What Would MLB Bring to Our Local Baseball Ecosystem?

As the Oakland A’s ponder a move, diamond-heads in Portland don’t have to wait to get their game on.

By Alli Weseman August 27, 2021 Published in the Fall 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

When he was little, Gabe Skoro rooted for the Seattle Mariners. It wasn’t the legacy of Ken Griffey Jr., the wonder of Ichiro Suzuki, the arm of Félix Hernández. No, for the Portland native, it was something else.

“I’ve always rooted for the Mariners, because they were the closest team to me,” says Skoro, now a University of Portland ballplayer. His city could be on the verge of having a Major League Baseball team of its own. It’s a conversation that’s been happening since before Skoro was born, pushed along by local boosters and, lately, national celebs—musician Ciara and her Seahawk husband, Russell Wilson, are part of the Portland Diamond Project, founded in 2017 to facilitate the siting of a ballpark. Like the Big One, it could happen tomorrow, in five years, in 50 years, or never.

It did take a step forward in May, with an MLB statement allowing the Oakland A’s to explore relocation sites. The A’s have been a Bay Area fixture since their arrival from Kansas City in 1968; their short stint there followed more than 50 years in Philadelphia. But plans for a new waterfront stadium keep stalling, suggesting the team may join the sports exodus that has sent the NBA’s Warriors back across the bay to San Francisco and the NFL’s Raiders to Las Vegas. If the A’s do come to Portland, it would bring a fellow American League West team close to Skoro’s Mariners, easing the MLB’s hardest travel schedule for the isolated Seattle team and adding a new dimension to the Cascadian sports rivalry.

“If Oakland is not willing to support what the A’s want, the A’s have a public statement that says they are welcome to go elsewhere,” says Alan Miller, co-owner of the Portland Pickles, an amateur team Skoro has played for during his college summers. “I would say this is good leverage for the A’s, and hopefully they get what they want in Oakland.”

The author (right) with Stomper

Image: Alli Weseman

Many in Portland, of course, might hope for the opposite. But in the meantime, while the A’s consider relocation sites including Las Vegas and Portland, and pie-in-the-sky ballpark proposals get drawn up, local baseball lovers have still been able to get their fix. In addition to the Pickles, whose 2020 Wild Wild West League offered one of the only spectator-sport experiences around in last year’s pandemic summer, fans can see future MLBers at Hillsboro Hops games, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Hops’ Ron Tonkin Field also served as the home stadium in 2021 for the Vancouver Canadians, a Blue Jays affiliate that stayed south of the border due to travel restrictions.

While some MLB teams maintain minor league affiliates in their metro area—the Mariners have the Tacoma Rainiers and the Minnesota Twins have the St. Paul Saints, for example—there’s usually a little more separation. We’re still very much in the what-if stage, with no clear picture of what would happen if “the show” came to town—the minors system the Hops are a part of is complex. But according to Miller, there is one aspect where the little guys can maintain an edge: cost.

“Are people willing to pay a hundred dollars a ticket or more to see the world’s best players, or are they completely comfortable going and seeing other teams?” he says. “Take Hops and Pickles tickets: they are under $20, and we are able to bring in really good crowds at that price.”

One area where we hope there would be collaboration, not competition? Mascots. If the A’s bring Stomper the elephant with them, Portlanders would have a new pachyderm to fall in love with. (RIP, Packy.) And he’s sure to become best buds with the always-smiling Dillon T. Pickle, the Gherkins’ Lil’ P, and the humble Barley T. Hop, right? This mascot supergroup might be just what Pacific Northwest baseball fans never knew we needed. When it comes to winning hearts and minds, the Mariner Moose wouldn’t stand a chance.

And Skoro’s heart and mind? He admits proximity would win out if Portland actually landed an MLB franchise. Wherever the stadium might end up, it would be a heck of a lot closer than Seattle.

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