By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
For 22 seasons, Rick Nelson has not missed a Salem-Keizer Volcanoes home game.
But like all baseball streaks, that must come to an end, as Nelson is retiring as president of stadium operations at the end of the 2018 season.
Nelson has been friends with Jerry Walker, owner of the Volcanoes, for 42 years. The two met in the circulation department at the Everett Herald.
After 20 years in the newspaper industry, Nelson left his job as circulation director at a newspaper in California to join Walker with the Bellingham Giants.
He then came with Jerry and his wife Lisa to Keizer in October of 1996 to meet with contractors, architects and city officials about building a new stadium.
“We liked this location because of the proximity to I-5 and the amount of vehicles going by and the exposure that we get,” Nelson said. “The city was looking for a catalyst to get Keizer Station going. By bringing a stadium in here, we brought in all of the infrastructure for Keizer Station. The water, the sewer, the power, to make that happen was because we were here. That’s why the city invested in it and they’ve been great partners.”
Work on the stadium began in early January of 2017 and was completed in June in time for the start of the baseball season.
However, the first game was rained out. There have only been three other rain outs since.
“It was done and ready to go and God stepped in and said no, you’re going to wait one more day,” Nelson said. “We had over 4,000 people here that night but they came back the next night and we did it again.”
The Volcanoes play 76 games, 38 in Keizer and 38 on the road, in 79 days each summer.
As president of stadium operations, there isn’t much that Nelson doesn’t do.
“This is Single A short season baseball so we all wear many hats here,” Nelson said. “It’s a team effort and if it needs to be done we step in and get it done. My job here is to make sure that the fans that come out have a good time.”
And the work doesn’t stop after the summer baseball season. Volcanoes Stadium is also home to Corban University’s baseball program and hosts events like the OSAA state baseball championships and RV and car shows year round.
There are also renewals for season tickets and marketing to take care of.
Since the San Francisco Giants Single A short season affiliate moved to Keizer, the Volcanoes have won five Northwest League championships—1998, 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
More than 100 Volcano players have reached the big leagues where the Giants have won three World Series—2010, 2012 and 2014.
Nelson has rings from all eight titles.
“We’ve had great coaches,” Nelson said. “The Giants are a great organization.”
Retiring will allow Nelson to take a summer vacation with his family for the first time in 22 years and give him more time to spend in Dublin, Ireland, where is daughter Zoe, a 2013 McNary graduate, is a veterinary student.
It will also drastically shorten his wife’s commute, who as an employee of Alaska Airlines, has driven over 400,000 miles commuting back and forth to work from Keizer over the past 22 years.
The Nelson’s have a floating home and a sailboat on the Columbia River about three miles east of the airport.
Nelson will miss the people he interacts with each season the most.
“A lot of the fans have become friends of mine,” he said. “We’re basically putting on a show 38 times a year. It’s our job to make that happen and have the players and the fans have a good time here.”
But Nelson isn’t completely going away.
“I’m still going to be around,” he said. “It’s not like I’m walking away. I’m just not going to be here as often. I’ll come in if they need something because after 22 years of gaining knowledge of what’s gone on here, there’s still a lot to share.”