Evanson column: How about some love for the Hops
The Hillsboro Hops are headed for the playoffs.
Big deal? Of course. After all, regardless of who, what, or where you play, competing beyond the regular season and for the ultimate prize is what any competitor strives to do. From the World Series, to the NCAA championship, Little League, or even your beer league softball title, winning is why you play the game. So when the Hillsboro Hops clinched a trip to this year's Northwest League playoffs, and later the NWL South Division's second half title, Hillsboro's minor league franchise partied like it was New Year's Eve, 1999 — and they should.
This is a franchise that knows what it's doing. Since moving from Yakima in 2013, the Hops have played seven seasons in Hillsboro. Over those seven campaigns, the team has won nearly 60 percent of its games, claimed two NWL titles and recorded a NWL record six straight postseason bids.
In that same time period, the team has averaged more than 3,500 fans per game and improves upon the experience every year via concessions, game promotions and branding efforts meant to further ingratiate the team to each and every facet of the community. The Hops franchise is more than just a baseball team; it's a member of the Hillsboro community and one that doesn't take the responsibility lightly.
Last year, the Hops donated $300,000 to the development of a multi-sport facility at Glencoe High School designed to perpetuate sports — and more specificially, baseball and softball — in the city of Hillsboro at the youth level. The project and subsequent donation were among a number of charitable contributions by the franchise since it arrived prior to the 2013 season.
"We are excited about this collaboration with the Hillsboro School District to develop a high quality year-round youth field," Hillsboro Hops President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher said in the wake of the groundbreaking at Glencoe. "Over the last three years youth baseball has seen an average yearly growth of 14.3 percent, which is exciting. To accommodate this growth and inspire more kids to play in the future locally, we need more fields and high quality fields. We are very motivated to help accomplish that and expect this field to be a great starting point."
I've talked to Wombacher many times, along with Hops owner Mike McMurray, and their commitment is real. They — and the organization — don't see themselves simply as a business in the community, but rather as members of that same community that strive for the best. They live here, raise kids here and genuinely take their role in the city of Hillsboro seriously. Maybe that's part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization as a whole.
Minor league baseball is a training ground. While a game, it's really a process of developing talent with the goal of winning at the Major League level. But while some see it from an individual's perspective of getting better, the Arizona Diamondbacks organization sees winning games as part of that process, and the Hops are far from the exception to that rule. They want to win, and seem to value — more than most — exactly what's to gain from building a foundation of success, even at the single-A level.
From Shelley Duncan, to Shawn Roof, to 2019 first-year Hops manager Javier Colina, the Hillsboro skippers — while understanding the importance of developing talent — aim to win.
"This is the D-Backs philosophy ... we give everything we have," Colina said. "I like to play the game hard, aggressive and do the right thing. It's both about winning and development, but the only way you're going to have fun in baseball is to win."
"Every day we're trying to do the best thing for the players and trying to develop them and get them ready for the next level," Roof said prior to the 2018 campaign. "But while the idea is to prepare the players, the game is about winning, and that's what we're here to do."
In fact, Roof continued that mantra in Visalia — the Diamondbacks' Advanced-A affiliate — this season, winning both halves of the California League's North Division and in the process earning the league's Manager of the Year award.
While proud of the honor, Roof was quick to point to the players and his staff for recognition, but also spoke about his time in Hillsboro as helping him become the manager he is today.
"I loved my time in Hillsboro," he said last week. "The best fans in minor league baseball, and I miss that place. It truly is a special, special place."
And Wombacher, McMurray and his wife Laura, and the entire collection of employees that make everyone's time at Ron Tonkin Field an experience we should all be proud of, are the pieces that make that puzzle work.
So when the Hops take the field at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday night, Sept. 4, in the first of a best-of-three game series with Salem-Keizer in the divisional round of the 2019 playoffs, show up, root them on and help celebrate the season, the team and organization, and most importantly, your city that is first rate.
We're all winners in that equation.
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