We Hardly Knew Ye: Portland Beavers
Portland is the nation's largest metro area without major league baseball -- larger than even the majors' Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City and Milwaukee -- but after tomorrow's Beavers game is in the books, it'll be the largest metro area without any pro ball. In fact, since the Beavers' PGE Park will soon be remodeled to suit the Major League Soccer Timbers (beginning play there next year), Portland won't even have a baseball venue larger than a college field.
The Beavers name has been used by multiple Portland minor-league franchises in all but 14 of 105 seasons since 1906, with stars such as Satchel Paige, Luis Tiant, and Lou Piniella (above) wearing the Beavers uniform. The team moved into PGE Park (then called Multnomah Stadium) in 1956; the current Triple-A Beavers have been in PDX since 2001. Then, last year, Portland was awarded an MLS expansion franchise to begin play next year. The city council agreed to remodel PGE Park as a soccer/football-only venue on the condition that a new Beavers ballpark be built by next season. But the Beavs were unable to find a spot for a new facility, and the city dropped said condition, leaving the team high and dry. They'll most likely move to the San Diego area, near their parent Padres.
Since the news broke in July, there's been lotsa finger-pointing -- not just at the city council, but also at the mayor, the owner, NIMBY neighborhoods, preservationists, the media, and the (lack of) fans -- over the inability to secure a new, long-term home for the Portland nine. But the simple truth is that soccer is wildly popular in Portland at the moment, and baseball isn't (and, frankly, hasn't been for a long time). This year, the Beavers sold a measly 150 season tickets, while the Timbers have already sold 7,500 advance season tickets for next year.
There's also been lotsa hollering among Portland sports fans in general about the merits of baseball versus soccer, each accusing the other of having an inferior sport. While I'm not a soccer fan, I have nothing against it, either. I think there's room for both (just apparently not at PGE Park). In any case, we'll be attending our first Seattle Sounders soccer game later this week, just to see what all the fuss is about.
So why do I care about the Beavers? I lived in Portland from 1994 to 1998, when the single-A Rockies played at PGE Park (then called Civic Stadium). Though I didn't go to any games, I got hooked on listening to the fantastic Rich Burk call them on Sunny 910 AM, and I've continued listening to him do the Beavers games online. If I still lived in Portland, I could see myself getting season tickets, especially if a cool new Triple-A ballpark was built in downtown Portland, like ones I've seen in Memphis and Toledo. But that's a long shot. It's weird that Portland seems incapable of supporting baseball, then again, Portland's relative weirdness is what gives it its charm.
Sadly, in the last decade I've only been down to Portland for a couple Beavers games (plus last year's Triple-A All-Star Game), but Eliza and I have tickets to tomorrow's finale -- hopefully we'll get some good pics to post.
In the meantime, check out the great farewell coverage in The Oregonian, including an interview with Rich Burk, a timeline, a photo gallery, and this amazing video. And, as always, there's Wikipedia.