Mark Lanman has witnessed firsthand the support the La Grande fan base has provided to the high school baseball program.
Lanman was the Tigers baseball head coach in 2007 when La Grande defeated Newport for its first state championship. He was in the stands Saturday, along with a large throng of blue-clad Tiger faithful, as La Grande won its second state championship, 8-5, over Henley.
Lanman wasn’t at all surprised by the large crowd, which outnumbered the Henley fans almost 3-to-1 despite having to travel about 300 miles to the game. He noted that for La Grande to bring back the championship trophy is important for the community.
“I’m so proud of those guys,” he said. “I’m proud of the kids. From a community aspect, it just shows what support the baseball program has.”
Matt Duncan, senior officer of the La Grande Police Department who was among the fans, concurred about the importance of the state championship for the community.
“This is great for the community. It shows the state that there’s more than west of the Cascades, and that there’s great sports being played everywhere within the state,” he said.
Duncan also said he wasn’t surprised by the crowd at Volcanoes Stadium. If anything, what shocked him happened the day before.
“(Friday) morning I was at (the team’s) sendoff on Adams Avenue, and I was astounded by the amount of people who showed up,” he said. “It proves that La Grande has a good sense of community.”
If anyone was surprised, though, it may have been the players themselves.
“It was unreal,” Jake Workinger said. “I can’t believe the amount of people who traveled all the way from La Grande to come support us.”
Zack Jacobs concurred, noting the size of the crowd that was still taking in the moment outside the stadium almost an hour after the game.
“It’s an absolutely phenomenal moment for our team, our coaches (and) our community,” he said. “Look around. There are probably 100 people (still) here from La Grande, (some) without kids on the team, just reliving the moment. It’s awesome for our team just to set that bar back up there. It’s sweet.”
Mel Frederick, grandfather of LHS senior Chance Frederick, has lived in La Grande since 1971. He said the support is something he’s seen a lot through the years.
“I think La Grande always likes champions,” he said. “It’s been few and far between, but I’m glad that this group came this far and did this. It’s wonderful for the community, and we did have a lot of support (at the title game). And as a long time resident, I’m very proud. Very proud.”
The support was such that, prior to the start of the game, LHS head coach Parker McKinley felt the need for his players to acknowledge the fans who made the trip. The team stood in front of the dugout about 30 minutes prior to first-pitch to applaud the fans.
“I started seeing the number of people in the stands and the support and the crowd we had, and before we started the game, I felt like it was important that the kids recognize that and be thankful for that. We wanted the crowd to know that we appreciate what they do,” he said. “The community of La Grande supports its youth programs endlessly.”
The Tigers responded to this support the best way: they won the championship.
“To have an outpouring of love from our community and to be able to respond in this kind of way is a cherry on top,” La Grande Assistant Principal Scott Carpenter said. “It’s the best way to finish off a year that has been so much about building and rejuvenating what’s been great about La Grande High School for a long, long time.”
Dan and Barb Bell, grandparents of LHS senior Brad Bell, were also in attendance. Having traveled throughout the state and the Northwest watching grandchildren at events for about two decades, Barbara Bell said the outpouring is no surprise, either.
“In a small community like La Grande, there are strong families,” she said. “All of this doesn’t start on the baseball field. It truly starts in the home. And it’s very evident by the number of families that did make this long trek to the west side of the state (Saturday). It’s very exciting.”
Dan Bell added that a state championship gives a community a sense of
“They (have) supported the boys throughout the years in their donations and their drive for just winning it all, and it is evident (Saturday),” he said. “All these boys left it all out there on the field.”