Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Nine men out

Monday marked a somber milestone for baseball fans stuck in what is now a 700-mile dead zone for our national pastime, roughly stretching from Sacramento to Tacoma.

That’s right: with this week’s final game played by the Portland Beavers at PGE Park, the closest Triple-A baseball city is Tacoma, 133 miles away. The Portland-Vancouver media market, the 22nd largest in the nation, currently doesn’t even rate a single-A baseball team.

Instead we have a new soccer franchise, complete with its own “army” of fans so numerous that they couldn’t be detected in the lackluster Nielsen ratings for this summer’s local broadcasts of the 2010 World Cup (for the uninitiated, think of a World Series of soccer played only every four years, i.e. a big, big deal).

As I’ve written in this column previously, I still believe Clark County to be the perfect home for a relocated Beavers ballclub. However, it quickly became clear that the city of Vancouver and Clark County had pockets nowhere as deep for Beavers and expansion MLS Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson.

Meanwhile, Portland – with its zeal for preserving squat, Minimalist and underutilized structures – decided to scrap Memorial Coliseum as an option for a new ballpark.

So who’s to blame for the demise of a 107-year-old institution?

Though attendance figures have been widely reported as being low compared to other Pacific Coast League teams, I wouldn’t blame the fans. For one, as long as I’ve lived in the area, I have not seen one shred of marketing, not one TV, newspaper or radio spot, by management of this team. Second, the Beavers’ affiliation with the far-off San Diego Padres wasn’t ever going to be an asset. And last, PGE Park might be the worst place to put a baseball park – located in a difficult-to-navigate, parking desert in uptown Portland.

And while baseball clearly doesn’t rate high on Mayor Sam Adams’ list of priorities as he seeks to build on Portland’s reputation as a mecca of (environmental) sustainability, bike-friendliness and systemic underemployment – he and his City Council aren’t solely to blame either. Considering this story in today’s New York Times on how King County still owes more than $80 million on a demolished football stadium, their reticence in allocating $30 million in taxpayer funds for a new minor-league ballpark seems not only understandable, but a foregone conclusion given the current fiscal situation facing almost all local governments.

In regards to Paulson, I’m not going to engage in the kind of shoot-the-rich rhetoric circulated in other outlets, which often are careful to make vague approximations of his family’s vast fortune.

But I will say this: all owners of sports franchises, no matter how small, need to treat their stake in their teams as an investment – not only in terms of capital, but as members of a community.