History of the Volcanoes
The Return of Professional Baseball to the Salem Area
By Matt McMullen / Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
Photos courtesy Statesman Journal
The Salem area had patiently waited for the return of professional baseball ever since the Salem Dodgers, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, moved to Yakima, Washington in 1990. Salem had hosted professional baseball as early as 1940 and featured players such as Mike Piazza, but the departure of the Dodgers left the city without a franchise for the first time in 50 years.
That all changed when Jerry Walker and Bill Tucker uprooted the Bellingham Giants, an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, and moved them to Keizer in 1996. Volcanoes Stadium was built and ready for baseball in less than a year, and in 1997, baseball had officially returned to the Salem area. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes were born.
The Early Years
The newly minted franchise came roaring out of the gate, winning the Northwest League Championship in only their second season of existence. Salem-Keizer caught fire in July after a sluggish start, winning 14 of 18 contests to thrust itself into the pennant race. The Volcanoes remained in a neck-and-neck battle for the Western Division crown before winning their final six games to clinch a spot in the Championship Series. Future Major Leaguers Ryan Vogelsong, Nate Bump, Chris Magruder and Tony Torcato then led Salem-Keizer to a sweep of the Boise Hawks to secure the Volcanoes first ever championship. They were parading through Keizer just a few days later - the first of several to come.
Salem-Keizer was competitive the following two seasons but fell short of the postseason under manager Fred Stanley. That all changed in 2001, as the Volcanoes posted the best record in team history and took their second Northwest League Championship. Salem-Keizer finished the season 51-25 - a full 14 games ahead of second place in the Western Division. The Volcanoes started the campaign hot and finished on fire, losing back-to-back games just once over the season's final two months. Salem-Keizer again met the Boise Hawks in the Championship Series and produced a familiar result, taking the series in three games.
The franchise was new, but its accolades suggested otherwise. The Volcanoes played their first five seasons like a franchise rich in experience and tradition, claiming two titles, and the best was yet to come.
Cementing a Dynasty
Despite the early success, the Volcanoes claimed just one Western Division title from 2002-2005. Salem-Keizer made up for lost time over the next four seasons, winning four straight Western Division crowns and three Northwest League Championships.
The Volcanoes began their impending reign over the Northwest League with a stellar 2006 campaign, posting a 55-21 record and claiming yet another Championship Series from the Boise Hawks. The Volcanoes celebrated their 10th anniversary in Keizer with the most wins the Northwest League had seen in 40 years and a third championship.
The 2007 season proved to be even better as Salem-Keizer won 57 games and posted the best winning percentage in professional baseball for the second consecutive year. The Volcanoes went on to win their fourth Northwest League Championship as well, defeating the Tri-City Dust Devils in four games. The Volcanoes were named the National Minor League Team of the Year for their achievements - an unprecedented honor for a Short Season team. Closer Dan Otero, who converted 19 of 19 saves and didn't walk a single batter in 22 1/3 innings, was named Minor League Baseball's Short Season Relief Pitcher of the Year for his efforts as well.
Salem-Keizer made yet another trip to the Championship Series in 2008 but fell to the Eugene Emeralds in four games. They made up for it the following season, clinching their third title in four seasons in 2009. The Volcanoes won the Western Division by 10 games and went on to defeat the Dust Devils once again, cementing their dominance over the decade. From 2000 to 2009, Salem-Keizer won sixty percent of its regular season games - a mark that has yet to be matched by any other Northwest League team since.
A Legacy Beyond the Crater
Salem-Keizer has yet to hoist a sixth Northwest League trophy since its run of dominance through the previous decade, but that doesn't mean the Volcanoes stopped winning championships. The San Francisco Giants featured six former Volcanoes on their 2010 and 2012 championship teams and nine former Volcanoes celebrated San Francisco's 2014 championship.
In fact, former Volcanoes have gone on to win 14 World Championships, appear in 18 All-Star Games, win two Cy Young Awards, one Rookie of the Year Award and one MVP award. 87 former Volcanoes - and counting - have reached the Major Leagues.
The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes legacy grows with each and every day as baseball's brightest young stars venture to Keizer, Oregon to improve their skills on the diamond. The players and the seasons come and go, but the memories forged at Volcanoes Stadium most certainly last a lifetime.