Portland Rockets bring community’s longtime tradition of amateur baseball into 63rd season

PORTLAND, Ind. (WPTA21) – One of Indiana’s longest continuing amateur baseball franchises began its 63rd season Sunday. The Portland Rockets played the South Bend Royals in a double-header in front of many fans following the opening ceremony. “It’s just good ole’ fashioned baseball,” assistant coach Samantha Thomas told us. “We’re playing good baseball. We have good communication. We have good community support. And when we go, we represent.”

Dick Runkle founded the team in 1959. When it suffered financially in 1972, Ray Miller took over. The Portland Rockets saw numerous changes: double the games, more winning, and rapidly growing support. With the long leadership of both men, it’s easy to understand how the team’s home is called ‘Runkle/Miller Field’. Over the next thirty years, Mill won over 90 games! Today, former player, and Miller’s son Randy is now The Portland Rockets coach and manager. “We hustle. We play for the true love of the game. We play with pace, passion, and purpose,” Randy Miller shared. “We don’t have commercial breaks. I want to see the ball in play.” Currently, the Rockets compete within the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF).

And with the new season, the community truly gathered to celebrate in style. The Freedom Flyers parked their fire truck outside the ball park, letting a massive 50×30 foot American Flag dance in the wind. In addition to that, District-33 state rep. JD Prescott presented two American flags to be permanently displayed at Runkle/Miller Field. Portland Mayor John Boggs proclaimed May 22, 2022 as ‘Randy Miller Day’ — the announcement following Miller’s induction into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame this year. After the national anthem was sung, the Portland Color Guard presented arms, and fired off a canon to signal for the games to begin.

Quickly after, returning and new players started warming up on the field. The ‘crack’ of the wood bats used, cut into any noise made by excited fans in attendance. Thomas has been with the team around 10 years, bringing past experience as a softball player herself, and working with the TinCaps. “I’ve been around baseball my whole life,” she said. “I’ve lived on the ball field since I was about eight — It was just kind of like my life. Growing up in sports, as I got older and was in broadcasting for a while, it just kind of my thing and so I just kind of meshed in really well with this team, being local, because I’m from here.” For many years, Thomas filled in as an announcer. Now she is a key decision-maker alongside Miller. “A lot of these guys, there’s only 2-3 guys on this team that are from Jay County,” she added. “The rest of these guys travel 45 minutes or more…. We’re just a hodgepodge of guys who come together and play some good baseball.”

“I’d rather play with a wood bat, than an aluminum bat all day long… to me, that’s just baseball.” Zach Tanner is the Portland Rocket’s short stop. Experienced with college and minor league play, Tanner drives from Muncie to keep his skills sharp. “It’s just a getaway from me,” he said, now in his 9th season. “Stress reliever. It’s something to do in the summer. I’m not much of a lake guy, or amusement park, I just — it’s just fun to keep playing. I’m glad there’s no age limit for this.”

Jay County native Blake Caldwell debuted for The Portland Rockets over the weekend. Now, he’s an infielder on a team he once watched as a kid. “My grandpa was a big fan here. He used to play here back in the day,” he told us. “It’s always nice to represent for the hometown. That’s something that our coach emphasized big — that we represent Portland now.”

“We’re one of a unique breed in small town baseball that’s a big thing in the house,” Miller said. “We like to think it matters — and it does.” With food, fans, and good weather, the Rockets won (8-7) and lost (5-4) a game against the Royals. The schedule for the rest of their 2022 season can be found here. Games at Runkle/Miller Field are free to attend.

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