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Portland is Missing Out on Baseball

Thursday, April 09, 2015

 

Tonight marks the start of the Pacific Coast League’s (PCL) 113th season.

It’s also the fifth straight season without a PCL franchise in Portland, which had a team for most of the league’s existence until the city knuckled under in 2010 to Major League Soccer’s demand that Portland’s downtown stadium no longer be available for baseball. 

If you somehow believe minor-league baseball teams belong only in cities that lack teams in other major league sports, know that the 16-team PCL includes teams in five cities that also support NBA teams – New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City and Sacramento.

If you believe Portland is somehow too small to support a baseball team, know that the city would be roughly tied with Memphis, Oklahoma City and Nashville as the PCL’s second-largest city behind El Paso.

And if you believe Portland is missing nothing without baseball since the Beavers left for good in 2010, know the following joys are lost (unless you want to wait two months for the Northwest League to begin and then drive down I-5 to Keizer or out U.S. 26 to Hillsboro):

“You wanna catch a game?”: Even though baseball falls victim far too often to writers’ trite paeans to the rhythms of the sport, the grace of the game and other blather, there is something to be said for the prospect of having nearly five months when any warm day or evening might prompt your buddy to call you up with the timeless request of “you wanna catch a game?”

Cheap beer nights: Even though the Beavers regularly landed deep in the league’s bottom half for attendance, the franchise did manage to figure out that slashing beer prices on “Thirsty Thursdays” could attract a crowd. Imagine that.

Fireworks nights: They were an affordable family option that again drew sizable crowds the nights they were offered after games. In a city that gets criticized for unaffordability and unfriendliness to families, it seems silly to throw away answers to both of those criticisms.

Kids getting to run the bases: Goofy but a blast for hundreds of boys and girls who sprinted around the diamond after Sunday day games.

The chance to see future stars on the way up to the major leagues: As a San Francisco Giants fan, I will always treasure racing out to the stadium to see then-prospect Madison Bumgarner pitch to then-prospect Buster Posey when they were on Fresno in spring 2010 and the Grizzlies played in Portland. A few months later, both helped the Giants win their first World Series since 1954.

The chance to see former stars getting one last shot to return to the major leagues: In the summer of 1981, ex-Detroit Tigers outfielder Willie Horton at age 38 and ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant at age 40 provided “blast-from-the-past” memories for knowledgeable baseball fans in Portland.

Rich Burk: Yes, the Beavers radio announcer at least has moved on to broadcast Hillsboro Hops games in the Northwest League. But the NWL doesn’t begin until mid-June and that’s two fewer months that baseball fans get to listen to the always well-prepared Burk call a game while weaving in stories from his encyclopedic baseball knowledge. Like any good announcer, Burk makes a season listening to him like hanging out with a good friend.

Bobbleheads: Baseball offers the best ones in all of sports.

If you don’t like baseball, that’s fine. But for those of us who do, it’s not that Portland feels weird without it--It just feels silly.

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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