Will Beavers' Departure Lead to "Golden" Era in Portland Baseball?by Bruce Baskin
August 31, 2010 - Pacific Coast League (PCL) Portland Beavers
As a result, Portland stands the very real possibility of not having professional baseball for the first time since 1901 while becoming the largest market in the country without a pro ballclub of any kind. In fact, Portland would be left without an adult baseball team playing an intercity league schedule at any level, professional or amateur. One option remains that would keep Portland in the pro ballgame: the Golden Baseball League.
The GBL began play in 2005 and has established itself as the only independent league in North America west of the Rockies. The level of play in the Golden League has been compared to Class AA leagues, and over 100 GBL players have been signed by major league organizations (with five reaching The Show). Also, the GBL has welcomed a number of former big leaguers. While some have played mainly for publicity purposes, such as Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson, most ex-MLBers have been legitimate players extending their careers, as have been those who choose to play in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or Mexico. In short, the GBL would give Portland a level of baseball somewhere between what the PCL or the NWL could provide.
Off the field, the GBL is a mixed bag. There are currently ten teams in the league. Franchises in Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria have proven themselves solid operations, while teams in Tucson and Chico are relatively viable. However, the GBL's Yuma and Orange County teams appear shaky and franchises in Maui, Tijuana and St. George, Utah have been disasters. A Jim Caple story on ESPN.com details the pitfalls of the GBL, but shows how much the players are willing to sacrifice to keep playing pro ball for teams with season salary caps of $90,000 (which works out to about $1,000 per month...WHEN they get paid). The GBL does provide that opportunity, and league president David Kaval says they definitely would love to have a team in Portland.
Kaval gives three criteria for awarding a GBL franchise to certain markets: history of baseball support, a solid population base with an active business community and a suitable facility to play in. Kaval, who founded the GBL, says Portland meets the first two priorities with flying colors, but the third would have to be addressed. There are two existing baseball facilities in Portland with the potential to host a GBL team. One is Joe Etzel Field on the University of Portland campus, a decent ballpark that seats only 1,000 (Kaval says GBL teams need parks with a capacity of at least 2,500-3,000). The other facility is Walker Stadium at Lents Park, an amateur baseball park that was the site of heated protests from neighbors a year ago when the idea of building a $35 million, 10,000-seat ballpark on the site was floated by Beavers owner Merritt Paulson, son of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who wants to keep the AAA team in Portland.
Walker Stadium intrigues Kaval, who can see new bleacher sections running parallel along the foul lines while sitting above locker rooms as possible solution to the ballpark's lack of adequate seating and clubhouse facilities. There would be other renovations needed for the aging facility, which Kaval says would have to be hammered out between owners of a Portland GBL franchise (he says "two or three groups" have made inquiries, with one group expected to get the nod in September), but the cost would be a fraction of a new stadium for a PCL team. Kaval gives the price for a GBL expansion team at $1 million and adds the league is not interested in moving one of its troubled franchises to Oregon, although he reiterates the Golden League is very interested in a Portland team. "We would like to see it happen," he says. "A market like Portland doesn't open up often."
Would Portland accept an independent team after decades of affiliated ballclubs? The old Portland Mavericks were an independent team in the Northwest League in the 1970's that set still-standing attendance records, so there has been such support in the past. However, despite the promise of lower ticket prices ($5-10 per game) and teams built for winning games instead of developing farm system players, the GBL might have a tough sell in Portland. It's a city with major-league pretensions that has supported its PCL team tepidly, and there are no guarantees the Portland City Council will approve funding for Walker Stadium renovations.
Should the GBL not come to Portland, there are two fairly viable choices for an adult intercity baseball team (although both are outside the confines of pro ball). The West Coast League is a summer college wooden bat league in the Northwest run out of offices in Portland. WCL commissioner Ken Wilson, a former Seattle Mariners and Chicago Blackhawks announcer, did not reply to inquiries for this story but it can be assumed a team will not cost $1 million (although the circuit appears to prefer smaller towns to cities for franchise sites).
The other choice would be the Pacific International League, a loosely-confederated wooden bat circuit that includes both current college players and ex-pros with teams in Washington and British Columbia. The PIL champion Seattle Studs finished second at this year's National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, while the Everett Merchants (who won the NBC title in 1989) also made the trip to Kansas. PIL commissioner Steve Konek in Seattle says, "We can be worked with and would welcome a Portland participant." Konek adds the cost of bring the PIL to Portland would be minimal. "Franchise cost would be minimal, unlike the WCL, and thus provides a much more affordable start-up cost," says Konek. "Equipment, uniforms, etcetera and travel expenses for a season along with league fees/franchise fee would be the cost of start-up. League fees & franchise fees are voted on each year, but as we are a non-profit, the league procures only what the budget necessitates. No large salaries, no profit motive."
One other option already in place is the Northwest Independent Baseball League, a 14-team, wooden bat loop with a number of local one-time high school, college and pro players from the Portland area playing games at both Walker Stadium and another small ballpark called Sckavone Stadium.
Those are four options Portland might consider regarding its immediate baseball future: An independent professional team in the Golden Baseball League, a summer college team in the West Coast League, a semipro team in the Pacific International League or the 14-team intramural Northwest Independent Baseball League.
Once September 7 arrives, the Beavers will have packed their suitcases and left town, leaving behind 110 consecutive seasons of pro baseball in Portland along with more questions than answers. What is decided upon will determine baseball's status there for the next few years. The hope here is that the powers that be choose wisely.
Pacific Coast League Stories from August 31, 2010
- 'Topes Split a Pair with I-Cubs 11-10, 6-8 - Albuquerque Isotopes
- Kroenke Strong as Aces Knock off Beavers - Portland Beavers
- New Orleans Ends 'Birds Streak - Memphis Redbirds
- Z's Win a Wild One in Memphis - New Orleans Zephyrs
- Lerew Tosses Shutout in Rain-Shortened Win - Omaha Storm Chasers
- Round Rock Express Blanked at Omaha 7-0 - Round Rock Express
- Four Express Players Headed to Houston - Round Rock Express
- Dodgers All-Star Rafael Furcal to Rehab with 'Topes - Albuquerque Isotopes
- Sounds Doubleheader Rained out Tuesday - Nashville Sounds
- Will Beavers' Departure Lead to "Golden" Era in Portland Baseball? - OSC Original by Bruce Baskin
- Bourjos Named PCL Rookie of the Year - Salt Lake Bees
- Redbirds' Dickson Named PCL Pitcher of the Week - Memphis Redbirds
- Bourjos Named PCL Rookie of the Year - PCL
- RedHawks Game Notes - Oklahoma City RedHawks
- Round Rock Express - Game Notes at Omaha Royals - Round Rock Express
- Royals, AT&T to Send Rosenblatt out in Style - Omaha Storm Chasers
- Baxter, Beavers Rally to Beat Aces in Reno - Portland Beavers
- Rainiers Cruise Past Colorado Springs, 6-3 - Tacoma Rainiers
- Portland Takes Opener Over Reno, 7-6 - Reno Aces
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