WALLA WALLA -- It's a little after 4 o'clock on a sun-soaked afternoon at Borleske Stadium, and Zachary Fraser is wearing an easy smile.
Rock and rap music is taking full advantage of the outfield loudspeakers, mixed in with the regular wooden Crack! of batting practice.
Balls are spraying all over the green grass of the outfield, a few bouncing off the old fashioned left-field scoreboard dubbed the Blue Monster.
"This," Fraser says, "is my favorite time of the day."
A few hours later, with BP long silenced and the park filling up, Fraser is still smiling, but there is nothing relaxed about the Walla Walla Sweets general manager.
It's game time for the Sweets GM and his small army of stadium crew.
The seats at Borleske have been filling up regularly this summer for the Sweets, a first-year organization in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League, a summer wood-bat league for college players.
Despite their 8-19 record -- not unreasonable for a rookie operation -- the Sweets lead the WCL in attendance at 1,489 a game, more than 200 ahead of the Wenatchee AppleSox, one of the league's perennial powers.
The other expansion organization, the Cowlitz Black Bears, is averaging 854 a game, right about the average for WCL teams.
"It's been exciting from the get-go," said Sweets manager J.C. Biagi, an assistant coach at Walla Walla Community College and a hometown boy who went to DeSales and played a few regional games at Borleske. "It's been unbelievable averaging 1,500 a game. I never would have dreamed of that coming from here. We never had something like this."
Actually, Walla Walla has a rich baseball history dating back more than a century, though it's been nearly three decades since pro ball left town.
The first minor league club to play in the area was the Walla Walla Walla Wallas in 1908 in the old Inland Empire League, a Class D collection of teams that included the Pendleton Pets, the La Grande Babes and the Baker City Nuggets.
The Walla Walla Bears played in the Western Tri-State League from 1912-14, but it would be another 55 years before pro ball returned, when Walla Walla had a franchise in the Northwest League from 1969-83.
During that half century, semi-pro ball thrived in Walla Walla with the Bears.
Chuck McCullough, who lives a stone's throw over the border in Weston, remembers growing up watching the Bears play at Borleske when he was a kid -- and remembers one game from 1949 in particular.
"They had a pitcher they got out of the penitentiary," he said, recalling one of several games that Earl "Lefty" Woodson threw on release from the Washington State Penitentiary.
"They'd always bring a couple of guards along," McCullough said laughing, "but he was a darn good pitcher."
More than 50 years later, McCullough was back in Borleske's blue bleachers, taking in a Sweets game with his wife Kathleen and daughter Sally.
He couldn't help but marvel at the state of Borleske, which received a $250,000 facelift thanks to the Sweets, including that scoreboard that was designed and built in a cooperative effort by Walla Walla University, Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College.
"After all these years and all those game played here, this is a first-class place to play a ballgame," McCullough said.
Bringing the minor-league experience to cities and towns that might not be able to sustain a franchise is one of the goals of the WCL.
"People want to get their money's worth," Fraser said. "Nothing makes me as frustrated as when I walk into a place and I feel like I'm not getting my money's worth. If a dad takes his kids to the game and pays $20 for tickets and hotdogs and everything, he's going to feel like he got his money's worth."
The Sweets were a hit before ever taking the field, selling out the Diamond Club season tickets behind home plate and along the left-field fence about two weeks after announcing the name of the club in November.
Total season ticket sales reached 755, more than the club's overall attendance goal of 750 per game.
Single game general admission is just $4, and reserved seating is $7.
The team is the product of Greg Shaw's love of summer collegiate baseball.
Shaw, a director with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is an avid baseball fan whose website, codball.com, covers the Cape Cod League -- the nation's top summer collegiate league.
Shaw gathered a six-person ownership group, including former big-league player Jeff Cirillo, who spent most of his 14-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers and was with the Mariners in 2002-03.
Most of the group figured on keeping the team on the West side. But one member, John Stanton -- a Whitman College alum who sits on the board of trustees -- thought Walla Walla was the perfect market.
"Walla Walla has been a great baseball town for years," Fraser said, "even after affiliated minor league baseball left."
Biagi said there's a buzz on the street.
"People come up to me that I haven't seen in years," the manager said. "They're coming out of the woodwork and they're very excited about it."
Excited, McCullough said, to have a team back in Walla Walla.
"We've been without a baseball team in this area a long time," McCullough said. "On a night like this, what are you supposed to do? You go to the game."