Portland Seems Quite Alright Without The Portland Beavers

This year marks the seventh season since the Portland Beavers departed for Tucson. Along with 1994, these past seven years have been the only years Portland hasn’t had a professional baseball team since 1899. The citizens seem quite alright with that fact these days.

Portland has always been a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to professional baseball. While enjoying a steady run in the Pacific Coast League for the first half of the 20th century, Portland’s baseball scene has been on shaky grounds since the 70s. Portland’s first Beavers team relocated to Spokane (before relocating a decade later to Las Vegas) in 1972.

An independent team owned by television actor Bing Russell called the Portland Mavericks filled Portland’s baseball void for the next five seasons. The team was forced to cut it quits after the Pacific Coast League awarded an expansion team to Portland for the 1978 season; leaving behind a Netflix documentary and Big League Chew

After settling into Civic Stadium once again, the Portland Beavers were on the move less than two decades later, in 1993, when they relocated to Salt Lake where they’re now known as the Bees. 

Portland would be without a baseball team for a single year before the Rockies plopped a short-season team in town after Bend didn’t work out so well starting in 1995. That team would last until 2000 when, once again, the Pacific Coast League decided to return to Portland once again in 2001 following the relocation of the Albuquerque Dukes to the Rose City. 

Don’t expect the Pacific Coast League to return to Portland, for a fourth time, anytime soon. The latest iteration of the Portland Beavers, which relocated to Tucson in 2011 before landing in El Paso two years later, were effectively kicked out of their home.

Beavers owner Merritt Paulson and Portland’s city council opted for PGE Park to be converted into a soccer-specific stadium for a future MLS franchise. The renovation was first approved under the guise that a replacement stadium would be built for the Beavers. 

Demolishing Memorial Coliseum was the first option discussed. That was shot down in part by the mayor. Lents Park in southeast Portland was also discussed. Neighbors objected. Sites in northern Portland such as Delta Park, the Portland Expo Center and Portland Meadows were all brought up. They didn’t go that far. Same goes for the other half a dozen options explored. 

Ultimately, Paulson and the city council balked on their initial agreement, in order to keep their new MLS franchise on track. Paulson shortly thereafter sold the Beavers and that was that.

Since 2011, the city of Portland has moved on from professional baseball. Providence Park has already gotten the thumbs up for a second renovation to facilitate the Timbers. Baseball fans have also moved on and decided that they’re quite alright without a professional baseball team.

Three minor league/collegiate summer league teams have filled Portland’s baseball void since 2011: the Hillsboro Hops, Portland Pickles, and Gresham GreyWolves. 

The Hops are effectively Portland’s new baseball team. The team, which relocated from my hometown of Yakima following the 2012 season, sits on the western outskirts of Portland’s metro area in a new 4,500-seat ballpark behind Hillsboro Stadium. In 2016, the Hops averaged roughly 3,500 in attendance per game. In their final few seasons of existence, the Portland Beavers averaged roughly 5,600 in attendance per game before their inevitable relocation had them take a beating at the ticket booth. Due to the size and location of their stadium, the Hops will never rise to the level of fan support as the Beavers achieved. 

On the east side of Portland lies the Pickles and GreyWolves. The two collegiate summer league teams, which play in separate leagues, both entered the fray last year with the Pickles getting the better of the GreyWolves attendance wise. Playing in the brand new Great West League, the Pickles averaged a sellout in the 1,566-seat Walker Stadium on the grounds of Lent Park.

Meanwhile, the future of the GreyWolves seems bleak with an average attendance of 374 per game in their inaugural season. Gresham, who play in the established and northwest-based West Coast League, will be entering this season with the worst average attendance by nearly 700 per game. Kitsap, who averaged 163 per game last season, relocated to Port Angeles in the offseason. 

When you total the performance of Portland’s three baseball clubs from last season, who get an average of 5,405. Instead of hoping another Portland Beavers PCL franchise comes to town, the Rose City has opted against another franchise one tier below the majors. Portland’s baseball fans seem perfectly content with supporting small ball; bucking the common narrative of having a big city means you need to have a big team.

The Pickles are the lone team within Portland’s city limits but playing in a 1,566-seat ballpark means they’ll be relegated to small ball for the future. While Hillsboro may be considered by some Portland’s professional baseball team, it’s tough to ignore their short-season status and their location which effectively cuts off everyone east of the Willamette and north of the Columbia.

Gresham are severely hampered by a minuscule ballpark and the Pickles cutting them off from a large portion of Portland. The GreyWolves are likely relocating to the next viable market (Moses Lake, Olympia, Surrey) if they’re unable to reverse their fortunes sooner rather than later. 

Portland nowadays seems quite alright without professional baseball. Then again, that won’t stop people from thinking that Portland is ready for a MLB team.