From all over Portland, locals who have watched the Portland Pickles fight rivals through the summer season packed Walker Stadium. Tickets were sold out, and over 1,000 die-hard fans were eager to cheer on the young team. With his home just across the river in Vancouver, Washington, UP senior baseball player Jace McKinney was ready to play for the South Division Series title.
Not all UP athletes take the summer off from their sport. Many are presented with unique opportunities to play and train with local and national teams. This past summer, Taryn Ries, Jace McKinney and Benji Michel traded in their Pilot purple for new experiences that turned them into year-long athletes.
McKinney was no stranger to the baseball scene when he was awarded All-WCL Honorable Mention while playing for the Portland Pickles this summer. The WCL consists of 11 teams of off-season college players in the Pacific Northwest and some parts of Canada.
McKinney had played two prior seasons with the Longview, Washington Black Bears before moving to the Portland Pickles, an amatuer collegiate baseball team, to play first, second, and third base and right field.
“I like outfield best,” McKinney said. “I can use my speed and it’s a lot more fun than playing first.”
The baseball coaching staff connections with WCL coaches made it easy to get McKinney in touch with the Pickles. He played alongside Division I rivals from the Pac-12 Conference and West Coast Conference teams alike.
Back at the end of the summer, after fighting for 11 innings, the Portland Pickles lost to Corvallis Knights in the final game of the South Division Series. Although they didn’t win the series, McKinney formed a bond with players from other schools and with fans who plan on cheering him on in his Portland Pilots jersey.
McKinney wasn’t the only UP athlete playing over the summer. Sophomore soccer player Taryn Ries first heard about from assistant coach Dominic Doty. This past summer, Ries played in Beaverton, Oregon for her first season with the Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club Diamonds.
“I think getting touches on the ball over the summer was important and getting to try new things in a different environment,” Ries said of the experience. “We have a fitness packet but it's good to play soccer, too, so you get a balance of it all.”
Ries explained that it was more laid back than the regular Pilot’s season and less intense, but the coaches sent out a short roster for games. WPSL has teams all over the country, and the players are from college and high school, alike.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” Ries said. “But the concept of playing for a team, I would want to do it again next summer, whether it was here or somewhere else across the country.”
Another UP athlete, junior soccer player Benji Michel, trained all summer with team U-23 Timbers and various Major League Soccer teams. The hard work paid off; he started this fall season with big game-winning goals against and Cal Poly.
Michel got his spot when the Timber PDL coach came to campus and asked men’s soccer head coach, Nick Carlin-Voigt, if Michel could play for the U-23 Timbers team during the summer. The U-23 Timbers is a development team for the Portland Timbers Division 1 and 2 teams.
Carlin-Voigt got him into contact with the MLS coaches to train as a practice player on their professional teams. Michel spent one week each with the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers First Team and New York Red Bulls. His most valuable experience was the three weeks he spent training with Minnesota United, Michel said.
“The head coach was my old coach at Orlando City,” Michel said. “Going there, I felt confident that I knew him and aware of the drills he does.”
This was his third summer playing for the U-23 Timbers team and his second year getting touches with MLS teams.
Michel found it difficult finding chemistry with new teams each week. He didn’t know their skill, and they weren’t aware of his speed and agility. It was important to him to train with professional teams and staff, and learn from the players and coaches. Without school to worry about, he was able to focus fully on soccer.
For Michel, soccer isn’t just for the season. It’s a 24-hour, year-long commitment of body and mind.
“You basically commit your whole day to soccer,” Michel said of his time in Minnesota. “I would commit five hours every morning, but it’s the recovery after training, as well … It wasn’t only time devoted at the facility, but also at home doing the extra work to make sure your body is ready for the next day.”
McKinney, Ries and Michel hang up their jerseys for the summer to pick up the purple again this fall. The lessons they learned playing for other teams will carry over to their seasons as Pilots this year.
“I feel ready coming into the season,” McKinney said. “I had some success this summer, so my confidence is back. I didn’t get a chance to get out of baseball so my mindset is still there and I’m ready to go.”