The Ruder Reality

If there was ever any doubt that Portland is one of worstprofessional sports towns in the United States – if not the worst -the city’s absolute failure to support the Portland Beavers shouldhave erased it.

Portlanders have treated the games of the first place Beavs -the hottest team in professional baseball (17-3 in last 20 games) -as if they were George W. Bush rallies.

Unless the team sells out the 12 remaining home games – which isabout as likely as the Mariners winning the World Series – theBeavs will suffer their second season of declining attendance. Theyare on pace for a whopping 35 percent decline from last year’sattendance.

Playing in the second largest media market in the Pacific CoastLeague, the Beavers are currently ranked third to last inattendance and are drawing a measly 4,136 fans a game to PGE Park -arguably one of the best minor league stadiums in the country.

For the past three years, supporters of bringing Major LeagueBaseball to Portland have written off the lackluster support to theBeavers on-field struggles and Portland fans’ desire for majorleague-caliber sports.

“Look at the fans support of the Blazers! We’re Rip City, baby!”they say.

The argument doesn’t fly.

The sad fact is, Rip City, the haven for a unique breed ofpassionate Northwest sports fans – legendary fans who embraced the1977 world champion Blazers like no other fans could have – hasbeen rezoned.

In its place?

A sporting graveyard, littered with the graves of the manyfranchises drawn in by its allure and reputation but unable toanticipate the hostile environment awaiting them.

Remember the Rage? The Panthers? The Lightning Bolts? ThePredators? The Power? The Spikers? The Prowlers? The ForestDragons?

Those are just the casualties of the last 15 years, the newestin the not-so-proud tradition of dead franchises dating back to the1968 Portland Adanacs of the National Lacrosse Association.

Michael Highsmith, the owner of the now-defunct PortlandProwlers, summed up the problem in a 2001 interview. “From anoverall standpoint, the fan base was so jaded, we didn’t stand achance. … If we had done our research, I don’t know if we wouldhave come.”

Even the Blazers and the Winter Hawks – the two most establishedfranchises in P-town – are struggling. The Blazers’ problems areself-created, but the Winter Hawks?

After 28 years of steady ownership rumors circulated this Maythat the owners are looking to sell because of multiple years oflosing money and low attendance.

I guess 22 championship banners in 28 years and a legion ofalumni starring in the NHL just isn’t a big enough draw forPortland fans (the same fans who clamor for a Portland NHLfranchise).

Until recently, Portland’s fair-weather (foul-weather?) fansnever bothered me. I was willing to accept that Portlanders hadbetter things to do than watch sports.

Hell, we’re Northwesterners! We’ve got the most beautifulterrain in the country to snowboard, surf, hike, swim andexplore.

We don’t need major league volleyball (Spikers), roller hockey(Rage), women’s basketball (Power and Fire) or team tennis(Panthers)…whatever that is…er…was.

Failing to support that kind of garbage is fine, but AAAbaseball?

It may not be the majors but it’s about as close as it gets. HadPortland “fans” been paying attention the last four years theywould have seen hundreds of players now making it in the bigleagues, including the two top contenders for this year’s Rookie ofthe Year – Khalil Greene and Jason Bay – who both played on theBeavs last year.

The Beavers have the best pitching staff in the league, havebeen hitting the cover off the ball and are playing flat-out goodbaseball.

And that’s not good enough for Portland?

A couple of years ago, Lynn Lashbrook, a co-founder of theOregon Baseball Campaign, lamented the sporting world’s perceptionof Portland, saying, “It’s kind of an insult to us to keep beingtalked about as a minor-league venue.”

He was right.

We’re not even that good.