By James Day
“What a great day to be out playing baseball,” said Lou Tiller as he surveyed a clover-infested infield at a junior varsity field at Silverton High on a 70-degree July evening. The air was still, with the only breeze manufactured by maintenance crews dragging the all-dirt infields on the adjacent softball fields.
Tiller, 64, a retired math teacher, is a member of the Silverton Red Sox, an adult baseball team that plays in a mid-Willamette Valley league. Tiller, who turns 65 on Aug. 1, has been involved with adult baseball since the early 2000s. And while a shoulder injury no longer allows him to throw with his right arm he has turned himself into a lefty, although his throwing proficiency limits him to first base duty.
“Playing with these guys and competing against younger athletes gives me much to look forward to each week,” he said.
Also bolstering Tiller’s team spirit is that son Carl has turned 40 and now is a member of the Red Sox. And on this night, when the Red Sox faced the Beavers, a team consisting mainly of Albany and Corvallis players, Tiller’s grandson also was on hand in the stands.
The Red Sox were formed in 1992 by Bill Gawlowski, who now lives in Bend. The team lost its first 12 games, with Gawlowski fondly recalling the shutout that crafty left-hander Doug Zade, a long-time Silverton teacher, turned in to break the streak.
The team always has had a bit of an educator slant to its roster, with former Silverton High Principal Mark Hannan and his brother John serving stints as well as long-time Silver Falls School District administrator Kevin Palmer, teacher and coach Terry Manning, current Foxes softball coach Ralph Cortez and Don Von Weller, a key cog in the success of Foxes football by virtue of his development of freshman players.
“The reason I went on to play and manage for nine years was my love of the game,” Gawlowski noted in an email exchange. Gawlowski lovingly captured the first nine years of the program in a scrapbook that includes stats and game stories published in the local paper.
“Love of the game” comes up often when you talk to the players. Palmer admits that when he and his family evacuated in the face of the 2020 wildfires he brought his pitching and first baseman’s gloves with him.
“Why do I keep playing?” said Steve Lundeberg of the Beavers, who like Palmer is 30 years into his adult baseball career. “I’ve just always loved playing baseball, just as much now as when I was seven years old on my first team. It feels like a real blessing to be almost 60 and still have the opportunity to play baseball in an organized and pretty competitive league and also go to national tournaments in Phoenix and Las Vegas.”
Teams in the mid-valley league play a summer season against area foes, with members of the Red Sox and the Beavers often joining forces for those tournaments Lundeberg mentioned. And it’s a bit of a grueling vacation, with teams playing six games in four days — and just one jersey in the duffel bag.
“It’s mostly the friendships,” said David Titchenal, 56, of the Red Sox. “It’s our own little kid club in the dugout. And many of us hang out in the ‘offseason,’ too. Also the fun of playing positions I’ve always enjoyed. It’s definitely less about competing and trying to win, but I think I’ve always been kinda like that personality wise.”
In the Red-Beavers game on July 7 Titchenal both caught and pitched. Watching him behind the plate warming up the pitcher with his cap off and his salt-and-pepper hair in clear view his uniform number, 50, somehow made perfect sense.
Aches and pains are definitely a challenge for these players. In addition to Lou Tiller’s shoulder injury, Titchenal has “tennis elbow,” Lundeberg is battling an arthritic throwing shoulder and Palmer has had a knee replacement and back surgery. At the July 7 game he injured his elbow pitching in the first inning and is awaiting an MRI.
“Baseball has just always been my favorite sport/activity,” Palmer said. “I love the game, and we’ve always had a great bunch of guys on the team. I can’t imagine NOT playing, so will just keep doing it until I physically can’t anymore.”
For the record, the Beavers downed the Red Sox 14-4 on July 7. But the outcome wasn’t the most important piece of the puzzle. Approximately half the players of each team headed out to the Wooden Nickel for beer and a post-game snack.
One Town, One Team
Those involved with the current Silverton Red Sox team made it clear that the only possible nickname for the team was the Red Sox. That’s because a semi-pro team of that name played in town from 1937-54, as immortalized in a Silverton Mural Society display on the side of the Ace Hardware store. The team was owned by Tom Yawkey, who also owned the Boston Red Sox and the lumber mill at Silver Falls. Legend has it that the better the player you were the cushier the mill job you had. The most famous alum of the Silverton Red Sox was infielder Johnny Pesky, a Portland native who eventually played ten years in the big leagues – he spent three years in the military during World War II. Pesky led the American League in hits three times and also had a lengthy coaching and managerial career. He was invited to be grand marshal of the Homer Davenport parade in the early 2000s but was unable to make the trip. He died in 2012 at the age of 93.