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Take me out to the Hops game -- preferably in a car

Take me out to the (Hillsboro Hops) ballgame.

Take me out to the (light-rail, rush-hour) crowd.

Buy me some ($4) peanuts and Cracker Jacks (wait, there are no Cracker Jacks).

I don't care if I ever get back (I almost didn't).

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cohen Barackman, 7, enters Hillsboro Ballpark to see the first home game in Hillsboro Hops history.Pro baseball returned to the Portland area on Monday, and I was determined to witness it — and leave my car in the dugout (garage).

Here's a chronology of my mass-transit journey to Hillsboro Ballpark and assessment of the Hillsboro Hops' Class A Northwest League home opener against the Eugene Emeralds:

3:20 p.m. — I walk out the door of my inner Southeast Portland home to catch the 3:33 p.m. TriMet bus downtown. At this hour, it's a cozy, air-conditioned ride. I'm one of only four or five passengers. Woo-hoo, I'm on my way.

4:02 p.m. — At Pioneer Courthouse Square, waiting to board MAX.

4:16 p.m. — I hop (pun intended) onto the Blue Line and am immediately surrounded by literally dozens of my new closest friends. In other words, the train is a can of sardines.

I stand, with heavy computer bag over one shoulder, and try not to fall into some lady's lap like a Texas Leaguer.

4:20 p.m. — We pass by PGE Park, er, Jeld-Wen Field, and I am hit with nostalgia.

Twelve years ago, I was getting off MAX for the return of Portland Beavers Pacific Coast League baseball at the remodeled stadium where baseball now is verboten.

What a difference 12 years make.

4:38 p.m. — My sweaty (and it's not even summer yet) light-rail co-riders and I whiz through Beaverton, where a Triple-A home for the Beavers almost, sort of, became more than talk and wishful thinking in the wake of the Portland Timbers' takeover of PGE Park. Instead, this part of Beaverton looks like a ghost town.

4:40 p.m. — I'm well en route now, and see no sign of Hopsmania. But one man on the train is wearing an Oregon State baseball hat and looks very happy.

4:54 p.m. — Next stop, Orenco Station. This is the end of the line for Hops fans. From here, the team has a shuttle that will take me to the new ballpark.

5:20 p.m. — I've been joined at the station by seven others who are going to the game. There is no sign or attendant to help us locate the shuttle, but we figure we're in the right place.

A smart-looking couple from Aloha has season tickets.

A young father has well-behaved two boys with him.

A gentleman who lives in my neighborhood tells me he used to watch the Portland Beavers at Multnomah Stadium in the 1960s and saw Luis Tiant and Sam McDowell pitch for the Bevos.

Also waiting for the shuttle is a man who lives in Portland but works in Hillsboro. He already is wearing his blue Hops cap, which he bought Friday. "It's the road one," he says. He picked it over the home version, which has the team's hop-sy logo, because "I like the classic look."

5:25 p.m. — We climb into a comfortable shuttle bus and begin to make our way the two miles or so to the ballpark.

5:36 p.m. — After having to wait a few minutes in line behind the car drivers who are paying $5 each to park at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex (note to Hops staff: the shuttle needs its own entry lane), we exit the bus and thank the friendly driver.

We're only a short walk — like going from the batter's box to first base — to the main gate.

6:03 p.m. — I'm hungry. Do I get the cheeseburger ($9) with fries ($4)? Or just the basic hot dog ($3.75) and an ice cream cone ($5.25)? Let's live it up. After all, you're only at a team's first home game once.

6:15 p.m. — Everyone's in a good mood. The man who is, well, manning the door to the club seat section is an excited as anyone.

"Historic night," Lee Gerig says with a grin, noting that his last name is pronounced the same as the former New York Yankees great but spelled differently and that he is Lee instead of Lou, and grew up in Detroit as a Tigers fan but fondly remembers watching Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, among other visiting stars.

Gerig has been retired since 1998 and moved to Orenco Station after a career that included many years as a university dean at Seattle Pacific, George Fox and Seattle University.

"This is great," he says of his new job at the ballpark. "I walked over here tonight. Took me 30 minutes. I can ride my bike here, too."

6:28 p.m. — Lots of old-timers and local baseball legends are on hand.

One of them, former high school and Portland State manager Jack Dunn, points out that he played in the Northwest League from 1955-57 with the Salem Senators. Why am I not surprised? Jack has done just about everything in baseball.

7:12 p.m. —First pitch (a called strike).

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Shortstop Josh Parr celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring the first run at home for the Hillsboro Hops, who went on to beat the Eugene Emeralds 12-0 Monday night.7:25 p.m. — The turf is artificial, a necessary evil, I guess. Seems to play realistically enough, though.

7:40 p.m. — The berm in left field is full, mostly with families on blankets. A good seat for $7. Too bad the area isn't larger.

Speaking of seats, as promised there doesn't appear to be a bad one.

8:00 p.m. — I'm thirsty. My choices include bottled water ($3), a 22-ounce soda ($4) and lemonade ($5). Will wait a bit for the beer. Let's hydrate first with the water.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Yosbel Gutierrez of the Hillsboro Hops slides into second base under the feet of Eugene Emeralds second baseman Michael Bass. An announced crowd of 4,710 saw the Hops open their home season at Hillsboro Ballpark with a 12-0 win on Monday.8:45 p.m. — The Hops, by the way, are well on their way to their first win in four tries.

9:00 p.m. — The concessions are packed, and the lines are longer than a triple in the gap. A nice problem for the Hops to have; another kink to work out.

9:01 p.m. — The crowd is so large (4,710 is the announced attendance) that people are standing all the way around the concourse. Without them, it would be possible to watch all the action while at the concession stands, an aspect to Hillsboro Ballpark that the club has been crowing about. However, the standing patrons block much of the view.

9:08 p.m. — The changing evening skies are beautiful.

9:15 p.m. — Spectators like the scoreboard. They don't like that there are no video replays and no listing of pitch speed off a radar gun. Maybe the Hops can make enough money off crowds like tonight's to add those features.

9:30 p.m. — The sound system isn't perfect, but it's way better than what Portland Beavers fans had to endure.

9:36 p.m. — The music has been almost non-stop during any break in the action. But where is "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors? OK, the song is from the first year of the Dodgers in Los Angeles and Giants in San Francisco, but in my humble opinion it still works.

"All the cats and chicks can get their kicks at the hop …"

I defy you to come up with a better song or lyrics.

9:58 p.m. — The Emeralds, trailing 12-0, just got their third hit of the game in the top of the ninth inning, and then put runners on second and third via an error, but the crowd is on its feet and clapping as the final out is recorded.

10:01 p.m. — The fireworks show begins behind the left-field fence.

10:10 p.m. — Fireworks are over. Crowd disperses. I head for the shuttle.

10:56 p.m. — Where IS that shuttle? I'm in a group of nine people waiting and wondering.

10:57 p.m. — Yea! The shuttle has been rescued and finally appears.

11:03 p.m. — With the post-game traffic gone, a quick ride has us back at Orenco Station.

11:05 p.m. — Fortunate timing, as MAX approaches the loading area.

11:43 p.m. — The good news is, I'm in downtown Portland again and ready to catch my bus home. The bad news is, I've missed the 11:33 p.m. departure and have to wait 50 minutes for the next (and final) bus of the night on my route.

12:20 a.m. — I've walked up and down various downtown streets, looking in vain for coffee or a decent indoor place to rest my feet. But it beats sitting like a duck at the bus stop for nearly an hour.

12:33 a.m. — I board the bus for Southeast Portland.

12:50 a.m. — I get off at the closest stop to my house, but it's still a mile walk.

1:10 a.m. — Honey, I'm home.

Summary

• The ballpark was more than satisfactory, and I'm willing to forgive, for now, the fact that the concessions were totally outmatched by the crush of hungry, thirsty fans.

• The Single-A baseball itself was good enough to hold my attention, at least for one night.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Waiting for the gates to open at Hillsboro Ballpark are (from left) Zack Bastinello, 9; Gavin Barackman, 9; Drew Bastinello, 7; and Cohen Barackman, 7; and (standing) Sadie Bastinelli.• The accompanying ballpark entertainment was all right. I'm more of an old-school purist who doesn't need contests, gimmicks and screaming music to sfill every moment that doesn't have baseball action. But I can, and will have to, put up with such antics.

• However … the test run of using mass transit to get to and from the game was a dismal, discouraging failure for this east-side Portland resident.

It took me two hours and 16 minutes to go from my house to Hillsboro Ballpark. I saved the $5 stadium parking fee, but spent $5 on the all-day Tri-Met pass.

The 2:16 trek wasn't altogether unpleasant, although I wouldn't want to do it with multiple children in tow.

In 2:16, I could have driven to PK Park to watch Eugene play a home game against Hillsboro. Or made it on I-5 South to Volcanoes Stadium with plenty of time to spare before a Hops game at Salem-Keizer.

My post-game adventure took even longer, unfortunately — three hours (from 10:10 p.m. to 1:10 a.m.).

So my day at the ballpark in reality was about 4 1/2 hours in the ballpark … and nearly 5 1/2 hours just getting to and from the ballpark. The Emeralds might even score if they were given that much time.

But, in a way, I was lucky: What if the game had gone 15 innings? Would there have even been a shuttle back to Orenco Station? Or would it have mattered? Both MAX and the busses would have stopped running for the night by then.

I don't need sabermetrics to determine that my approach to the game needs to change. Toto, we aren't in Portland anymore; we aren't going to PGE Park, which is a relatively short trip from my home and can be made using a variety of possible bus routes.

So, while some of my commute time to and from Hillsboro could be trimmed (assuming the Hops get a better shuttle system in order), what I really need to do is to drive my car to the next game.

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Twitter: @sbrandonsports