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Hops President KL Wombacher says they're planning to play in front of fans as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Hillsboro Hops outfielder Kristian Robinson hits during a 2019 game. Robinson, one of MLB.com's top-ranked prospects this year, could be back in Hillsboro as a High-A player this season.With a new level of play, a new coaching staff and a roster that could feature some old fan favorites back at Ron Tonkin Field, the Hillsboro Hops are set to kick off the 2021 season on May 4.

The only minor league baseball team in the Portland metropolitan area, the Hops are now the High-A affiliates of the Arizona Diamondbacks, effectively moving up two levels of play for this season and beyond.

They were formerly members of the Class A Short Season Northwest League, but a full-scale overhaul of minor league baseball over the winter saw the Hops and five other Northwest League teams move up to form a new High-A West circuit, while two other former Northwest League teams will continue to play in independent leagues.

The change means the Hops go from 76 games, with 38 home openings, to 120 games, with 60 home openings. High-A teams are supposed to play 132-game seasons that run from April to September under the new configuration of the minor leagues, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, this year's season is delayed and slightly shortened.

The Hops will open their season at home on May 4 versus the Everett AquaSox, a farm team of the Seattle Mariners. The time of first pitch has yet to be announced.

Whether the Hops will be allowed to pack the stands by then is unknown. Washington County is currently designated as a "high risk" county for community spread of COVID-19 by the Oregon Health Authority.

A lot can change in two and a half months, but if the season were to start today, under the state's guidelines, Ron Tonkin Field would be limited to 75 lucky fans in a stadium that seats up to 4,500.

Tickets are not yet on sale.

KL Wombacher, the Hops' president and general manager, expressed optimism Thursday, Feb. 18, after the schedule was released. He said the team is "progressing as if we'll have fans opening day."

"Given the trajectory of numbers that impact venue restrictions, we are gaining confidence by the day that restrictions in May will look a lot different than current restrictions," Wombacher told the Pamplin Media Group, adding that "we'll have a better idea come end of March."

Wombacher continued, "As more and more sports venues open safely with fans, we are able to continue to prove that sports venues can operate under limited capacities very safely."

The Hops' regular season will conclude Sept. 19 in Vancouver, British Columbia, with the Hops visiting the Vancouver Canadians, affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Their final home game of the regular season will be two weeks earlier, a Sept. 5 game versus the Eugene Emeralds, affiliates of the San Francisco Giants.

In a new scheduling quirk this year, High-A teams will not play Mondays. Games are scheduled Tuesday through Sunday every week.

The High-A West schedule does not include an All-Star Game this year. Before the minor league reorganization, the top players from the Northwest League and the Pioneer League competed in a home run derby and participated in an exhibition game midway through the season. Ron Tonkin Field last hosted that All-Star Game in 2017.

The new playoff format has yet to be announced. The Northwest League season was divided into halves, with the team with the best record in each half in each four-team division earning a playoff berth.

The High-A West circuit is not divided into divisions and the season is not divided into halves in 2021, so if playoffs are held this fall, a different system will have to be devised for determining which teams participate.

It's also unclear yet whether the Hops will be recognized as defending champions of the High-A West league entering play in 2021. They won the Northwest League championship in 2019 and did not play in 2020, as the minor league season was canceled due to COVID-19.

As reported earlier this week, the Hops will have an all-new coaching staff this season. Vince Harrison will serve as manager, with hitting coach K.C. Judge, pitching coach Shane Loux and extra coach Juan Francia rounding out the staff.

As for the Hops' roster of players, that won't be announced until much closer to Opening Day. However, with the team moving up to a higher classification, it's possible that Hops stars from 2018 and 2019 could return to Hillsboro this season.

The Visalia Rawhide were previously the Diamondbacks' High-A affiliates, but like most former members of the California League, they will begin play this year as part of the new Low-A West league.


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