Big league ball in Portland: It can be done

Recently, some people have asked me why I would ever think the city of Portland could attract a major league baseball team. Being a big supporter of major league baseball in Portland, I enjoy spending the time to throw out some facts that make baseball in Portland a reality.

First off, you have to look at the market size of Portland. At last count, Portland was the 24th largest market in the United States. Remember, there are 30 teams in major league baseball. That means at least six teams are surviving in a markets smaller than Portland. Find that hard to believe? Ironically, of the top 35 markets in the United States, Portland is the only city without two professional franchises.

Second, the whole rain issue comes up more often than most questions. The problem is, it’s not a problem. With research done through the Portland Baseball Group and Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, president of Oregon Baseball Campaign, there are 15 other major league cities where it rains more during the baseball season than it does in Portland. That’s half of the league folks. The number one city for rain during the baseball season is Florida. Find that hard to believe? For all those who say a stadium with a retractable roof or a dome is what Portland needs, it’s not true. An outdoor stadium has always worked for minor league baseball and it would still work for major league baseball.

Third, the support is there. When Jack and Mary Cain brought the single-A Portland Rockies to Portland, most people said it wouldn’t work and nobody would go watch. Cain proved everybody wrong and he should be the one receiving all the credit for bringing baseball back to Portland. Every year Cain and the Rockies were here, they set minor league attendance records in Civic Stadium (now PGE Park).

People in Portland would love the opportunity to support major league baseball. I can’t see an empty stadium on a Tuesday night when the New York Yankees come to town for the first of a four-game set.

Fourth is the enthusiasm and the dream of many to bring major league baseball to the city. Let Marshall Glickman and Portland Family Entertainment turn you on with triple-A baseball. The real warriors are the people trying to lift the phrase “minor league town” from the city of Portland.

Lashbrook and the Oregon Baseball Campaign may have had their most glorious accomplishment when House Bill 2941 was passed at the State Capitol a couple of weeks ago. This allows lottery funds to be designated specifically for economic development projects, which includes the construction of a stadium.

“An Oregon MLB team will actually produce at least $7 million per year in direct revenue to the state’s general budget through income taxes on the team’s payroll,” Lashbrook said.

Finally, the total economic benefit produced to Oregon by an MLB club has been estimated at $170 to $300 million per year. The Oregon Baseball Campaign promoted the passage of HB 2941 to dedicate $150 million in lottery-backed bonds to the construction of a big league ballpark in Oregon.

Addressing the issue of stadium construction cost, Lashbrook quickly noted the $250 to $330 million price range of the three new MLB stadiums to open last season.

“Houston’s new ballpark has a retractable roof, it’s downtown and it has all the modern amenities, yet it cost just $250 million,” he said. “That’s half the cost of the Safeco Field aberration in Seattle.”

Overall, I think it’s safe to say the backing for major league baseball is there. For so many years, the media, the mayor and the critics have said major league baseball will never work.

Yes, Portland Mayor Vera Katz has said openly that she supports the idea of major league baseball. But behind closed doors, with no media or cameras, the story changes. The media says the same thing. Most of those same media people are old die-hards who don’t believe in change.

The saying, a “minor league town,” will always be there as long as this city remains a one-team town. Baseball is closer than one would think, though. The support is there and the enthusiasm is there. Most importantly, there is momentum. Which I guarantee you, makes Glickman and Katz very nervous.

“We have a great deal of momentum. Bringing big league baseball to Portland was just a dream a few years ago, now it is looking like a reality in the very near future,” Lashbrook said.