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Hillsboro's new team Hops to it

GM, staff tackle lengthy to-do list before baseball team's June 17 home opener


K.L. Wombacher's to-do list is longer than yours.

Not that he's complaining.

Wombacher is executive vice president and general manager of the Hillsboro Hops, who are about to bring back pro baseball in the Portland area.

Baseball fans lost the Portland Beavers in 2010 when the city and owner Merritt Paulson went solely with soccer. Now they are counting the days — 18 — until the Hops play their home opener on June 17. It's a 7 p.m. game against Northwest League rival Eugene Emeralds.

And, it's only 15 days till the Hops open their 2/12 month inaugural Class A season with a three-game series at the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, June 14-16.

Wombacher's pressing get-'er-done list includes everything from important stuff like returning calls to sports writers … to firming up the 60 to 70 people who will be hired as game-day staff at the new ballpark, to finalizing the concessions menu and prices, to taking inventory of uniforms, bats, balls, etc., to gearing up the merchandise for the on-site team shop, to preparing for the anticipated June 7 move from temporary office space at Orenco Station to permanent quarters at the stadium, to writing the script for every home game -- what will happen pregame, during games, between innings and after games in the way of entertainment, sound and so forth.

And that's just the part of the list that Wombacher — in his 13th year with the franchise that played previously in Yakima, Wash. — could recite seemingly in one long breath.

"Every year we're nervous for opening night," he says, "but this year we're just so much more excited than we've ever been."

Some of the big days ahead:

June 6 — The Hops will host a 3 p.m. MLB draft party for ticket holders at Buffalo Wild Wings in Hillsboro.

June 11 and 12 — The 30 players assigned to the Hops from within the parent Arizona Diamondbacks organization will begin showing up for workouts.

June 15 — The "beer release party" at Helvetia Tavern is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and will be open to the public. BridgePort Brewing Company will unveil its new Hops beer.

"I have tried it," Wombacher reveals. "It's kind of a secret what it's like, but let's just say I think it will do well for a summer beer."

July 4 — The national pastime will be played in the Portland area again on the anniversary of the nation's Declaration of Independence. That, of course, means a fireworks show at the ballpark, after the Thursday game against the Vancouver Canadians. (Fireworks also are scheduled for the June 17 home opener and the Aug. 30 home finale versus Eugene).

The Hops' ballpark, at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex, is coming along nicely, Wombacher says. Capacity may turn out to be about 4,700, up from the previous estimate of 4,500.

The complex has about 2,000 parking spaces, and Wombacher says the Hops are continuing to work on setting up a shuttle from the Orenco light-rail station.

"Probably the biggest surprise" has been the wide scope of interest in the Hops, he says. "We've got ticket-holders already from Astoria and the coast, from Gresham/Troutdale, the Vancouver area, and south to Wilsonville."

Home attendance should reflect that.

"We've got the potential to be one of best markets in the country for minor-league baseball," Wombacher says. "We're already in the top three in our league in ticket sales, and we're already exceeding some teams in merchandise sales. We might sell out a number of times. And we think our fans will travel to our games, like the ones at Salem-Keizer."

At home, Wombacher says the fan experience will be one of the best in minor league baseball, especially at the Single-A level.

"The sight lines are what's going to captivate people the most," he says. "The seats only go up 12 to 14 rows. Everybody will be close to the field. And all the concessions will overlook the field, so you won't miss any of the action."

The video board "is two or three times the size of the one at Volcanoes Stadium" in Keizer, and will add to the fans' enjoyment.

"I have a feeling this is going to be one of the best Single-A ballparks in the country," Wombacher says.

The Hops executive/GM says the club isn't targeting a particular age group or demographic.

"The great thing about minor-league baseball is it appeals to everyone," he says.

The Hops had a fan in Yakima who was 96, he says, and who threw out the first pitch at a game on her 95th birthday.

"The key for us is to make it more than baseball," he says, "and to find ways to keep people having fun."

That means a lot of activity besides balls and strikes and home runs and double plays between the lines.

It means, he says, interaction with the spectators, frequent contests, race-the-mascot competitions, catch-a-fly ball opportunities, hit-a-ball-off-a-tee interludes and other ways to "engage fans on the field."

Taking a cue from soccer, the Hops also will take selected kids onto the field for the National Anthem, he says.

For now, though, Wombacher must get back to checking off things from that to-do list.

There are catering plans to complete, furniture and phones to pack for the pending office move, ballpark music to select, and other pages of tasks.

There is no time limit in baseball — but there is for the GM and his front-office staff of a dozen or so.

Eighteen days and counting.

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