28 Jun

Opening day of another Portland no-baseball season

In late scores from the Pacific Coast League,

Las Vegas 6, Sacramento 3.

Tacoma 4, Colorado Springs 1.

Portland, nowhere.

Long after just about any other large or even medium-sized city, baseball season opens in Portland Tuesday.

Not actually in Portland, of course. We’re not that big a city.

But at least in what the feds call our Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area, and baseball is all about statistics.

Tuesday, the Hillsboro Hops – representing both the metro area and the Metro area – open their home season against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The only professional baseball team named after a plant used to make beer – unless someone discovers the Burlington Barleys – the Hops are likely to have a highly successful season, just like their previous two.

In both years since arriving from Yakima, the short-season Class A team – the lowest professional level, just above the Alaska summer league – drew more than 100,000 contented baseball consumers. They came to a stadium seating 4,710, offering Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and Oregon pinot noir (as well as its official beer, BridgePort Long Ball Ale), built by a city bond issue of $15.5 million.

Portland, of course, had no room for such a stadium.

Or any baseball stadium.

That’s how you get to be the largest city in the country without baseball at any level.
Portland was, of course, one of the founding cities of the AAA Pacific Coast League in 1903, and with a couple of brief interruptions, was in the league until 2010. (You can still see Portland Beavers caps around, often in taverns that still have Blitz signs.) The Beavers were then chased out of then-PGE Park for the Major League Soccer Timbers, with the pledge that the city would find someplace else for the Beavers to play. With the pledge abandoned, the Beavers are now the El Paso (Tex.) Chihuahuas.

After a century in Portland, the team has literally gone to the dogs.

Many of Portland’s former PCL colleagues – Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix – are now in the major leagues. If Portland were still in the PCL, it would be the largest metropolitan area represented.

Instead, we’re in Major League Soccer. Most MLS cities also have major league baseball, and the exceptions are illuminating.

Salt Lake City is similar to Portland – MLS team, NBA team – except much smaller. The last time the Beavers left Portland, in 1994, they became the Salt Lake Bees, who in 2014 drew 470,565. In another MLS city, the Columbus Clippers AAA baseball team drew 628,590, although everyone in Columbus spends summer waiting for Ohio State football to start,
(In Oregon, we wait for Ohio State football to finish.)

Orlando, like Portland, has the NBA and the MLS and no baseball at all – but it does have Disney World.

Think of that as the Pittsburgh Pirates of the Caribbean.

Then there’s the MLS city Montreal, which in 2005 lost its major league Expos to Washington, D.C. – with a feint toward Portland to try to raise the price – and has been trying to get back into the game ever since, with sold-out exhibition games with major-league teams.

“With a metropolitan area population of nearly 4 million people, Montreal is currently the largest North American city without a baseball franchise,” declares the website of the Montreal Baseball Project, led by former Expo Warren Cromartie, based on a study from Ernst & Young financed by the Montreal business community.

“Montreal Baseball Project seeks to build upon the recent groundswell of demand for baseball in Montreal and deliver a team back to the community.”

And that’s in a city where it’s illegal to speak English.

Or something like that.

Being Portland, our response has been more, well, measured.

“There continues to be conversations with the Oregon Sports Authority, with advocates, etc, and those conversations go back to the days when the City made a play for the Expos, and will continue until we do one day have a team here, if that ever happens,” recently explained Josh Alpert, Mayor Charlie Hales’ director of strategic initiatives.

“We engage in those conversations when they come to us because the mayor does believe in the power of sports to galvanize a community.”

Possibly Portland, in the midst of a national baseball attendance boom – and the impressive success of the Hillsboro Hops – is immune. Possibly we’re just waiting on a money man to appear, and the city would respond.

But meanwhile, we’re in another summer of being the biggest U.S. city without baseball.

And who’d ever expect to miss Chihuahuas?

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 6/21/15.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>