Portland has begun to build a better reputation as a sports town. The Blazers have represented Portland since 1970 in the National Basketball Association, and the Timbers, in one soccer league or another, off and on since 1975.
However, it feels as if Portland has been sorely missing a baseball team for quite awhile. While we had the Beavers playing downtown in the past, their move to Tucson, Arizona back in 2012 left quite the gap in Stumptown’s sports scene.
Thankfully, the void was filled with the newly branded Hillsboro Hops just a season later. While the Hops play in a short-season A league as opposed to the AAA Beavers, the fact that their league is comprised of other local teams helps generate some additional excitement. The rosters may not be filled with once and future major leaguers but it’s pretty easy to root against any team from Eugene.
Originally founded in 1977 down in Salem (known then as the Salem Senators) the team became the Yakima Bears in 1990, and was planning to move to Vancouver, Washington in 2012—a deal that eventually fell through. Seeing an opportunity, the city of Hillsboro agreed to take on the team and build a brand new 4,500 seat stadium for them to play in. Ground was broken in September 2012, and the team was able to play their first game in June 2013.
While the team’s first season on the field was only decent, they have captured national attention with their branding. The Hops made it into the MiLB’s top 25 merchandising list for 2013, a surprising feat considering it was their first season with the new brand. Their logo was also named the best in all of MiLB by Ballpark Digest.
To the team’s surprise, they sold more merchandise on their opening day alone than they did in their entire final season in Yakima, Washington. “I was blown away,” Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher told the Oregonian. Wombacher has worked in minor league baseball for the past 14 years. “We far exceeded any team in merchandise in our league, ever. It was a good surprise.”
It would appear that a large part of the local success has stemmed from both their logo and their sponsor, Bridgeport Brewery. The Hops found it fitting to pair up with a local brewery. Not only are beer and baseball closely associated, but quality hops are what set apart most craft beers from standard stadium swill.
Last season, Bridgeport released a special beer that was only intended to be served at the stadium called Long Ball Ale, an easy drinking summertime blonde ale. Wombacher reports that the signature brew outsold Miller and Coors at a ten-to-one clip during the Hops’ 2013 season. The popularity of the Long Ball Ale has prompted Bridgeport to make the beer available outside of the ballpark. Wombacher reports that 22-ounce bottles will be available at local grocery stores beginning in June. While the team knows that sales next season may dip due to a lack of novelty, Wombacher remarked that they intend to offer an even wider variety of merchandise next season, and also step up their beer sales.
The Ron Tonkin family of auto dealerships have offered to invest a total of over $1.5 million into the team over the next ten years, in exchange for the naming rights to Hillsboro Stadium. This massive investment in Ron Tonkin Field, and last year’s merchandise sales seem to be the perfect start for the new anchor of the Portland area baseball scene.
The Hops’ season officially starts June 13, but they do not play their first home game until June 18 against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. If you are looking for a great summer evening at a ballpark with a good beer, while supporting Portland’s growing sports scene, then don’t miss the Hops’ 2014 season!