The Hillsboro Hops are movin' up.
Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks announced Wednesday, Dec. 9, that the Hillsboro Hops have been invited to be their Single-A Advanced affiliate, graduating from their Short Season-A status of years past. The move will see the team's schedule grow from 76 games to 132, with the season ranging from April to early September.
Documentation will arrive soon from MLB, and once the paperwork is reviewed and the invitation from the Diamondbacks is accepted by the Hops, the move to become the Diamondbacks' Single-A Advanced affiliate will be official.
"Being promoted to Single-A Advanced is a tremendous opportunity," said Hillsboro Hops President K.L. Wombacher. "It is a testament to the success we've had in Hillsboro since 2013. We have a great recipe with a first-class facility, outstanding fans and a supportive community that lead to Hillsboro being a perfect place to develop big leaguers. We look forward to reviewing this new agreement and are excited for this new chapter with Major League Baseball and our partners the Arizona Diamondbacks."
The Hops are set to begin their ninth season as an affiliate of the Arizona MLB club and 21st year of partnership dating back to Yakima (2001-12). The minor league club has won three championships during its time in Hillsboro, in 2014, 2015 and 2019.
When they relocated to Hillsboro for the 2013 season, the Hops filled a void left by the Triple-A Portland Beavers, which left the region for Tucson, Arizona, after the 2010 season. However, unlike the Beavers, the Hops haven't previously been a full-season team, instead beginning their Short Season-A schedule in June and playing into early September.
The move from Short Season-A to Single-A Advanced is a jump of two levels for the Hops, and is a significant move for the organization, resulting in more games and a higher level of competition for fans of the team. Wombacher said such a move is exciting, and one that even initially surprised them to an extent.
"I never would have thought it was possible to move two levels like this," he said. "You know a lot of teams are going to stay put at Triple-A or Double-A, but for us to move up to a level this high is just a huge opportunity."
With the move up, fans of the team can expect not only better talent in Hillsboro, but also that same talent staying with the club for extended periods of time. In the past, high-profile players like Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, and Kristian Robinson have been known to spend at least a portion of the season with the Hops before the organization ships them off to greener pastures.
Now, however, Hillsboro will be one of those greener pastures, and that will likely result in longer stays for players the Diamondbacks view as major league prospects.
From a business standpoint, Wombacher views this latest news as an opportunity to recover from this past year's financial hit as the result of the cancelled minor league season. With more games comes more revenue from ticket sales, concessions and sponsorships. The Hops' president said they've managed despite the ongoing pandemic, thanks in large part to a patient fanbase that's been willing to help.
"Over 95 percent of our fans allowed us to move the money into 2021, so they didn't opt for refunds," Wombacher said. "Had we been forced to refund, it would've been a much greater challenge. It's great to have a supportive fanbase that trust us with their investment."
Wombacher said he anticipates no increase in ticket prices and little issue with regards to another potential concern: the weather.
An April start is far different than June, but the longtime executive cited past springtime promotions at Ron Tonkin Field, like college and high school games, as examples of successful on-field activities in that timeframe.
"We're not too worried about it," Wombacher said. "We're going to have weather challenges, but we have those in the summer as well. We've hosted games in March and April in the past, and we've had some really nice weather, so we'll navigate it."
Aspects of this move have been rumored for months, and Wombacher said the Hops have been having discussions with some of the powers-that-be for even longer. But he couldn't help but be excited to get the official letter and invitation from the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, and to have the opportunity to give the good news to the Hops' loyal fans.
"We're tremendously excited," Wombacher said. "It's been like having a secret that now you can share with everyone."
Also receiving invitations to move up to Advanced-A:
• The Vancouver Canadians in Vancouver, British Columbia, affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays
• The Everett AquaSox in Everett, Washington, affiliates of the Seattle Mariners
• The Tri-City Dust Devils in Pasco, Washington, which will become affiliates of the Los Angeles Angels
• The Spokane Indians in Spokane Valley, Washington, which will become affiliates of the Colorado Rockies
• The Eugene Emeralds, which will become affiliates of the San Francisco Giants
The league in which the Hops and those five teams play is expected to contract from its longtime eight-team configuration, with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and the Boise Hawks not receiving invitations Wednesday to continue as minor league affiliates.
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