PILOT ROCK — Play ball!

Those are the words baseball and softball fans in Pilot Rock hope to hear this spring after spending the past several months repairing the Pilot Rock Little League field after a May 20, 2020, flood destroyed the field.

“It has been a tough year,” Pilot Rock Little League president Kris Thieme said. “The water was raging across the field and it was under water. It was dangerous.”

Heavy rains in May caused the East Birch Creek to overflow, not only flooding the ball field but causing damage throughout the small town south of Pendleton.

The adjacent Pilot Rock High School football field was spared, but the ball field, shared by the Little League program and the high school softball team, suffered significant damage.

“We weren’t allowed down there until mid-June,” Thieme said. “It was a mess. First COVID hit, then this. It was extremely overwhelming.”

The water from East Birch Creek tore through part of the outfield, destroyed the infield and damaged the fence. The dugouts also will need to be replaced, and a retaining wall will need to be added behind home plate.

The batting cages, concession/announcer building and a storage container also had to be cleared of mud and debris.

The field is on property owned by the school district, but is maintained by the Little League program. There was no flood insurance on the field.

With a big task at hand, the community rolled up its sleeves and got to work.

Many hands do good work

The Little League board, school administrators and community members devised a plan of action in June.

The Little League program would be in charge of the cleanup and restoration of the field, and the school district would replace the fencing.

Without insurance to fund the project, the League League board sought help. It applied for and received a $2,500 grant from Umatilla Electric Cooperative, and received a matching grant from CoBank. The board also received a $2,000 grant from Cascade Natural Gas.

“Without those grants, we’d be in a hole,” Thieme said.

Work began on the field on June 23. The debris left behind by the flood filled 13 dump trucks.

Cody Thacker, of Thacker Contracting LLC, loaned a mini excavator for the work, and Jimmy Doherty, of Eastern Oregon Waste Management, provided a dump truck. McLaughlin Landscaping and RDO Equipment also provided key pieces of equipment, while community members also lent a hand with heavy equipment.

Once the field was cleared, Paul Roe and Eric Snivley worked their magic to bring the field back to life.

Roe, the Little League maintenance manager for the past 18 years, had kept one of the most meticulous fields in the area. He and Snivley put in countless hours to grade and level the field with a small John Deere tractor. They were able to salvage most of the topsoil, saving the program money.

“Those two put in thousands of hours of their time to make this happen,” Thieme said. “Without their knowledge and time, I don’t know what we would have done. It’s unbelievable what they did.”

McLaughlin Landscaping stepped in to help fix the irrigation and underground sprinkler system.

By the end of September, the field was ready for sod, which was purchased from Buttercreek Sod in Hermiston.

A work party that included Little League board members and players, community members and employees of McLaughlin Landscaping installed the infield sod on Sept. 30. The school district paid to reseed the outfield.

“If I wanted 500 people, they would have shown up to help,” Thieme said. “The kids helped and the community came together to lend a hand. We appreciate all the help we have received.”

There still is work to be done in regards to the dugouts and fencing, but the Little League program and school district count their blessings that the electrical system that runs the scoreboard and concession/announcer building did not need to be replaced.

If you build it, they will play

The Little League field was built by the community, with community funding, in the mid-1980s. It’s built on land owned by the school district, with a small parcel of the land donated by a local farmer.

The field was strictly used by the Little League program until the high school got a softball team about 10 years later.

The field has a rich history with Little League teams that have produced district and state titles.

The Pilot Rock softball team won 2A/1A state titles in 2015 and 2016, and placed second the next two seasons.The program also has turned out several all-conference and all-state players, and has had several players move on to play in college.

The past eight seasons, the Rockets were 138-51.

Thieme said the remaining work on the facility should be finished by spring, just in time for the high school softball season and the summer Little League program.

“As long as the state and Little League allow it, we will be ready to play,” Thieme said.

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