Portland Rockets first baseman Geoff Bowers makes a catch as Cam McGlothlin of the Muncie Chiefs runs down the baseline during their game on?Tuesday evening at Portland Memorial Park’s Runkle-Miller Field. Bowers went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in his return to the Rockets, who beat the Chiefs 13-6. (The Commercial Review/Chris Schanz)
Portland Rockets first baseman Geoff Bowers makes a catch as Cam McGlothlin of the Muncie Chiefs runs down the baseline during their game on?Tuesday evening at Portland Memorial Park’s Runkle-Miller Field. Bowers went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in his return to the Rockets, who beat the Chiefs 13-6. (The Commercial Review/Chris Schanz)
The mercury read 82 degrees. The sun shined bright all day, and the occasional cloud made an appearance.

Balls were whizzing through the air, stopped only by smacking leather. The crack of ball hitting wood echoed from the corner of Western Avenue and Blaine Pike.

Soon after, the most wonderful phrase in all of sports was uttered.

“Play ball!”

It was a beautiful day in Portland, indeed.

Sports made a return to Jay County on Tuesday as the Portland Rockets hosted the Muncie Chiefs, a 19-and-younger American Legion team made up mostly of Delaware County kids.

It was a sight to behold.

It was a much-needed reprieve for a country, county and city which had been deprived of athletic competitions for more than three months.

And damn, it felt good to be watching live sports again.

Fans came out in droves to Portland Memorial Park’s Runkle-Miller Field to watch Portland’s boys of summer play ball.

The “Bleacher Creatures,” the “Brew Crew,” “Mitch’s Misfits” — or whatever they dub themselves — were as vocal and chipper as ever down the left field line, undoubtedly lubed up by a beer or two.

The area around the backstop was peppered with people on the bleachers, in lawn chairs and golf carts. Some were wearing masks, but most weren’t, and that’s OK.

Down the right field line near the Rocket Lunching Pad, more fans grabbed a seat to fill the void of their sports-deprived spring.

Fans even parked themselves in chairs under the massive scoreboard behind the outfield fence in right center. Even more set up shop behind the fence in dead center.

Brad Miller made his rounds selling 50/50 tickets. Kristie Delaney was in her sanctuary that is the Lunching Pad.

It was a beautiful day in Portland, indeed.

The Rockets’ dugout was buzzing before the game even started. Seventeen players were gearing up for a game that should have been played three weeks ago if not for a worldwide pandemic.

One veteran Portland player told me he was as anxious as he was as a teenager.

On this spring evening, there finally was baseball to be played.

Muncie jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning.

The next frame, Portland fans were treated to their first rocket of the season as 20-year-old newcomer Patrick Mills blasted a pitch over the fence in right field.

The Chiefs nabbed a 5-1 lead in the third inning. In the fourth, Portland’s native son, Mitch Waters, needed 16 pitches for a perfect inning of relief, which included two strikeouts.

Mitch’s Misfits — err, the Bleacher Creatures, or whatever — were in heaven at the sight.

Portland scored a run in each of the fifth and sixth innings to trail 5-3. In the seventh, the Rockets waited no longer to get the offense going.

Mills hit a game-tying two-run single. Geoff Bowers — a Portland stalwart in years past — drove in a run as well. Then Justin Greene ripped a bases-clearing double down the right field line.

In seemingly the blink of an eye, Portland was ahead 11-5.

It was a beautiful day in Portland, indeed.

The Rockets scored a couple more runs, and the Chiefs added a run as well.

Final score, Rockets win, 13-7.

Meanwhile, Portland’s pitchers were dealing.

Starter Chandler Jacks, a Jay County High School product, allowed five runs — only one earned — on five hits in three innings. Two Rocket errors aided the Chiefs in reaching home.

Waters (one inning), Pavel Strain (two), Cameron Gwin (two) and Ian Schilling (one) only allowed four hits over the next six frames. All five Portland hurlers struck out at least two (13 total), and Strain fanned four.

Mills ended his Rocket debut 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Caleb Mealy was 3-for-3, Chase Ruiz was 3-for-5 and Bowers 2-for-4. Portland racked up 15 total hits on the night, only three of which were for extra bases.

Stellar pitching down the stretch. Timely hitting at the same time. Vintage Portland Rocket baseball.

For a city and county desperately in need of a reason to get outside and shake the quarantine blues, even for just one night, it was a cause for celebration.

Sports are back.

It was a beautiful day in Portland, indeed.