And they're off.
The Hillsboro Hops officially kicked off the 2022 season with their Media Day Wednesday, April 6, where they introduced their roster of players, presented second-year manager Vince Harrison, and took questions regarding what will be during the season to come — and beyond.
"This is the first professional baseball we've had in April in the Portland Metro area for over a decade," Hops President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher said. "It's pretty awesome to get April baseball back."
This year marks the tenth for the franchise in Hillsboro and the second at the High-A level after transitioning from Short Season-A ball a year ago. In those 10 years, 176 players who've played on Ron Tonkin Field have gone on to play at the Major League level. That number is expected to increase by one when 2021 Everett Aqua Sox outfielder Julio Rodriguez takes the field for the Seattle Mariners April 8, and by even more than that as the Hops navigate the High-A waters going forward.
"I heard a member of the media who knows baseball really well last year say, 'now this is pro ball,'" Wombacher said. "I think the biggest thing we've noticed since we made this move is that the talent is crazy. I don't think we realized the difference from Short-A until we started seeing it firsthand."
The Hops return 17 players from last year's team, and Harrison is back to manage those returnees, as well as the rest of the team's 30-man roster.
Harrison is entering his eighth season as a coach or manager in the Diamondbacks organization and said he's excited to be doing so back in Hillsboro.
"This is a great place to call the office every day," the manager said. "I'm looking forward to the young talent we've got here. I think there's a lot of guys that have some high ceilings and it's going to be fun to watch."
One of those guys will be 2017 West Linn High School graduate and former Stanford Cardinal infielder Tim Tawa.
Tawa is entering his first full season of professional baseball after being drafted in the 11th round of the 2021 MLB Draft and playing 36 games for the Visalia Rawhide, the Diamondbacks' Low-A affiliate, where he batted .264 with five home runs and 22 RBI last summer.
The former two-sport standout at West Linn said he's excited for his first full season and looking forward to playing it in his hometown.
"When I got drafted by the Diamondbacks it did cross my mind that with the High-A team here I could be coming back home to play," Tawa said. "Now that I'm here, it's really cool."
During his time at West Linn, Tawa twice earned state Player of the Year honors and broke the career passing record for both yards and touchdowns. But despite that success on the gridiron, the now Stanford graduate said the diamond is where he knew and still does know he belongs.
"I have no regrets," he said. "When I committed to play baseball at Stanford I knew that's what I wanted to do and what I wanted to pursue professionally at some point. And getting to live out that dream now and getting to do it here in Oregon with family and friends watching, it's pretty surreal."
The Hops open their season at 6:35 p.m. on Friday, April 8, against the Tri-City Dust Devils. It will be one of 132 games, 66 of which will be at home. Wombacher said that fans can expect to see a number of upgrades to the game-experience this season, including with the number of options and quality of concessions.
"We're re-doing a lot of the food menus, with new burgers, new vegetarian options, quinoa bowls, and some grab-and-go areas," Wombacher said. "We're just making tweaks that we think are going to make a major impact as to the quality of experience."
That experience will change dramatically in 2024 when the team and city conclude a significant stadium upgrade that will include club upgrades to meet new Minor League Baseball specifications, along with stadium renovations that will likely include double-decker seating behind the backstop and all the way down each baseline.
Wombacher said the renovation will aim to provide a more premium experience for both the individual fan, as well as groups.
"I think the biggest thing is the focus on the quality of experience and not the quantity of seats," the President and General Manager said. "What we're looking to do is bring the level of experience up 100-fold, by way of suites, smaller group areas, more cover for rain or extreme heat, and more expansive kids areas. People won't recognize this place when we're done."
But they will recognize it this Friday come first pitch, and more importantly will recognize the game that everyone in the organization is excited to have back for the ensuing six months.
"It's just great to be back on the field, and great to be back in Hillsboro," Harrison said. "It should be a really fun season."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.