PENDLETON — For some Bucks, baseball is a two-season sport.
Pendleton baseball fans can expect to see some familiar faces back on the field starting during Friday’s three-day Ashlee Hodgen Memorial Tournament. Kyle Field, Cooper Roberts, Tucker Zander, Ty Beers, Tanner Sweek, Curtis Simons and Blake Swanson of the Buckaroos and Logan Weinke of Pilot Rock are all joining the Pendleton-based Hodgen Distributing team.
The team got together for their season’s first practice on Wednesday, and spent the day gearing up for their weekend-long tournament. Summer ball teams from Hermiston, Pasco, La Grande, Baker City, Vancouver, Meridian, and Clark County will also compete this weekend.
The tournament is in its fourth year, and celebrates the life and legacy of Ashlee Hodgen, an avid Buckaroo athletics supporter who passed away in July of 2015.
“What Ashlee loved was to watch the kids play baseball,” said tournament director and Hodgen Distributing assistant coach Travis Zander. “We’re playing five games in three days. Ashlee was all about inclusion — she wanted to see every kid on the roster playing the game.”
Hodgen played softball, volleyball, and basketball for the Echo Cougars until she graduated in 2009. Her father Mike Hodgen works with Pendleton’s varsity baseball team on pitching and field maintenance, and far more often than not, Ashlee could be seen right alongside him.
“She was loyal,” Mike Hodgen said. “Even though she graduated from Echo, she was a true green and gold Buckaroo. In her eyes, a Buck never had a bad day. She was always positive. As a coach, I’d always talk to her about my concerns with the team after practice, and she was always quick to tell me that they were trying their best.”
Gate proceeds from the tournament will go toward the Ashlee Hodgen Scholarship fund — an award given to selected Pendleton baseball and softball athletes, and one student from Echo High School every year.
“We want to keep her name alive,” Zander said. “She did a lot for Pendleton baseball.”
This year is Mike Hodgen’s 44th as an assistant coach for Hodgen Distributing, and Zander’s 19th. Wes Armstrong is entering his fourth season as the team’s head coach.
Several players on the Hodgen Distributing roster are coming off a historic season on Pendleton’s varsity team. The Bucks finished with an 18-9 overall record and a slew of accomplishments, including taking the top spot in the Intermountain Conference and playing in the 5A state championship game in Keizer, where they fell 11-4 to the Central Panthers. It was their first title game appearance since 1992.
And for those players, summer ball is a means to improve their game before the next varsity season rolls around.
“For myself and most of my team, summer ball is a way to work on stuff that we didn’t get to polish (with the Bucks),” said Field, Pendleton’s sophomore third baseman. “I want to work on my pitching. I feel like that could be a strong suit of mine if I keep working at it.”
Hodgen Distributing will kick off their season with a tournament game against the La Grande Legacy Legends on Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Bob White Field. On Saturday, they’ll face Clark County’s Hammertime at 12:30 p.m., followed by a game against Hermiston at 8 p.m.
From then on, the traveling tournament team will play a game every weekend until July 18.
“We’ve got a lot of hard chargers out here,” Field said of his summer team. “These kids just want to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”