You can expect more baseball in Hillsboro this summer.
The Vancouver Canadians announced Monday, March 29, that the minor league baseball club would be starting the 2021 season in Hillsboro. That's because the Canadian border remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, separating its home city of Vancouver, British Columbia, from the other five teams in the High-A West circuit, including the Hillsboro Hops.
The Hops — thanks to their promotion to the High-A level — were already adding 27 home dates to this year's schedule. But with the addition of the Canadians' home slate, baseball fans will see double the action at Ron Tonkin Field, at least to start out the 2021 season.
"There's the potential to have a home game every night," Vancouver Canadians team president and partner Andy Dunn said. "If someone is looking for a great night of affordable family entertainment, come on out to the ballpark. Somebody will be there."
Dunn said he began conversations with the Hops organization last fall as effects from the pandemic again started ramping-up. The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21 of last year, and that closure was recently extended to April 21 as part of the two countries' monthly reassessment.
The Toronto Blue Jays, which are the Vancouver Canadians' parent club and the only active Major League Baseball franchise based in Canada, are starting their season playing home games at their spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida.
The Blue Jays will be near neighbors with another Canadian team playing in a mostly U.S.-based league. The NBA's Toronto Raptors have temporarily relocated to nearby Tampa.
Dunn said that while they'd prefer to be playing at home in Vancouver, the team is prepared to spend the bulk of the 2021 season in Hillsboro.
The Canadians still hope to be able to play at Nat Bailey Park in Vancouver this season, but that isn't feasible right now, Dunn explained.
"Obviously we'd like to be playing at home, but we have a great situation here in Hillsboro," Dunn said. "The border situation right now is pretty difficult. I've got a federal issue, then you've got local issues within the province of British Columbia.
"Right now, there's a three-day hotel quarantine, and a 14-day stay at home quarantine to enter the country. So, until we're in a situation where we can cross the border and there's no quarantine to re-enter the country, we can't play in Vancouver."
Hillsboro Hops President K.L. Wombacher said that when approached by Dunn, he and team owners Mike and Laura McMurray had a "quick yes." From there, Vancouver worked with Hillsboro city government — which owns the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex, where the Hops' home of Ron Tonkin Field is located — to negotiate a rental agreement for the use of Ron Tonkin Field, then work out the details regarding gate and concessions revenue.
Dunn said that organizationally, the Canadians will be operating entirely separately from the Hops. They will begin selling season packages, ticket plans, and individual tickets very soon, Dunn added.
Dunn expects Canadians tickets at Ron Tonkin Field to fall mostly in line with Hops ticket pricing. By no means do the Canadians plan to undercut their hosts, he emphasized.
"We're not going to come in here and cut their ticket prices or business model," Dunn said. "We're going to fall in line and implement the same ticket policies and plans that they've had here for a number of years."
Dunn added that while they looked at alternative situations — one being in Spokane Valley, Washington, where the Spokane Indians play their home games — it was apparent early on that Hillsboro was the best choice.
With Ron Tonkin Field being part of a larger recreation complex, Dunn took note of the adjacent Hillsboro Stadium, which will offer alternative clubhouse and training facilities. That is particularly important in today's environment with COVID-19 protocols and concerns.
"Most facilities are only built with home and away clubhouses, so to drop another team in would mean building something or dropping portables," Dunn said. "I wanted to avoid building anything, and with the stadium right next door, it was a godsend to be able to utilize that space."
Hillsboro is also in a somewhat central location with league geography in mind. Four of the six High-A West teams, counting the Canadians, are situated along the Interstate 5 corridor.
From a scheduling standpoint, the Hops' Wombacher said the stadium-sharing arrangement works out perfectly, too.
"Every time they are scheduled for a home series, we're on the road," Wombacher said. "So no schedule changes will be necessary."
For Vancouver, it really is like starting anew.
The Canadians were founded in 2000, after a Triple-A team by the same name left British Columbia for Sacramento, California. The team is familiar with the local infrastructure and has established countless business and community relationships.
Now, being in Hillsboro for at least part of the 2021 season, the Canadians will be forced to quickly familiarize themselves with the Portland-area community and the businesses they'll be counting on to make this endeavor work.
"Basically, it's like we're a startup," Dunn said. "We need to understand the facility and community leadership, then tie in organizational aspects like business licensing, banking information, buses and hotels — not to mention the currency complications."
The U.S. dollar and Canadian dollar aren't tied together, so the exchange rate fluctuates. At present, $1 in U.S. currency is worth about $1.26 in Canadian currency.
Despite those complications and inconveniences, the Hops are happy to have the Canadians here, and the Canadians are looking forward to quality minor league baseball — something both Hops and Canadians fans have been without since 2019.
"With what everyone has been through over the last year, there are greater things in life than baseball," Dunn said. "We understand that, but we're very thankful and fortunate to be able to have a place to be able to put on a product this year, help develop kids and players, and do it in a great community like Hillsboro."
The Hillsboro Hops' home opener is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4. The Vancouver Canadians will open their home action Tuesday, May 11.
The teams will first play each other Tuesday, May 18, when the Hops will play as the home team for a six-game series. For another series starting Aug. 3, the Canadians will "host" the Hops, who will play as the away team in their own ballpark if the Canadians are not able to move back to Vancouver by then.
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