To Protect and To Serve
A Former Oregon State catcher—Erik Ammon is now a local police officer
When he graduated from North Salem High School in 2004, Erik Ammon had his sights set on a college degree and a chance to play some serious baseball for a College World Series contender. The longtime Vikings catcher did indeed live his dream, catching balls and strikes for three years at Oregon State while winning a pair of World Series titles in 2006 and 2007, and leaving the Corvallis campus with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science.
Fast forward to 2022, and Erik Ammon is still enjoying his life, but instead of catching balls and strikes, he is catching criminals for his hometown police department.
The voyage from college baseball to a career in law enforcement is fascinating. It also underscores the reality of the maturing process for a young man already miles ahead of the game in that department.
I have known Erik Ammon since he was fifteen or sixteen years old. He was part of a sophomore English class I taught that year. My first impression of Erik was along the lines of “how did this 25-year old end up in this class full of sophomores?” He was just that level-headed—willing to share on the subject matter of the day--but not desiring to dominate the conversation. And when it came to knowing when to hunker down and work, he led by example. He stood out in the best possible way.
Ammon was also one of North Salem High’s top athletes. He had many tools to offer in whatever sport he played. In football, then-coach Jay Minyard utilized Erik as a fullback, a quarterback, and a wide receiver. Some of it had to do with the team’s needs, some of it was due to a groin injury—but Erik was always willing to compete where he was needed.
When it came to baseball though, Erik Ammon was always a catcher. In a fine tradition that also produced the likes of Cole Hamilton and Rocky Gale at the position, longtime coach North Salem Chris Lee knew he had a real prize behind the plate.
Ammon’s college baseball career was an interesting one early on.
Erik confesses that he was wanting to play where it was “sunny and warm.”
He was competing in a high school “futures game” in Tacoma the summer after his senior year, and was noticed by a coach from the University of Hawaii. A scholarship was offered and Erik Ammon was headed to the islands to play baseball for the 2005 college season.
An injury hindered Erik’s opportunities behind the plate in Honolulu. He had to sit for a time, but by the time he had healed, another chance to play popped up—excuse the baseball pun.
“Coaches said there was an injury to our starting left fielder and asked if anyone was willing to fill in.”
“I raised my hand.”
So Erik Ammon became a left fielder for the Rainbow Warriors, while also getting some time at catcher. But after the season was over, it was apparent change was in the wind. Hawaii had recruited another catcher from California, and Erik’s scholarship was pulled.
“The writing was on the wall,” admits Ammon ruefully.
But just as the door at Hawaii was closed, another door opened in Corvallis. Erik made contact with the Beavers’ coaching staff, and he was eventually offered a partial scholarship.
Just like that—Erik Ammon was at Oregon State—playing back-up at catcher to some guy named Mitch Canham, and playing under Coach Pat Casey.
The rest was history, as far as his baseball career was concerned.
The Beavers had been at the 2005 College World Series, making their first appearance since 1952. The team had been led by the likes of pitchers Jonah Nickerson and Dallas Buck, and outfielder—and future MLB All Star—Jacoby Ellsbury. Although the 2005 Beavs exited from Omaha after just two games, 2006 promised big things with the return of pitchers Nickerson and Buck and the presence of others like outfielder Cole Gillespie and shortstop Darwin Barney.
You can read about the rest of the 2006 season on Wikipedia—but the outcome was different that season at the World Series. OSU marched through their Regional in Corvallis (where they dispatched Erik’s former team—Hawaii—in the process), then sweeping Pac-10 nemesis Stanford in the Super Regional to return to Omaha—a baseball first for the University.
Against Hawaii, Erik said there was no animosity involved in beating the Rainbow Warriors.
“There were no bad feelings—nothing like that. Just another game we needed to win in order to move on,” Ammon recalls.
That ’06 World Series was—to use a well-worn sportscaster cliché—one for the ages. Oregon State lost its first game in Omaha to powerhouse Miami 11-1. That put the Beavs in a must-win elimination position for essentially the rest of the time in Omaha, until/unless they made it to the championship series.
The Beavs won four in a row to get to the championship face-off, where they would meet highly favored North Carolina.
The Tar Heels won the opening game 4-3, scoring the decisive run on a solo home run. The Beavers replied with a big 11-7 victory in game two.
The third and decisive game wasn’t settled until the final out. OSU jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Carolina tallied two in the fifth to tie it up. Oregon State recorded a third run in the eighth with two outs to take the lead. In the ninth, the Tar Heels had runners on first and third with two outs, but the last swing produced an out in center field, and the Oregon State dog pile followed, as the Beavers brought home the World Series Crown.
The 2007 World Series win seemed even more improbable, after a sub-par record in the Pac-10 that included just 4 wins against 8 losses in the important month of May. OSU was a decided underdog going to the post-season, but righted the ship rather quickly.
After rallying past Virginia in the host team’s Charlottesville Regional, the Beavers swept Michigan in the Corvallis Super Regional, then flew back to Omaha to mow down the competition in five games to capture their second straight National Championship.
The list of key players and heroes from that ’07 team is longer than this story can hold. But names like Darwin Barney, Mitch Canham, and Salem’s Sprague High graduate Joey Wong are among the players many people remember. Eight OSU players were drafted that spring by MLB teams. The memories of the back-to-back seasons are especially vivid for players like Erik Ammon—who says it is hard to put the entire experience into words.
“I think if you asked any of us at the time if we knew how big of an impact those short couple of seasons would have on the rest of our lives, we couldn’t picture it,” admits Erik.
“I think we were just focused on the then and now, doing what we needed to do to win.”
To this day, the team maintains a group chat thread that they talk on weekly—15 years after the fact.
“Those years codified our relationships,” reflects Ammon. “15 years later and we’re still close as ever.”
For many athletes, this would be the end of the story. But for Erik, it is just the conclusion of the first chapter. In his chapter two, the longtime OSU catcher would see a major twist occur in his storyline.
As planned, Ammon did receive a degree in Exercise and Sport Science. But he had one last requirement to fulfill: an internship as a sports trainer. It sounded like a pretty cool set up.
“The internship was with a company called Athletes’ Performance and I got to work with MLB (baseball) guys and Special Forces guys primarily,” explained Erik.
A funny thing happened as Ammon went through his internship. He found himself drawn to working more with the military group. And while the military itself was not what he wanted to pursue, his thoughts turned to a job in law enforcement as a way to serve others.
“To that point, my life had been about…. me,” candidly admits Erik.
“I realized I had never really given back.”
Erik’s brother Tom—four years his senior—was already pursuing a police career. So Ammon started looking at his options, and examined them while doing some serious self-reflection.
That led to attendance at a law enforcement informational meeting, and eventually, pursuit of a career as a peace officer.
Erik moved back to Salem, and was hired in 2009 as an instructional assistant and football coach at West Salem High School, working with head coach Shawn Stanley and defensive coordinator Damien Ramirez—who had coached Ammon at North.
In July of 2011, the Salem Police Department hired Erik, then sent him to the Oregon Police Academy that same year. Upon graduation from the Academy four months leader, he was brought back to the department, and went to on the streets as an officer in 2012.
He served as a training officer, and an emergency driving instructor among his long list of duties while with Salem PD from 2012-18.
Mixed into his life were the more important, personal aspects--his marriage to wife Danielle in 2016, and the birth of their son, Jack, in 2020.
The young family moved briefly to the Bend-Redmond area in 2018 to be closer to her parents. Erik got a job with the Bend Police and was a patrol officer and a school liaison officer at Bend’s Mountain View High School.
But the relocation was short-lived as Erik and Danielle missed their other family members in the Salem area, and Ammon returned to Salem PD in late 2021.
Presently, Erik is a member of the Salem PD’s SWAT team—the tactical unit called in for high risk crime situations, such as active shooters and hostage rescues. And, he is currently teamed up with his brother, Tom.
Erik also was a part of SWAT in his first stint with Salem PD, and says he has had his share of harrowing experiences.
In 2013, Ammon and the SWAT team were called to Turner after a man had killed his ex-girlfriend and took her toddler daughter hostage. The crew made plans to get into the home.
“It was an explosive breach,” explained Erik.
Charges were wired on the door and adjacent wall of the Turner home in question. At the same time the charges were detonated, a sniper shot the suspect, grazing his cheek. The team rushed through the now obliterated door, rescued the child, and arrested the suspect.
In 2015, the SWAT team was called to the Salem Walmart on Airport Road, where a man who had been living in his motor home in the store parking lot had threatened people, and was barricaded inside the RV. After a police dog sent into the unit was shot (he survived), the SWAT Unit was deployed and took gunfire almost immediately.
The armored unit members took cover. Erik and another team member were sent to deploy tear gas, and the suspect was arrested.
“My heart was racing,” admits a now-smiling Ammon.
On a more personal and less harrowing note, Erik, Danielle and Jack are expecting a new member of the family—with projected birth date in mid-November. Danielle, a science teacher at South Salem High, is nearing the end of her pre-birth teaching stage.
Now in his 11th year in law enforcement, Ammon says he absolutely no regrets about becoming a police officer. He says the best part of his job is the variety of job experiences he has on a daily basis.
“I don’t know what the day is going to bring—and that means nearly every day,” Erik confesses.
He also says there is something to improve upon on the job, and he likes the challenge.
When it comes to public perception of the police, Erik believes it is mostly positive, even in the wake of the 2020 riots. He says Salem’s Citizen Academy program—which explains how the department operates—has been very successful.
When it comes to being a police officer on the street, Erik concedes it is sometimes a challenge to see the positives at times—such as when they lose a loved one in an accident.
“We frequently see people at the worst times in their lives, so there is that,” says Ammon.
“We can still have an impact on those people, trying to make their current situation less painful.”
And so Erik Ammon has reached another chapter of his life. From intelligent high school student and outstanding athlete… to diligent college student and national championship baseballer… to respected member of the law enforcement community and young family man.
What is next for Ammon is anyone’s guess—but I can hardly wait to see the next phase of his life—and how that will impact so many of us.
Thanks for your service, Erik.