In Our View: Play Ball!

Pro baseball team could still move here, but let's not count on support from taxpayers

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How Portland’s public officials and private financiers could so cavalierly — apparently — observe the struggles of their highly popular professional baseball team escapes our comprehension. The Portland Beavers’ history dates back more than a century. Last year the Triple-A team (one step from the major leagues) averaged 5,000 fans for each of 70-plus games, which likely pleased merchants around PGE Park. Also last year, the 19,000-seat stadium sold out for the Triple-A All-Star Game.

But Portland’s loss might be Clark County’s gain. (Gee, where have we heard that before? Might it have been pertaining to jobs or a corporate headquarters or two?) Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt last week said Clark County is still in the running for a new home for the baseball Beavers. “I’d say (the chances are) 50-50, based on my understanding of how (minor league baseball stadium) finances work,” Leavitt said in a story by The Columbian’s Andrea Damewood.

It’s good to see Leavitt remain open-minded about this potential gain for our community. “It’d be a real opportunity to provide our community with something to rally round,” he also said. And here’s a point we haven’t made before but which ought to be fun to kick around: If we get a baseball team, let it be conditional upon not being named the Portland Beavers. It would have to be the Vancouver Beavers (or some other mascot chosen in a public process). And if that re-ignites the old identity crisis linked to Vancouver, B.C., well, too bad. Having a baseball team named Vancouver would help spread the popularity of our city, the original Vancouver.

But back to luring the baseball team over to this side of the river. That would require a stadium with at least 8,000 seats, which would cost about $40 million. As we’ve editorialized before, there appears to be no way any of that money could — or even should — be provided by taxpayers. That hurdle hasn’t discouraged Leavitt, though. “There’s still a lot of interest in bringing Beavers baseball or Triple-A baseball to Clark County. Private interests are working on a financing plan,” he said. To which we respond: Great! Work away! Which is a nice way of saying don’t come begging to cash-strapped city or county governments.

One interesting comparison that we’ve presented before can be found in Round Rock, Texas, home of the Triple-A Express team. That city (population about 160,000 and growing rapidly) is about the same as Vancouver’s. Like Vancouver, Round Rock is near a large city. The metropolitan Austin area has 1.5 million people; some rush-hour drivers there might insist that number is way too low.

So it would be short-sighted to argue that we’re not big enough for minor-league baseball. That’s certainly not the attitude of the directors, advisers and sponsors listed at http://www.swwbaseball.org. That’s a website built by local supporters of the effort to bring professional baseball here. We wish them all the luck in the world … in the private sector, that is. Perhaps a herd of venture capitalists will stumble over a gaggle of angel investors as both groups rush in to get a minor-league team started here. Perhaps Portland Beavers owner Merritt Paulson will find a way to join the parade (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration) of business leaders who have moved across the Columbia River.

Meanwhile, Clark County baseball fans will keep dreaming … about their field … that the public currently and for the foreseeable future cannot afford.