PORT ANGELES — After a wildly successful inaugural season, the Port Angeles Lefties are preparing for their second West Coast League campaign with more beer choices, final touches still ongoing to an expansion and upgrade to Civic Field and players trickling in from various colleges and universities over the nexth month.
The Lefties season begins tonight with a nonleague road game in Victoria, then a home game at 6:05 p.m. Thursday, also against the cross-strait rival HarbourCats.
Anyone driving by Civic Field the past few weeks has noticed the construction work going on, with a new party deck, fencing and seats. Those seats, 56 of them total, are old Seattle Mariners seats from Safeco Field snagged by the Lefties and installed along the third-base line.
The Lefties are a wooden bat summer league featuring top college players from around the country, playing in the West Coast League that features 10 other teams in Canada, Washington and Oregon. Many players in the league are eventually drafted by Major League teams and countless current Major Leaguers have played in the WCL with some big names including James Paxton, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzalez of the Seattle Mariners.
Last year, the Lefties, playing in one of the smaller markets in the league, ended up third in total attendance with 36,883 — over 1,300 per game.
There’s going to be a few changes this year besides the new seating and party deck at Civic. The Lefties will host this year’s All-Star festivities on July 16 and 17, with the game on July 17. One of the less-supported teams — Gresham — has been replaced by the popular Portland Pickles in their first season in the WCL.
As far as the team goes, it’s going to be a challenge the first couple of weeks because many players are still playing for their teams in the NCAA postseason. NCAA Regionals are beginning this week.
“It’s a matter of getting them out here. The best kids we have are playing in Regionals,” said incoming coach Darren Westergard. “We’re in smoke and mirrors mode.”
Westergard said the irony is, the Lefties want good players. Good players play on good teams. Unfortunately, some of those good teams are still playing, so you may not see some of them until mid-June or so.
Westergard is an assistant coach at Skagit Valley College, has coached in the Alaska League and with the WCL’s Bellingham Bells, so he knows this level of talented college players well.
The 2018 Lefties will come from big programs such as the University of Houston, Long Beach State, Virginia Tech, Tulane, Utah, UC-Irvine, Northern Colorado, Central Florida and Southeast Louisiana. There’s also a couple of players from nearby Seattle University — Nathan Bonck and Ethan Christianson— and kids from the Northwest Athletic Conference.
There will be one popular Leftie back from last year whose name fans might recognize — Jake Portaro of Biola University.
Beer, Civic changes
Much like last season, the construction has been fast and furious at Civic this spring, sprucing the facility up for a new season.
The biggest change is most of the couches are gone. The couches were popular, but team owner Matt Acker said they were a temporary fix and couches aren’t really designed for outdoor use. Last season, whenever it rained, the Lefties had to make sure all the couches were covered by tarps to keep them from getting ruined.
This year, that area on the third-base line has two new rows of seats. And yes, they are actually old Seattle Mariner seats.
“You have to buy these seats by the thousands, you can’t just buy 90 of them,” Acker said.
Acker was pleased with the attendance at the Lefties games last year, but wasn’t surprised. He said he and the rest of the Lefties organization put in months of work listening to the community about what people wanted and what would work in Port Angeles. That work paid off with the 1,300-per game average attendance.
“We had a pretty good pulse on the community,” he said. “I really listened to the community. Our goal was to reflect what the community wanted.”
Acker said the seats were given away to the Portland Pickles and the Pickles were looking to sell some of the extra seats they didn’t need. Several teams were interested in them, including some nearby college teams. Acker said he literally negotiated from the car driving down to Portland to get the seats for Civic Field, knowing that it would take colleges much longer to go through channels to pay for them.
“I made the deal on the road,” he said.
There will be one couch left. One of the team’s sponsors, Todd Negus, badly wanted a couch, so he gets it. The Lefties were able to find a corner where they could keep a single couch.
Several local companies such as Lakeside and Hartnagel’s contributed to the deck project, as did the city of Port Angeles. Fencing was put up around the party deck and a ramp is being built by the city from the parking lot behind the third-base dugout.
One of the biggest changes will be a lot more beer offerings. Acker said the Lefties made a big point to survey the community to see what people wanted.
“We tried to listen to the fans,” he said.
Improving the beverage selections received a lot of feedback, so this year the Lefties will provide a wide variety of beer brands at the games, including Full Sail, Sessions, Scuttlebutt, Pyramid, Seattle Cider and Rainier. There also will be packaged cocktails. And of course, they will feature the Next Door Gastropub food truck and barbecue again this season.
Acker said the schedule will be slightly expanded this year and he expects the overall attendance in the WCL will go up with the big-market Pickles joining the league.
Also this year will be the big All-Star weekend, with a home run contest on July 16 taking place at the Port Angeles waterfront and the All-Star Game at Civic on July 17.
After Thursday’s home opener, the Lefties will go on the road to play the Pickles and the Bend Elks and will return home on June 8 to begin their first Civic homestand against the Bellingham Bells and Cowlitz Black Bears.