Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March 6- Portland Beavers


I’ve been in an especially feisty mood today, which has certainly helped fuel this blog post. Take warning. It’s going to get ugly.

Portland, Oregon is a horrible baseball city. Yah, that’s right, I said it. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest (specifically Vancouver, Washington) I was regaled by stories and banter from hardcore Portland sports fans about how amazing it would be to have a Major League Baseball team within the confines of the city. For years I was told that Portlanders would give undying support if a team was ever relocated, because after all, “we’re huge sports fans.” I bought that bullshit for years. The illusion of seeing a top tier in the city I called home was brought on by this…

a more than clever bumper sticker which I first saw in the manager’s office at the Just Sports (@JustSportspdx) location at the Lloyd Center Mall. For those who don’t know, Lloyd Center is the state’s largest indoor mall and it sits roughly 10-12 blocks away from the Rose Garden, the home of the Portland Trailblazers of the National Basketball Association. It’s not very becoming of me to mention other sports within my baseball articles; however, the important thing to know about Trailblazers fans is that they are extremely loyal, more so than most other franchises. I know that seems like a “homer” thing to say, but you should probably take into consideration that I’m a huge Indiana Pacers fan. In fact, the one thing to prove my assertion true is that the Trailblazers hold the record for most consecutive sell-outs at 814 from 1977 (the year of their only championship) through 1995. Oh yah, and by record, I don’t mean NBA record. I’m talking about most consecutive sell-outs in American sports history. The next closest streak? The 2003 through present Boston Red Sox at 712 games. For those doing the math at home, the Trailblazers record will more than likely be broken in 2014. Now, with that logic, one might think that the validity of Portlanders supporting a baseball team might be true. Think again.

In 2000 Portland all ready had a professional baseball team, the Portland Rockies. What was incredibly shocking about this is that 1. They were a short season-A squad in a major city. 2. They hardly drew anyone. Trust me on this one; I caught a few games at the old Civic Stadium and saw how empty it was. But… hope was just around the corner. What I didn’t know before moving North was that Portland was once a decent baseball city who housed a storied AAA franchise known as the Portland Beavers. From 1903-1917, 1919-1972 and 1978-1993 the Beavers came and went, but always seemed to find its footing anytime they set up shop. If you read my Salt Lake City Bees post from January 28 you’d know about the last run of the Beavers, and how then owner Joe Buzas cut and run at the end of the 1993 season to not only establish the franchise in Utah, but also had the balls to name the team after himself (Buzz). Every now-and-then when I get back up to Portland for a few beers with my friends Buzas’s name comes up in conversation. To this day I have yet to hear one positive thing about the man other than, “I’m glad he’s dead.”

Following the 2000 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres swapped AAA affiliates. The Albuquerque Dukes (a charter franchise of the PCL in 1903 as the Los Angeles Angels) moved to Portland, becoming the Beavers, as the San Diego Padres affiliate. As part of the relocation agreement, Civic Stadium was renovated in 2000 and renamed PGE Park. Things were certainly looking bright. Like most new franchises, attendance was booming. The team brought up such budding talents as Sean Burroughs, Kevin Witt, Ernie Young and Ryan Radmanovich as well as brought down/rehabbed such stars as Jim Leyritz, Jeremy Powell, Jason Middlebrook and even Rickey Henderson. Popularity of the sport was certainly on the rise, and one moment I will never forget took place on March 29, 2002 as the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners played one exhibition game in front of a sold out crowd. The Mariners, coming off their 116-win season proved to be the perfect draw. The Padres won the game 3-1 thanks to a two-run shot by Phil Nevin and six strong innings of pitching from Brian Lawrence. Attendance drew pretty well for the rest of the season and on into the 2003 season when the news “we all wanted” broke.

Back in June 2001 a story was released, but very few people knew about it. Bud Selig had sent one of his representatives, Corey Busch, to Portland to attend a Beavers game as the Montreal Expos were considering playing a few home games at PGE Park as, a Montreal Gazette article mentioned, the Expos were looking for a temporary home until a new stadium in Montreal was built. At the end of the 2002 season the possibility of a new stadium in Montreal was looking rather bleak, but the possibility of the Expos moving to Portland was looking promising. As a long-time Expos fan, I was champing at the bit with just the thought. Another thing that most people didn’t know is that Lynn Lashbrook, the founder and President of Sports Management Worldwide, had been rallying for a Major League team in Oregon for the previous six years, and made sure to head the committee to try to bring the Expos westward. For almost the entire winter on into spring of 2003 I helped work in the campaign. Well, as much as they would let me do: hand out fliers, make calls, send emails; you know, bitch work. At the end of January 2003 things were moving at an incredible pace. Only Washington, D.C. and Portland remained in the running for the team. Then Portland Mayor Vera Katz was in great support of it as she met with representatives from MLB in New York despite criticism from Republican politicians who didn’t see the benefits of allocating $350-400 million for a new stadium, especially with unemployment rates being one of the highest in the country at the time at 7% (the rate went as high as 11.6% in 2009, but is now around 8.3%). At the same time; however, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos was protesting the move to D.C. as the Orioles had territorial rights. Oddly enough, the Mariners tried to pull the same move with Oregon with little merit. Even more interesting is that the Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins names were being tossed around as other possibilities of relocation if Portland lost the Expos bid by the end of 2003.

On into 2004 very little seemed to be moving forward. The Expos and their fans in Montreal were well aware of the fact that the team would be playing its last season in Canada, but no one knew where that would be. All appeared to be going well for Portland as one of the Native American tribes even offered to front $250 million to build a new stadium as long as they were allowed to build a casino within the city limits. Mayor Katz balked at the idea and somehow around September 29 the announcement was made that the Expos would be moving to D.C. And I mean, it was really out of the blue. We were all dumbfounded, and we especially wanted to throw Katz out of office for not accepting the offer. But in the end, there wasn’t much that even Katz could do. Angelos had back off from his previous comments (more than likely paid off) and D.C. was getting their THIRD team throughout MLB’s history (because the first two panned out so well).   

As the years progressed attendance figures for the Beavers dwindled. Every game I attended from 2005-2007 seemed to be a jab to the ribs. I would have thought that in lieu of everything going to Hell that people would support the team in protest to MLB which would hopefully pave the way to luring another team to the city. Nope!

Years continued to roll on with little hope. The Beavers weren’t all that successful on the field which deterred a lot of people from going to the games. I had moved to Eugene in April of 2007 which made going to games on a regular basis a bit of a challenge, but I always made sure to catch the Sacramento River Cats (the A’s affiliate) when they visited.

In 2009 the AAA All-Star game was held at PGE Park. I was one of a little over 16,000 of the possible 18,000 it could fit to attend. Not too long after that the Portland Timbers were promoted from the United Soccer League to Major League Soccer under the stipulation that PGE Park be converted into a soccer/football specific stadium. The Beavers were forced out, but were given a slew of possible locations in which to build another stadium… at which ever possible site was protested. Without a home to play in, Merritt Paulson, the then owner of the Beavers sold the team to a group headed by Padres owner Jeff Moorad before the end of the 2010 season. Ever since that day I've had a lingering hatred of Portland and its residents. 10 years of boasting itself as a great baseball town went right out the window.

On September 6, 2010 the Beavers played their final game at PGE Park. The game ended with a 6-5 win over the Las Vegas 51s. I didn’t know it until today, but that was only the third sell-out the Beavers had since returning in 2001. The other two games were their first game back on August 30, 2001 and a July 4 fireworks night in 2009. I happened to attend all three.

For years I had kept this hat blank, even after I established my marking system. Today I finally set on one…

9/6/10- The Beavers wore this hat on their final game, a thought that still brings me to tears even as I write this two and a half years after the fact. It served as their home hat from 2008-2010. A lot of my other hats have specific dates, but I will wait to feature those on their specific anniversary. In the case of this hat I made an exception for the sake of my depression on this matter. When I went to Montreal this summer and visited my friend Dave Kaufman, all the heartbreak and sense of loss came rushing back anytime we talked about our teams. With Dave it was something deeper rooted as his beloved Expos were ripped out of the hands of the fans in Montreal despite their best efforts to hold on. I felt awful for all of the hours I put in to try to bring the team here, not really seeing both sides of the coin at the times.

In the case of the Beavers it became an oversight; something that only true baseball fans were affected by including then owner Paulson who regretted not doing more to keep the team in Portland. In an open letter following the last game Paulson predicted that the Beavers would make a return to Portland in the future. I guess we’ll wait and see.

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