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Hops vs. Volcanoes: A Guide to Oregon’s Minor-league Baseball

Thursday, June 18, 2015

 

While Portland can’t manage the “complex task” of retaining a minor league baseball team, we can at least take heart that the Northwest League's short-season begins this weekend a short drive away in Keizer and Hillsboro.

Minor-league baseball – and especially short-season minor league baseball -- is much less about wins and losses for young players many of whom are in their first or second season of pro ball. Instead, it’s often a place where pitchers are on rigid pitch counts no matter the score and players may be forced into trying unfamiliar positions no matter how many errors they commit.

And yet the Hillsboro Hops and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes both offer affordable sports options for families and baseball fans just thirsting to have a couple beers on a summer night.

There’s no reason not to check out both teams this summer during their 76-game seasons, here’s a compare-and-contrast guide to the two franchises for Portlanders who have not yet driven out U.S. 26 to catch the Hops or down I-5 to watch the Volcanoes.

STADIUMS

The Hops’ Ron Tonkin Field is a much glossier option than Volcanoes Stadium, befitting the fact that it’s only two years old compared to the 18-year-old Keizer field. The Volcanoes’ park is also right off I-5, making for a less-than-scenic backdrop when gazing at the outfield against a backdrop of speeding cars and semis.

And of course Hillsboro is closer to Portland than Keizer—about a 15-mile drive versus a 43-mile drive. The Hops also offer a free shuttle to the stadium for fans who opt to ride MAX to Orenco Station.  

One cautionary note to remember when going to a Hops game is to avoid buying seats on the third base side where the late evening glare from the setting sun requires a set of sunglasses. Despite that “glaring issue,” the newer stadium is the better stadium in this case.

Edge: Hops

HISTORY

The flip side of the Volcanoes’ longer history in their current setting is that they boast a long list of players who played significant stretches in Salem-Keizer before eventually advancing to the major leagues. And as the affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, that list includes some illustrious contributors to the Giants’ run of three World Series titles in the last five years. Among them: Pablo Sandoval, Joe Panik, Travis Ishikawa, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong.

The Hops, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, have no such history of Hillsboro alumni in the major leagues, though ex-All Star Mark Grace served as Hillsboro’s hitting coach last year and former Cy Young winner Doug Drabek is the team’s pitching coach.

Edge: Volcanoes

PROMOTIONS

The lifeblood of minor league baseball is the giveaways and the reduced-price items that lure fans to the ballpark. Both the Volcanoes and Hops offer the requisite “Fireworks Nights” and chances for children to run the bases after Sunday games.

But the Hops adopt a broader approach to other promotional offerings, including a 30th anniversary night to celebrate “The Goonies;” bobblehead giveaways of ESPN sportscaster and University of Oregon alum Neil Everett and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, as well as a tribute night to the legendary bad boys of minor league baseball – the Portland Mavericks.

The Volcanoes have more traditional offerings such as “$1 Family Feast” nights where hot dogs, soda, popcorn and ice cream are a buck apiece as well as “Adult Beverage” Thursdays where select drinks are $1 each. One unusual promotion this season is “Unclaimed Property Night,” which the team bills as “the chance to see if the state owes you any money which may have gone unclaimed.”

Edge: Hops

INTANGIBLES

The Hops’ radio announcer is Rich Burk, an incredibly well-prepared and baseball lifer (as well as a good blogger) who should have been hired long ago by a major-league team. Apropos of his love for baseball traditions, Burk leads the crowd during the seventh-inning stretch in a round of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

The Volcanoes have the “Lava Lodge Sports Pub,” a makeshift covered bar down the left field line that allows you easy access to mixed drinks while watching the game out the open-air window. This is the place to be during those “Adult Beverage” Thursdays.

Edge: Volcanoes

In the end, the Hops and Volcanoes tie in the most important regard—the chance to take in a ballgame. Portland could – and should – take in a lesson from that.

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.

 

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