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Chris Gilbert


‘Total Eclipse of the Park’ Lights Out in Oregon

KEIZER, Oregon—Leave it to minor league baseball to turn a once in a lifetime occurrence into a promotion. Leave it to someone like me to spend time seeing a once a lifetime occurrence at a place like a ball park. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes hosted an eclipse party today, and even got a game in.

The story goes that owners of the Short Season Northwest League team requested ahome date for August 21, 2017 two years ago. Other teams and league officials were puzzled by the idea, because Monday home games don’t usually draw very well. But the baseball owners are also astronomy fans, and knew that the first total solar eclipse in North America in 99 years was coming, and that Oregon’s capital city was right in its path.

To add the minor league flair for the dramatic, not only did the Volcanoes schedule a home game, but they would start the game at 9:30 in the morning, try to get an inning in, and then delay the game for the solar show—the first ‘eclipse delay’ in baseball history.

With minor revisions, the playbook was executed to a tee. Over five thousand tickets were pre-sold, gates opened at 5am, and there were no day of game tickets available. A $35 ticket got you into the stadium, and a complimentary set of safety glasses. For an extra ten bucks, breakfast was served (which wasn’t the greatest, but even cold pancakes and biscuits and gravy isn’t bad at a ball park). They even invited members of NASA, who made presentations between 6 and 9am, and also pointed out a few astronomical facts between innings.

The eclipse, from beginning to end, lasted just over two hours, but the part where everything went completely dark, only took two minutes. The game was scheduled to begin at 9:30am, but because of traffic, the opponents, the nearby Hillsboro Hops, were a few minutes late. The rescheduled time was 9:45, but the game didn’t actually get underway until about 9:55.

Totality happened at 10:17, and wasn’t going to wait for an inning to conclude. The Hops scored four runs in the top of the first, and at the end of half-an-inning, it was 10:04. The game was halted, and as darkness approached, the place went completely quiet. The players sat on the field in front of their dugouts and soaked it all in. It was getting darker, and colder.

Fans had been keeping an eye on the game, but were also checking the sun’s progress through their safety glasses. We saw a little bite out of the upper right corner by the moon’s shadow. The moon would slide to the left and down, and, as scheduled, completely covered the sun at 10:17. The stars came out, a phenomenon called Bailey’s Beads appeared as waves on the ground and a diamond ring-type effect next to the sun. The crowd responded with oohs and ahhs, but not like a fireworks show. Most of the two minutes was in silence, and the crowd was awestruck.

And then, it was over. Totality reverted to 99 percent again, and eventually down to zero, but it was like a movie. Once the lights came back on, the show was over. They didn’t resume the game for another half an hour to allow the players to warm up again, and during that time, you could still see most of the sun missing if you looked up and through your glasses. Few did.

The announced crowd of 5297 was the largest non Fourth of July crowd in the 20-year history of the stadium, but, as you might expect, not everyone stayed. Once the sun reappeared, it took over. With a morning game, and no overhang, there was almost no shade. Also, even in the half-inning before the delay, the rout was on. Hillsboro won it 9-5, although the hometown Volcanoes loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth.

Likely no one will remember the score, including the players, but they will remember where they were the day of the total eclipse across America. The Volcanoes called it ‘Total Eclipse of the Park’, and while the Bonnie Tyler song was never played (which was fine with me), they knew how to put on a show. They even knew to plan it two years in advance.

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