MLB SHOP HITS A HOME RUN
The major league baseball-to-Portland campaign by Portland Diamond Project and the acquisition of land along the Willamette River for a potential ballpark has the area's baseball fans thirsting for an exciting future.
Now there is something new to feed the immediate appetite of those dreaming of a new franchise in town.
An MLB-to-PDX pop-up shop opened Dec. 8 at 1919 S.W. Morrison St. across from Providence Park — the former home of the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers — in a spot formerly inhabited by a retail shop for the MLS Timbers.
To say it has been a hit with the fans is underselling its success. It has been a grand-slam home run.
The MLB-to-PDX store did more than $20,000 in business the first weekend of operation, selling shirts, sweatshirts, hats, stickers and magnets.
"For a while, we couldn't order enough gear," said Marcus Harvey, owner of Portland Gear and operating chief of the MLB-to-PDX shop. "I knew the retail store was going to work, but I didn't know it would go over this well."
Harvey, 28, is a Century High and University of Oregon grad who attended Beavers, Rockies and Hillsboro Hops games while growing up. In 2014, he opened Portland Gear, which offers sporting T-shirts, hats, accessories and souvenirs at a shop located in the same building as the MLB-to-PDX store. When Harvey learned of the MLB-to-PDX campaign, he contacted the campaign's managing partner, Mike Barrett, with an idea.
"I'm all about product, city pride and sports, all of that kind of stuff," Harvey says. "There's nothing I'd rather put time and resources toward. We print T-shirts and hats all day. It was aligned for us to do something like this.
"My thought was, 'How can I be part of something to help ensure that the next generation — my generation — can be baseball fans?' I called Mike and asked how I could help, providing advice on apparel. When this spot opened up (adjacent to the Portland Gear store), I was like, 'Let's do it here. Let's utilize this space and make it a place for people to come.' The timing was perfect."
Barrett and his managing partner, Craig Cheek, hadn't planned on a merchandising venue. When Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and wife Ciara signed on as minority owners in the venture last summer, MLB-to-PDX held a news conference at Baseballism Portland, a retail shop in Northwest Portland featuring house-brand baseball-themed apparel.
MLB-to-PDX made up a shirt and hat for the Wilsons to wear at the news conference, along with a few shirts for those in attendance.
"As soon as people saw that, they wanted them, too," says Barrett, the longtime TV play-by-play man of the Trail Blazers. "We started selling them on our website, but it was pretty low-key. Then Marcus presented us with the opportunity to have a shop.
"The popularity of this (venture) surprised us, but it shouldn't by this point. People in this area have shown there's a hunger, a passion for major league baseball in the city. This shop is a chance to come here and talk to people and put a face on the movement. A storefront is something that's tangible for people to identify with."
Harvey didn't advertise the store — mostly via social media — until a couple of days before the grand opening, "because we didn't know for sure what day it would open," he says. The response on the first day was overwhelming.
"There were so many people, we couldn't move in the shop for about four hours," he says.
Harvey has asked visitors to sign a board that is located in the shop. The board is crammed, to say the least.
"We counted 1,400 signatures," he says. "We'll have three new boards over the next six months and do something big with it."
Harvey also has an email list of those interested in buying full or partial season tickets.
"We're trying to get to 100,000 email addresses to send to the mayor (Ted Wheeler), the major-league commissioner (Rob Manfred) and those types," Harvey says.
The MLB-to-PDX shop is open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Harvey says business has been steady.
"Every day we have people come through asking, 'Is this going to happen? Is this real?' " he says. "It's turned into a point of contact for people to see stadium renderings and ask questions. That's been cool to be able to provide some answers."
Harvey has decorated the shop with several nostalgic items, including photos of past Beaver and Portland Mavericks teams. There's a picture of Joe Tinker with the 1910 Portland Webfoots — yes, the shortstop of the famous Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination of the Chicago Cubs — and one of Olympic champion sprinter Jesse Owens, who owned the 1946 Portland Rosebuds of the all-black West Coast Baseball Association.
Baseball cards — thousands of them — line the walls of the shop's bathroom. Minority owner Darwin Barney — the former Southridge High and Oregon State standout who played eight seasons in the major leagues and now makes his home in Lake Oswego — donated several of his bats, which youths are invited to take a swing with in the shop. There is also a suggestions box where hundreds of fans have offered ideas for the name of Portland's major league team, should it come to be.
Just last week, more historical memorabilia was brought it to be displayed in the shop, including a pair of seats from the old Vaughn Street Park in 1901, and a bench and turnstile from Multnomah/Civic Stadium.
"I had two kids come in with their dad," Harvey says. "The next day, I got a text from the dad that said, 'My kids said that was the coolest store they've ever been in before.' It's great to start those kids young and get them excited about the thing. There's a groundswell of support from young people and millennials in here."
Cheek and Barrett had created a logo commemorating the emblem on the caps of the Portland Beaver teams managed by Walt McCredie in the early 1900s. That logo is displayed on all the MLB-to-PDX apparel sold in the pop-up shop.
Barrett attended the grand opening on Dec. 8 and has been in contact with many who have visited the store since.
"I've found a lot of people want to tell you their history with baseball in Portland," he says. "The first day, I had three different guys break down in tears at the prospect of bringing MLB to Portland.
"It strikes me about how much passion there is among baseball fans here. There's something that's different about the sport, for whatever reason, with some of these people who have a history with the Beavers or Mavericks, or memories of pro baseball in the city. They start to talk about it, and tears roll down their face. That's when it starts to feel like a responsibility we have — not pressure in a bad way, but we want this to happen. It's motivating to see people that emotionally moved about baseball."
Profits from the MLB-to-PDX shop will be directed to Friends of Baseball, an organization founded in 2005 to provide resources for youth baseball and softball in the Portland area. Harvey expects contributions to be "in the tens of thousands" of dollars.
"We're thrilled," says Nova Newcomer, FOB's executive director. "Not having a pro baseball team in the city of Portland has left a gap in terms of investment in youth baseball and softball. We've tried to fill that as best we can, and have great support from the Hops and (Seattle) Mariners.
"But the impact of a major-league team to the community would be huge. And to have this support from Portland Diamond Project from the get-go says a lot."
PDP's initial contribution will be to help fund a coach in FOB's Full Count year-round after-school baseball program in Multnomah County schools.
"We had one coach last year, and this would allow us to have an additional coach and open up six more after-school programs," Newcomer says. "We're hoping to expand to schools in other counties in the metropolitan area, too. For us, it's an investment in families and in baseball fans."
"We've also talked about some money going to revitalize baseball fields in parks in Northwest Portland, which would have a great effect on youth opportunities in the sports in the city," Barrett says. "It's been a side benefit to all of this for us. The passion of the fans has driven this, just like it is driving our project to bring major-league baseball here."