KEIZER, Ore. — It’s nothing personal, mind you.
It’s not as though Tyson Van Winkle doesn’t want to play pro baseball in his hometown. Or doesn’t think a Class A team could be successful in Vancouver. Or doesn’t hope the Yakima Bears move to Clark County by next season.
It’s just that, being a professional baseball player, the Hudson’s Bay High School graduate hopes to have the Northwest League in his rear-view mirror a year from now.
Even if the Northwest League has set up shop in Vancouver.
“I think the people of Vancouver would like to see baseball there,” said Van Winkle, a 23-year-old catcher in his third professional season. “I think they would embrace it.”
That’s one man’s opinion. And while the contentious debate continues over whether or not the people of Clark County should help build a stadium for the Bears, Van Winkle has a unique perspective.
After graduating from Gonzaga University with a business degree in 2009, he entered the cutthroat world of pro ball. He spent most of his first season in Yakima, then spent last year with a long-season Class A team in South Bend, Ind. After battling injuries early this season, he recently rejoined the Yakima squad.
“In Yakima, there’s not a lot of fan support,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem to be a good baseball town.
“There’s not a lot going on there. There’s not really a downtown area, not a lot to do.”
That, of course, has nothing to do with whether or not Clark County should welcome the Bears. That merely points out why the club’s owners are eager to leave the “Palm Springs of Washington.”
Van Winkle is eager to leave, as well, but only because that’s his job. Professional ballplayers move up the ranks of the minor leagues or they’re no longer professional ballplayers.
For Van Winkle, the journey has been hazardous. He batted .225 with no homers in 57 games 2009, and hit .214 with no homers in 73 games a year ago. He struggled through a broken finger and a dislocated shoulder this spring, then joined the Bears last week.
“I guess you could say there’s a little bit of pressure,” he said. “But you have to embrace it. At the end of the day, you just have to put your best foot forward.”
Which could be the mantra for the discussion over a proposed 5 percent entertainment fee to help pay for a stadium.
How does Vancouver put its best foot forward? How does it enhance the quality of life in the area? How does it establish an identity apart from Portland?
I happen to think baseball would be a pretty good way to do that, particularly through the use of a voluntary tax. There are good arguments against the plan, but I think it’s worthwhile to add 50 cents to a $10 movie ticket if that money is staying in the community and supporting affordable, family-friendly entertainment.
None of that, Van Winkle hopes, will matter to him. He dreams of being back in South Bend, or in Double-A, or somewhere else in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization. Anywhere other than Yakima or Vancouver.
Not that it’s anything personal.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “like” his Facebook page, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian.”