There's a ballgame, there's peanuts and Cracker Jack, and there's a home team to root for. So, where's the crowd?
The Vancouver Canadians just hit the road after four weeks of games at Ron Tonkin Field. For one of those weeks, the ballpark was lively, filled up to its then-maximum capacity of 825 (limited due to COVID-19 restrictions). For the rest, attendance was light at best; the announced crowd at last Saturday's game versus the Eugene Emeralds was 190.
This was a marquee matchup between two of the best High-A West teams, on a breezy but beautiful early June evening. This time last year, we didn't even have a minor league baseball season. Even the year before that, the season had yet to get underway, since Ron Tonkin Field still only showcased less prestigious Class A Short Season baseball.
We get it: Fans have grown accustomed to the Hillsboro Hops, with their sassy logo and lovable mascot Barley. The home faithful have cheered the Hops on to six playoff appearances and three championships. When minor league baseball skipped last year due to the coronavirus pandemic — for the first time in the organized history of the sport — it was the Hops that we missed, not their rivals from Washington state or the mid-Willamette Valley or British Columbia.
But Washington County and Portland-area baseball fans have a unique opportunity this year. There's a game nearly every day at Ron Tonkin Field, located conveniently off U.S. Highway 26 near state Highway 127. There are a whopping 120 home openings scheduled, because the Hops are sharing the ballpark with the Canadians — displaced this year due to the pandemic. When the Hops are out of town, the Canadians play their home games at Ron Tonkin Field; when the Canadians are on the road, the Hops are home in Hillsboro.
Our community shouldn't let this opportunity go to waste.
The Canadians are accustomed to having more than 6,000 fans, on average, cheering them on in Vancouver, British Columbia. Right now, they're lucky to draw 600.
It's no "betrayal" of the Hops for baseball fans to come on out to Ron Tonkin Field and root for the "other" home team while the Hops are on the road. For 2021, this is home for the Canadians. We ought to make them feel at home and give them a taste of Oregonian hospitality. And we ought to take advantage of the chance to see far more baseball than Ron Tonkin Field, which has gone from 38 minor league home games in the regular season before 2020, all the way up to 120 for this year only, has ever been able to host before.
Need more convincing?
The Hops are a farm team of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Canadians are a farm team of the Toronto Blue Jays.
We're not saying you'll never see D-Backs or Jays caps around town. But in a place where baseball fandom is dominated by the (sort of) local Seattle Mariners, big-market California teams like the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, and nationally famous franchises like the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees — after all, Oregon is still without its own MLB team, although maybe not for too much longer — these prospects are all property of teams that relatively few local fans root for to begin with. The point isn't to dream on them as future contributors to Arizona or Toronto's MLB teams, it's to enjoy them for what they are — young men getting a chance to live their dream and hone their skills as professional athletes.
For your kids, for your grandparents and for most of us as casual fans, the biggest difference between watching the Hops and watching the Canadians is their jersey color. Either way, it's entertaining. And while the Canadians will (very likely) be gone next year, back to Canada, and the Hops are here to stay, most of the players we're able to watch today will be elsewhere next year either way — hopefully, for many of them, onward and upward to Double-A Amarillo for the D-Backs or Double-A New Hampshire for the Jays.
By all means, keep on selling out Ron Tonkin Field's available seating to go see the Hops when they're in town, as they are this week (and we're looking forward to a rollicking crowd for this weekend's games versus 2019 league runner-up Tri-City).
But don't forget the local ballpark whenever the Hops are on the road. Go check out the Vancouver Canadians. And remember to root, root, root for the home team.
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