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Of Cabbages and Kings: It’s back to school for the Boys of Summer

Every at-bat and every ground ball is an audition in minor league baseball.

Published on August 27, 2014 9:01AM

Zach Esquerra hits a single for the Hillsboro Hops vs. the Spokane Indians at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.


Zach Esquerra hits a single for the Hillsboro Hops vs. the Spokane Indians at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.

Watching the players of the Hillsboro Hops warm up, I tried to imagine what they were thinking Sunday afternoon.

The Hops are a short season Class A minor league team.

Many of these guys are heading back to college. Their moment as Boys of Summer, as Roger Kahn called baseball players, was coming to a close. Many of them will be sitting in classrooms.

The season would end with some of them closer to moving up the ladder to a AA team and others at the end of the line. So the Sun-drenched afternoon was a bittersweet occasion as the young men limbered up as they prepared to meet the Spokane Indians.

The Hops roster lists players from colleges as varied as College of the Ozarks, Cal Poly, University of Pittsburgh and Oregon State. While the Hops had two prospects from baseball-rich Dominican Republic, the Indians had three from the D.R. and two Venezuelans.

When you go to a minor league game, you have to remind yourself that it has a different rhythm than “the show,” Major League Baseball. Every at-bat and every ground ball is an audition – duly noted by scouts with their notebooks, stop watches and speed guns.

The Hops’ starting pitcher gave away too many hits and runs. But his team’s bats responded by the middle innings – only to have the Indians pull it out with a 7-4 win.

Ron Tonkin Field, where the Hops play, has to be the best eating place in all of minor league baseball. With craft beers and vintage wines, the Willamette Valley is apparent. The Zenner hot dog is fabulous. I tried the caprese sandwich and found it to be fabulous.

Everyday Music is one of my cheap thrills. On Sandy Boulevard in Portland, this supermarket sized space contains CDs and vinyl records of all musical genres.

While there last Saturday evening, I picked up a CD of Jerry Lee Lewis’ Sun Records sessions. Sun Records was the tiny Memphis studio that recorded Elvis Presley’s first hits, early Johnny Cash and early Carl Perkins.

While Elvis has been the subject of numerous movies and Mick Jagger recently produced a bio-pic of James Brown, I doubt there will be a tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis, even though he is an essential cog in early rock ’n roll. The dark cloud over Lewis was his marriage to a 13-year-old girl. That’s when his soaring career stopped. Today Lewis is on his eighth marriage, living in Memphis.

While Elvis’ records are highly produced and smooth as silk, there is an edge and a driving rhythm to Lewis’ work. His piano playing was phenomenal. At Sun Studios you may see the piano that Lewis played and the cigar burn he left on one of the keys.

As we’ve learned in the death of Robin Williams, the onstage exuberance of a performer often masks a frightful insecurity. The life of James Brown, as depicted in the new release Get On Up is painful. Brown emerged from a childhood that would have shattered most people and transmuted the knowledge he gained into an unparalleled career.

Few of us saw Brown perform, but you may see him in abundance on You Tube. Seeing the T.A.M.I. Show appearance is like getting a shot of adrenalin. Mick Jagger said the Rolling Stones’ mistake was in following Brown on that show. It is depicted in the movie.

I’ve often thought that well-adjusted people don’t create great art. That’s one way of looking at James Brown’s operatic performances.

— S.A.F.

Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro has the best eating in any minor league baseball park.


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