it arrived, the “diamond ring” flashed and it was gone.

Totality from Volcanoes Stadium
Totality over Volcanoes Stadium.

Come for the Eclipse, Stay for the Baseball

As both the Moon and crowd excitement waned, it was difficult to blame anyone for forgetting a game was still in progress. Hops starting pitcher Tyler Badamo began his second full warm up of the day with a few long tosses followed by about 20 pitches from the pen. Play resumed and Badamo quickly recorded a 1-2-3 inning to complete the bottom of the 1st, over an hour after it’d first began.

Volcanoes manager Jolbert Cabrera, older brother of Orlando and a former Major Leaguer himself, made what was likely a pre-determined decision to end Timmins’s first career start early to bring in big right-hander Peter Lannoo to open the second inning. Lannoo, a 28th round pick out of Cornell in this June’s amateur draft, recorded six straight outs before a single, throwing error, and double would tack two more on the board for the Hops to make it a 6-2 game in the 4th. He’d surrender another run in the 5th and two more in the 6th before being lifted in the 7th.

RHP Tyler Badamo delivers a pitch to Volcanoes 3B/DH Michael Sexton.RHP Tyler Badamo delivers a pitch to Volcanoes 3B/DH Michael Sexton.

On the Volcanoes side, outfielders Bryce Johnson and Malique Ziegler – #45 and #47 in our own midseason Top 50 list – were the draws. Of the two, only Johnson was able to reach base, lining a single to left field in the 8th. The 21-year-old burner and recent 6th round pick easily took third base on a successful double steal play. He’d later add a walk in the 9th.

But the best performance of the day came from 21-year-old Daulton Varsho, the Diamondbacks 2nd round pick (#68 overall) in this year’s amateur draft. Named after Darren Daulton, whom his father Gary played with and befriended while on the Phillies during the 1995 season, the younger Varsho shares other similarities with the late catcher. He’s a 21-year-old left-handed catching prospect with great makeup and some power in his swing. That power was evident on Monday. After muscling out an opposite field two-run homer off of Timmins in the 1st, Varsho followed up with another bomb off of Lannoo later in the 6th, a solo shot that jumped off the bat with such a loud crack it drew several ooh’s and aah’s from those still in the dwindling crowd. A double in the 8th would cap off a three extra-base hit day for the promising catcher out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The last place Volcanoes would drop the contest to the first place Hops by a score of 9 to 5. But, for everyone there, the day was a resounding win.

Tony is Virginia-transplant who lives in San Francisco and works in Silicon Valley, a short drive from both the Hi-A San Jose Giants and AAA Sacramento River Cats.

When not covering the Giants for Prospects1500, you can usually find him reading last night's box scores. If you ever met, he'd hand you a Wiffle ball bat and promptly strike you out. Follow him @tonythekohm.

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