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WALLA WALLA - On a cool Wednesday afternoon, Borleske Stadium was all but empty.
A few young men practiced their batting and fielding, but the 85-year-old blue stands stood silent, waiting. Only a few diehards milled around them on Wednesday's media day and open house, anticipating the opening pitch at 7:05 p.m. Friday against the Corvallis Knights.
Because on Friday, those stands will be full of Walla Walla Sweets fans, ready for another summer of West Coast League collegiate baseball.
And with 33 home games in their 60-game schedule, Walla Walla will see its share of Sweet action.
Players and coaches are eager to get started.
"We've got a good group of guys and we're excited to take it out there," said field manager J.C. Biagi. "We're excited to have a good time. We've put a lot of effort and practice in and we want to get on the field."
This is Biagi's second year with the Sweets, which is only in its second year as a team. He's joined by assistant coach Dave Meliah this year. Meliah is also the head coach for the Walla Walla Community College baseball team, which sends four of its 2011 players across town to the Sweets.
It's been easier to bring in players as a second-year organization, said Sweets general manager Zachary Fraser.
"We had a good team last year and we got hot at the end," Fraser said. "This year, we've identified what we want as a program and the kinds of players we want to compete with us.
"Last year, it was all new and the coaching staff and I didn't necessarily know what each was looking for. We had the ability this year to collaborate and identify what we wanted as a team."
That doesn't mean some of last year's Sweets won't be back at Borleske.
A host of previous players, including Walla Walla Community College graduate Ryan Richardson, will be taking the field.
"Last year was pretty good for our first year," Richardson said. "We had a lot of turnout. We had a rough start - As a team, we want to play hard and win some ballgames."
As an experienced Sweet, Richardson, a Spokane native, anticipates showing the new guys around.
"I want to show them to places to go and places to eat and hang out," he said. "Last year, I made some great friends and had good teammates, and now there are new guys."
That's fine by those new guys.
Trent Allianic, Kalani Brackenridge and Geoff Soja may have had the longest trips to Walla Walla.
Allianic and Brackenridge are from Hawaii, while Soja arrived from New York.
"When my coach first told me about Walla Walla, I didn't know what to expect," Soja said. "I knew it was on the West Coast, and I'd heard great things about it. And it was really nice when I arrived."
Although Soja is pleased with the weather - it's warmer than New York and less humid than Wisconsin, where he played summer ball last year - Allianic has been cold.
"I'm working out every day in sleeves and the guys are making fun of me," he said. "It's colder and the air is thinner here."
The pitching pair is also looking forward to experiencing Walla Walla. They've both been sold on some restaurants around town.
"I want to try a sweet onion," Soja said. "I heard that there are a lot of great places to eat around here."
Great food, yes, but also good baseball.
"I want to play baseball and fill the seats," Allianic said.
Derek Peterson, a Gonzaga pitcher, is in his first summer of collegiate baseball and is visiting Walla Walla for the second time.
"I'm loving it so far," Peterson said. "This is a good environment. I'm looking forward to this weekend."
Though Peterson is used to playing for college and alumni crowds, he's ready to have kids running around.
"I'll make the adjustment," he said. "I'll have to be on my best behavior."
And there will be kids around.
Walla Walla fans Brandon and Emma Kubrock and 4-year-old daughter Piper have half-season tickets.
For Piper, it's all about team mascot Sweet Lou.
She raced the giant, walking onion last year in the outfield.
She beat him, she said.
Her parents also enjoy the games.
"It's a lot of fun to come out," Brandon Kubrock said. "Even if they lost, it was a lot of fun to watch."
And it was OK when the weather didn't cooperate, whether it was over 100 degrees or if they needed winter wear.
"It's nice to have something to do," Emma said. "I came to some of the afternoon games, even though they were hot, and we came out once with our winter coats and blankets."
But there won't be any afternoon games this year, said Fraser.
"This community, unlike places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, isn't used to skipping out on work for four hours to watch a baseball game," Fraser said. "We have a comfortable stadium, but it's not comfortable when it's 100 degrees outside, and we used fan feedback to move all the games to the evening."
It was a good stadium last year, and fan feedback and additional capital have helped spruce up the park even more. There are additional theater seats behind home plate and added bleachers in the outfield, and the reserved boxes have been enhanced with painted wood partitions.
No matter what the 0-0 baseball season holds, Fraser wants to see smiles.
"Once the games start, we don't have any control," he said. "But we can control how fans are treated by the staff, the quality of the concessions and the event itself. We want to make sure everyone's having fun."
A lifetime baseball player, manager and fan, Fraser takes his job seriously.
"I remember the games I went to as a kid, for the Rochester Red Wings at Silver Stadium (New York), with my dad and grandpa," he said. "Those are very vivid memories for me, and I want kids at Borleske to have those same experiences. A few years ago, everyone wanted to get rid of Borleske, and 15 years from now, I want to be here celebrating it's 100-year anniversary."
-See U-B video of the Sweets practicing and at media day at http://union-bulletin.com/page/video.-
Walla Walla Sweets
7:05 p.m. Friday
vs. the Corvallis Knights
at Borleske Stadium
$6 for general admission