Justin Curtis Ermer LaccheSalem-Keizer Volcanoes Hall of Fame, Class of 2019A tribute and dedication to Jerry, Lisa & Mickey Walker: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Ownership
Justin Curtis Ermer Lacche
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Hall of Fame, Class of 2019
A tribute and dedication to Jerry, Lisa & Mickey Walker: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Ownership
Justin Lacche: President-Emeritus: Justin Lacche has been an executive for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes since 2010 and on-field representative of Volcanoes Batting Practice for Charity since 2012. Lacche directly credits the Volcanoes Ownership group of Jerry and Lisa Walker, and their son, Mickey Walker -- all of whom Lacche calls, "One of the greatest Pacific Northwest sports ownership groups in the last 50 years." Read Lacche's tribute to the Walker family below:
KEIZER - Life is good for everyone connected with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The team already has clinched a spot in the 2019 Northwest League Playoffs. Plenty of Volcanoes alumni are helping the San Francisco Giants make a National League Wild Card push. Volcanoes alumni already have helped the Giants, this decade, win three Worlds Series and an NL Wild Card game. The Volcanoes have five NWL pennants and have been in seven total NWL championship series.
In the entire history of Oregon professional sports teams, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes are part of the most elite franchise discussion. Behind it all is the Walker family: Jerry and Lisa and their son, Mickey, who day-in and day-out since the 1997 season, have given fans in the Mid-Valley countless reasons to celebrate.
Behind all the trophies, great memories at the ballpark, the extremely talented players, dedicated coaches and hard-working front office staff, is where our story begins: How the Walker family believed in Salem, Keizer and surrounding communities. The Walkers have opened so many doors to hundreds of people, myself included.
There any many stories to share - more than any one article could do justice to summarize. Today, I'll share one that personally exemplifies the Walkers: The first time I personally met them, which coincidently, was about 10 years to the week from when this article is being published.
It was the summer of 2010 and my attempts to get professional baseball out of my system were failing miserably. I deeply missed the game. When I was a young man, I first was part of the Montreal Expos organization, which then became the Washington National organization. When I became a father, it was time to settle down: First going to graduate school at Oregon State University, then working for a large athletic company in Beaverton and Hillsboro. Leading up to the 2010 season, the Volcanoes were in their second NWL dynastic era, and everyone north of I-5 was glued to the team. There was no Hillsboro Hops -- the Hops were the Yakima Bears.
Like many things in life, significant personal events start small. I was making my daughter her dinner, and talking about my time in Minor League Baseball. She innocently said, "Daddy, I wish I could have seen you in baseball." I don't know if it was the way she said it, or maybe I began to feel in the second stage of life the game had passed me by. That night, after my daughter fell asleep, I went online and emailed Jerry and Lisa. Within a day, despite all the time-demands of a Northwest League homestand, the Walkers invited me to Volcanoes Stadium.
To tour the front office of Volcanoes Stadium is to see the winning mix of championships, community commitment and a Minor League living monument of gifted players and coaches, who all played professionally and some having storied careers in The Show.
Mickey wasn't much older than my daughter; he was a poised young man, polite and carried the quiet confidence that commanded the room. Lisa was both a strong business mind and a compassionate community-driven leader: Someone you could talk complicated business opportunities with and also ask for advice on being a parent.
When I met Jerry for the first time, it reminded me very much of when I first met, in person, a Major League baseball player: Bruce Bochte of the Seattle Mariners.
I was born in the mid-1970s when it was still common for starting Major League baseball players in many smaller markets to live among working families. Bochte and his family went to same community church in Woodinville, Washington. He was a kind man, a strong man and always had all of us children over for an annual fall barbecue.
Make no mistake: Bruce Bochte commanded the room. Jerry Walker commanded the room. As we went to lunch down the street from Volcanoes Stadium, I understood very quick why the Walker family is one of the great Pacific Northwest ownership groups of the last half-century.
To this day, that first 90-minute lunch was one of the most informative sports business experiences of my career. I came into that meeting with a baseball background and my MBA from Oregon State University, but it took a whole two minutes to realize I needed to listen and completely absorb all that Jerry Walker was sharing with me. With my notepad in one hand, and sandwich and fries in other, I began to learn the heart of what makes a successful Minor League franchise.
"Baseball is a game of stamina. It's not like football where you can maybe go undefeated and win a championship - baseball is about the long play," Walker said. "There are ups and downs. The key is to be grounded in personal responsibility and always focused on delivering to our customers, our fans, our players, coaches, staff and all the community. Now, that's easy on Opening Day and if you are in the playoffs. The real key is on a rainy off-season November morning when you are out in the community meeting with our fan base and sponsors and truly listening to their feedback and what they expect for the upcoming season. That is the bond the Volcanoes has with the community.
Jerry and I talked baseball economics, the differences and similarities of Major League economics versus Minor League economics - and not just the scale with respect to the money, but the minutia of both the rules and opportunities partnering with the big club.
On the subject of players, and how many Salem-Keizer Volcanoes alumni were doing so well on the 2010 San Francisco Giants, Jerry said this, "Of course, we're proud seeing former Volcanoes in The Show. It's the American dream to start off in Little League and play well in your amateur career, get drafted, come to the Volcanoes, in our case, and go all the way to the San Francisco Giants. For Lisa and I and the entire Volcanoes organization and host families, we also look at it as an important responsibility. It isn't just that the Giants trust us with players: Our players' families trust us with their sons, grandsons, cousins and nephews. Our players, themselves, trust us with the start of their professional careers. That's what makes the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes truly a family. Trust and results."
With that, Jerry Walker looked directly at me and said, "take the rest of the week. Send Lisa and I a proposal for a 30-day project that you will own end-to-end. Minor League is about opportunities: Nothing in baseball is given - everything is earned: If you can deliver something that builds trust in this organization, you'll get your shot."
I went home and told my daughter about the whole day. She immediately said, "Daddy, stop talking and get to work…after you bring me my ice cream."
That night I couldn't sleep. I was so energized by that lunch with Jerry Walker that I wrote a complete marketing plan that if the 2010 Giants made the playoffs how we could re-connect the community with every Volcanoes alumni who made it happen. And even if the team fell a little short, we'd still build on that bond.
The 2010 San Francisco Giants did indeed make the playoffs, and the rest, as they say, is history. That fall, my daughter poured apple juice on my head because she saw on television Volcanoes alumni celebrate a World Series championship.
Here we sit at the end of the decade. The 2019 Salem-Keizer Volcanoes are assured a playoff spot. The 2019 San Francisco Giants, already as a franchise with three World Championships and the 2016 NL Wild Card this decade,
From a baseball perspective, one could rightfully say we hit the lottery - all the wonderful success and championship memories. For me, I do feel I hit the baseball lottery, but it's because 10 seasons-plus working for Jerry, Lisa and Mickey Walker: A family who truly cares about this community, because they truly are this community.
Justin Lacche is President (Emeritus) of the Volcanoes. A professional cricket player, Lacche has 3,000+ career runs in 15 seasons, winning two cricket championships. Lacche is a goalie for the Portland Sasquatch (USA Team Handball) with more than 350 career victories. Lacche was the starting Quarterback for Portland, Oregon during the Arena International League's USA Barnstorming Tour in 2019. During the 2010s decade, Lacche collected more than 100 Volcanoes BP hits for charity.