The Portland Expos? MLB official in town today

Due to the overwhelming response of last week’s baseball story, I felt it fitting to continue the talk of Major League Baseball in Portland this week. In the interest of the city of Portland, some critical news came out this week regarding the Montreal Expos. A major newspaper in Montreal reported that the Expos would do their version of the Oregon Trail and head to Portland by next season.

The Montreal Gazette reported the Expos could play at PGE Park as early as next summer while construction of a new, larger stadium takes places somewhere in Portland – perhaps near the Rose Quarter.

Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette identified Portland as the prime candidate for the impending relocation of the Montreal Expos.

“With a half-dozen struggling franchises on its hands, baseball and these struggling teams are not going to turn down the largest market in the country without Major League Baseball with a perfect interim stadium and a new ballpark being built,” Todd stated.

Whether Oregon will see Major League Baseball depends on whether the Legislature will step up to the plate with $150 million in stadium funding, according to Oregon Baseball Campaign.

How serious has this become for Portland? Corey Busch, a Major League Baseball consultant, will be in town today during the Portland Beavers’ home game to scout and talk to city politicians. Busch will see whether the Rose City has major league potential.

This will be the second time in a year that Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has sent Busch to Portland to obtain information. Busch was also in Portland nine months ago for a brief visit. Either way, the Oregon Baseball Campaign feels this is the time to make something happen.

“Whether the region’s baseball fans have any interest in Triple-A baseball or not, fans need to treat the May 31st game as our ‘Tryout for MLB’ and come out to PGE Park,” said Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, president of the Oregon Baseball Campaign. “And we need to take advantage of this opportunity to show MLB that we have an enthusiastic fan base and wonderful atmosphere at PGE Park, especially with MLB analyzing the ballpark as an interim solution.”

The Expos are on a short list of Major League Baseball teams looking to move, including the Oakland As and both the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But there may be some compelling reasons for the Expos going to Portland. The Expos are not a hockey team, and Montreal fans are utterly indifferent about its baseball team. Attendance has plunged to about 4,300 people a night in Olympic Stadium, where capacity is 45,000.

Portland has PGE Park, where the Expos could conceivably draw larger crowds. The renovated park also has luxury suites and enough capacity at about 20,000, to host the Expos temporarily. Jack Cain and the Portland Rockies outdrew the Expos in more than half of their single-A games last season. The Rockies also had the highest attendance numbers in all of minor league baseball during their tenure in Portland. It’s foolish to believe those numbers wouldn’t increase if a major league baseball team decided to head to Portland.

“We believe Oregonians would sell out every night for 81 games in this particular stadium until we get the new stadium,” Lashbrook said.

There are still a lot of questions that would need to be answered though. Who would own the team, and why would they bring it to Portland?

“We’re really not worried about finding an owner because most of the owners that have invested in teams want to move their team,” Lashbrook said. But is Portland ready for such a move, and how would the city handle it?

“With all larger cities and several smaller ones having 2, 3 and more teams in major league sports, Portland, with only one team and as the 22nd largest market, is the most underserved community in America sports-wise,” Lashbrook said.

“MLB is a great amenity for our community to pursue and improve our sports-entertainment situation – especially since it would be affordable and accessible to the average fan and an off-season addition to our basketball team, and would be a tool to improve tourism and attract conventions to coincide with the current expansion of the Oregon Convention Center.”

The Oregon Baseball Campaign will begin its festivities at 5 p.m., at The Kingston Bar and Grill on the corner of 20th and Morrison across from PGE Park. All MLB fans are encouraged to attend the Beavers game and visible demonstrations of support for Major League Baseball in Oregon.

Oregon Baseball Campaign volunteers will be passing out informational material to fans attending the game, informing those in attendance of MLB’s presence and encouraging fans to make a strong statement to MLB.

Citizens can learn more about the effort to bring MLB to Oregon through the Oregon Baseball Campaign Web site