Thursday, September 6, 2012

Yakety Yak

(Won't Be Back)

With apologies to The Coasters, performers of the 1958 #1 hit, I am referring here to the Yakima Bears, who played their last ever home game last night.  Starting next June, the Northwest League franchise will play in Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland, Oregon.  The team will remain a Diamondbacks' affiliate.

Although the league approached Hillsboro in September 2011, just one year after the Portland Beavers relocated to Tucson, Arizona, I was late to the realization that this would be the Bears last season in Yakima.  I would have liked to have seen the team before they left, like last year's trip to see the Kinston Indians.  I have to start reading Ballpark Digest more regularly.

Rendering courtesy of Hoffman Construction-SRG Partnership

A couple factors allow Hillsboro to build a new ballpark in just eight months, starting in October.  The stadium will be constructed at the existing Gordon Faber Recreation Complex, taking advantage of existing infrastructure, and the Northwest is a short-season league that doesn't begin play until late-June, months later than most minor league baseball.

With the departure (again) of the Beavers, Portland became the most populous metropolitan area without a professional baseball team.  The Northwest League was eager to re-enter that market, where the Mavericks (1973-1977) and Rockies (1995-2000) once played, and also to find a new home for the Yakima Bears, who have struggled at the box office and play in a sub-standard stadium.  Yakima has consistently drawn fewer fans, so the opportunity to move to Hillsboro and the rationale for doing so have a chicken and egg relationship.

In 2011 the team negotiated with Vancouver, Washington, just across the state line, but the Clark County commissioners did not approve a tax that would have been used to pay for the stadium (sketch above) construction bonds.

The Bears have played in Yakima since 1990 but the city was a charter member of the Northwest League in 1955 and host to teams in the predecessor Western International League going back to 1946.  Yakima was previously without a professional baseball team from 1967 through 1989.

Last night's game was the rubber match in the first round of the 2012 Northwest League playoffs.  The Bears won the first game on the road, in Boise, but then the Hawks took the next two in Yakima.  Coincidentally, the Boise Hawks also entertained a move to Hillsboro because they too have been unable to obtain desired stadium improvements.

So, Melvin and I apparently have missed our chance to see professional baseball in the Yakima Valley, where 75 percent of American hops are grown.  (That will be the extra credit question on the quiz.)   Further, Yakima was the link between the three teams in and around Seattle, and the Tri-City Dust Devils, Spokane Indians and the Northern Division of the Pioneer League.  We will need to rethink our geostrategic approach to certain future itineraries.

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