It is 2,901 miles from my front door to Yankee Stadium. That’s a rough commute for a Yankee fan. Fortunately, SafeCo Field is only 174 miles from my front door, and a few times a year I get to see my favorite team in the friendly yet oddly sterile confines of the Mariners’ home park. Carping about stinky-feet garlic fries and barely supermarket grade sushi aside, believe me when I tell you it’s a vast improvement over the craptacular cavern that was the King Dome. But even then, four hours on I-5 can wear a bit thin when the gerbil feels the itch to take in the sights and sounds of the diamond.
The Portland Beavers, AAA PCL affiliate of the San Diego Padres, is a great team to follow, especially with the success of many of the players one would track through the system that are now up in the bigs. Watching Khalil Greene up close was amazing. And there are brilliant promotions that embrace the rich tapestry of American culture such as Mullet Night; combine that with dollar beer night and look out.
The original Beavers were a charter member of the PCL, founded in 1903. The team left for Spokane after drawing only 92,000 fans for the entire 1972 season. The second incarnation of the Beavers joined the PCL in 1978 and moved to Salt Lake after the 1993 season, where they are currently known as the Bees. The single-A Bend Rockies moved to Portland in 1994 and served as the bridge to the next AAA team, which was the formerly Dodger-affiliated Albuquerque Dukes, who moved to Portland and became the third iteration of the Beavers and swapped affiliation to the Padres, while the Rockies moved to Pasco, Washington.
Along with the latest AAA franchise came a remodel of PGE Park, which was formerly called Civic Stadium, and Multnomah Stadium before that. Built in 1926 as a football stadium, PGE Park also is home to the Portland Timbers Soccer Team, the Portland State Vikings Football Team and hosts state high school football championships.
So why am I yammering on about Portland? Because there are a large number of baseball fans in the region who think the city is ready for a major-league franchise. Though he has spent most of his life outside Portland, Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky agrees. Now 87 years old, Pesky was born in Portland and grew up watching the Beavers. In an article titled “Relocating a Team To Portland Makes Sense” by Phil Rogers on ESPN.com, Pesky tells Rogers that “what Portland always had was good fans.” As long as you ignore 1972, but hey, I’m right there with Needle.
For years now, the thought of a west-coast Seattle-Portland-Oakland-Anaheim rivalry has had me salivating, and combined with the fact that the Yankees would come to town at least once a year, well I can’t even explain what that thought does to me. The Portland regional population is anxious to have a major professional franchise to root for other than the TrailBlazers, whose ownership and management destroyed one of the most loyal fan bases in the country with several years of shoddy product and public relations disaesters. There is a lot that would have to fall into place for this to come together, including the fact that Portland Mayor Tom Potter seems to have no understanding of, or want anything to do with, major-league baseball.
There also is the sobering idea that while people in Portland like to watch baseball on TV (Portland does well in Nielsen ratings for baseball), besides the gerbil (who already plans to put a third mortgage on the house for season tickets should a team land) and a few other crazies, perhaps Oregonians and Southern Washingtonians won’t actually shell out money to see the game in person. The Florida Marlins drew a pathetic 14,384 fans per game in 2006. You would have to think that any market could do better than that. Let’s check: hmm, the AAA Beavers drew 5,649 per game in 2006, which ranks 36th out of minor league affiliates. Portland Oregon didn’t outdraw the original Portland for which it is named. However, I have to believe the fans are excited for new things to see. The recently-formed professional lacrosse team, The Portland Lumberjax, averages more than 10,000 people per game. Yes, it is spelled with an “X.”
Let’s ignore that you can prove anything that is even remotely true when you use facts. Count me charmed and dazzled. I already imagine opening day. I’ll be wearing a big grin, soaking in the sights and soaking in my shirt as April showers douse the crowd and me, waiting for the grounds crew to roll up the tarp, and when the game is called in the sixth on account of rain with the Beavers (or whatever they are called) taking the win over the Mariners, I’ll walk back to my house, happy.
Addendum: This post is for Tom Charbonneau, my grandfather. He would certainly take me to task for the economics and common sense regarding the placing of a ball team in Portland, and with a hearty laugh and a sip from his gin martini or a pull from his high-life, or whatever beer was on sale, ask me “What the #@$& are you talking about?”. Today would be his birthday. Here’s to you, Tom.