When the first pitch is thrown at the newly constructed Hillsboro Baseball Stadium on June 17, the delivery will symbolize much more than simply a ball or a strike. Rather, the pitch will mark baseball’s return to the Portland area after a brief hiatus. The notion of bringing big league baseball to Portland has been a burning issue amongst city planners for several years now, and while Hillsboro isn’t Portland and Class A Short Season isn’t “The Show”, it is a step in the right direction.
Baseball at the professional level had been around in Portland since 1903 until Merritt Paulson & Co. uprooted the fine tradition of America’s pastime in favor of the MLS-bound Timbers. The removal of the Beavers from downtown Portland was a major blow to not only the city’s core of sports fans, but for the entire state of Oregon as a whole. It is tough to blame Paulson for the move, although that doesn’t mean there weren’t – and still aren’t - a plethora of hard feelings about it. Attendance at Beavers games was scarce at best, and the fresh vibe being created by the heaven for mid-20-year-olds that is the Timbers’ Army was on an exponential upward climb. It came down to one simple fact: Jeld-Wed Field was a 24-year-old college graduate when the Timbers were around, and a 65-year-old librarian when the Beavers took the diamond. This one was a no-brainer for Paulson.
As I mentioned before, having the Hops in Hillsboro won’t directly fill the baseball void in inner Portland, but it will at least get the scent of pine tar and freshly-cut grass back into the heads of sports fans in the area. After all, Portland is the largest market in the United States without a Major League team and it is perfectly plausible to expect that the sport could not only coexist with the Timbers but thrive in its own right.
In many ways, the Hops’ first season will provide a sense of new beginnings for baseball, and will be a useful tool to gauge interest and the possibility for expansion. If high attendance figures confirm a widespread feeling of excitement, conversations regarding bringing an MLB team to Portland could be revived in a big way. This being said, we are putting a lot of faith and expectation into this squad of youngsters and 33-year-old manager Audo Vicente.
No matter how the 2013 season turns out, the overarching theme of baseball being good for the Portland area will remain resilient. In a perfect world, the exposure of Oregonians to baseball will help to jog memories of a legacy that lasted for more than a century and exude motivation and determination to further develop the baseball scene in Portland. I, for one, am a firm believer that because of baseball’s deep connection to American history it should be accurately represented across the nation. The bottom line is that the Pacific Northwest in general has been baseball deprived for quite some time, and I am excited at the prospect of the professional game being accessible once again. Ultimate gratification will come in the form of a Major League team in downtown Portland, but for now, let’s all raise a glass of our favorite Northwest IPA in a toast to the Hops.