Portland ready, willing and hoping for baseball
Oregon city has stadium plans, says it's prepared if team becomes available
Portland doesn't have a big league baseball team.
However, there is a growing effort to bring a franchise to the city. And Portland has something other cities lack.
Portland's backers of baseball have the blueprint for a state-of-the-art baseball-only stadium, which would have a retractable roof and seat 35,000. They have community support, including that of the current city administration. A site, endorsed by mayor Charlie Hales, has been chosen, next to Memorial Coliseum and the new Rose Garden, home of the NBA's Trailblazers.
"We have the land and the infrastructure," said architect Barry Smith.
The supporters believe they can find an ownership group, possibly a major Japanese firm, along the lines of Nintendo, which owns the Seattle Mariners.
All the folks in Portland need is a team.
They would welcome an existing team, or an expansion club if Major League Baseball reaches a point of deciding to add two teams to create two 16-team leagues. Portland folks believe their city would be a perfect location. Right now, however, baseball seems to be in a holding pattern in terms of relocation and expansion.
The folks in Portland, however, want to be out front so they aren't overlooked if the opportunity to land a franchise surfaces.
"We are trying to get baseball's attention," said Smith. "We have gotten the attention of the mayor's office. When we went to the mayor's office, the response was, 'This is too good to be true. What do you need us to do?'"
The A's have been approached, but as Lynn Lashbrook, chairman of the study committee to bring Major League Baseball to Portland, Oregon and southwestern Washington, said, "Nobody wants to sell the team. Nobody wants to move the team [out of the Bay Area]."
Montreal also has a movement designed to bring baseball back to the Canadian city, which lost the Expos to Washington, D.C., nine years ago, and there are strong emotions there. Portland, however, has demographics that would seem to make it more attractive.
The Portland metropolitan area, according to 2012 population estimates compiled by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, is the 19th largest in the country. It's the largest of any metropolitan area without a Major League team. It ranks just behind Denver and San Diego, and just ahead of Orlando, St. Louis, Tampa, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Seventy percent of the estimated three million residents of the Portland metropolitan area are between the ages of 20 and 64, 53.8 percent own their own homes, and the average travel time to work is 24 minutes.
"We are talking about an age group that is mobile, has the money and is begging for entertainment," said Lashbrook. "Portland is a growing West Coast city with a young, savvy, high-tech crowd."
The leading corporations in the metropolitan area include computer and software firms such as Puppet Labs, DiscoverOrg, Intel, Act-On, Janrain and Jama Software, in addition to Nike, Boeing and Columbia Sportswear.
One thing the Portland backers will have to deal with is the region's proximity to Seattle, which is 180 miles north on I-5. Over the years, when talk of moving a team or expanding came up, the Mariners have been firm in their stand that Portland, to the south, and Vancouver, British Columbia, to the north, are within their territorial rights.
The folks in Portland, however, believe that issue can be overcome. They also see the proximity to Seattle as a bonus, particularly if the team can play in the same division as the Mariners.
"In the old days of the Pacific Coast League, Seattle and Portland was one of the game's great rivalries," said committee member Larry D'Amato, a longtime baseball scout.
And seeing the struggles in cities that currently have teams only adds to the anxiousness in Portland.
"One of the discussions people have is does baseball need Portland more than Portland needs baseball?" said Smith. "I'd say it's both. We can be a benefit to each other."
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.