Ahern: MLB in Portland? Make it an expansion team
One of the best sports stories to come out of our state in recent weeks — helping to cover the stench of the Trail Blazers' most recent playoff collapse — is the effort to bring Major League Baseball to the Portland metro area.
The naysayers — and there are plenty — don't think the region could support a team for 81 home games. The mean home attendance in the MLB is about 29,000. The Los Angeles Dodgers drew 46,492 per home game in 2017, but the Tampa Bay Rays drew just 15,670. The Seattle Mariners drew 26,363 per game last season. These numbers factor in season ticket-holders who may or may not be at the game. Usually, the Rays have fewer than 10,000 actually in the stands. Early this season, there was a viral photo of a Chicago White Sox game that had, those on hand swore, fewer than 1,000 people in the stands.
A Portland franchise would have to do better — and certainly would do better.
Many of those naysayers are in love with the city's soccer team, the Portland Timbers. The Timbers have dedicated, serious fans who'd likely take a two-day crowded train ride to Calvary to watch the Timbers play. I wouldn't drive to Bend to watch them. But I'd be very interested in, say, a four- to six-game package of tickets to a new baseball team. And I'm far from alone.
Outside on a beautiful summer night enjoying the perfect pace of a baseball game? Sign me up. Perfect family sports entertainment.
The effort for a team in Portland is working both angles: luring an existing team to town, or possibly inspiring the MLB to expand.
The last time MLB flirted with Portland was back around 2004, when the Montreal Expos considered the Rose City before choosing Washington, D.C., where they were reborn as the Nationals. It's likely they were putting out Portland just to get a better deal from the D.C. interests. It worked, apparently.
Since then, the Timber Army has certainly grown, but the Class-A Short Season Hillsboro Hops are the only professional baseball in the area. The region can do better.
Since being considered for a team nearly 15 years ago, the Portland area has gone from the 25th largest market to the 22nd. St. Louis is 21st, and their beloved Cardinals drew an average of 42,492 last season. MLB teams in smaller markets than the Portland area include Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Kansas City and Cincinnati.
From Salem to Southwest Washington, Portland baseball would be a summer rage, and would draw fans from throughout the state to Portland for long weekends. Plus, many fans of other teams would fly into PDX, check out their team play, then travel the area — some, I'd imagine, would even venture out to Central Oregon.
Personally, I hope it's an expansion team. Sure, an expansion team might finish dead last in the division for a few years, but the team gets to create its own history, not inherit one. Take a look at the Washington Nationals' team records and it's loaded with names like Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers and Pedro Martinez — all players who starred for the franchise that moved to D.C., the Expos.
Beggars can't be choosers, and I'd be happy if a team relocated to Portland. But hopefully, the Oakland Athletics will stay in Oakland and the Florida teams will stay in Florida. The Pacific Northwest likes it fresh, and we aren't afraid to build from the ground up.
Right now, there are 30 major league teams, fitting nicely in three divisions of five teams in both the American and National leagues. Adding teams would offset that balance. But if they added two teams — say, Portland and a new Montreal franchise — then MLB could do four divisions of four teams in each league, a 32-team MLB, with screaming regional rivalries maintained (Red Sox-Yankees) and new ones created (Portland-Seattle).
One of the most fun elements of being a sports fan is watching your team improve, getting better and more successful. The Trail Blazers went from expansion team to NBA champions in eight seasons, locking in generations of devoted fans. A good ownership group, some luck and a baseball franchise could do the same. The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Florida Marlins, they both won World Series titles fast.
Baseball in Portland? Bring it.
Tony Ahern is publisher of the Madras Pioneer, a Pamplin Media Group newspaper.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It can cost as little as 3 cents a day.)