The owners of the Yakima Bears love Vancouver, and if Facebook is any guide, Vancouver loves the minor league baseball team right back, general manager and part-owner K.L. Wombacher told a full-house crowd of several hundred at Wednesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Vancouver.
In two and a half years of heavily promoting the Bears’ Facebook site, roughly 1,505 people have opted to become “fans” — and most of those are friends or family of players, not Yakima residents, Wombacher said. Less than three months after launching a “Bring Pro Baseball to Vancouver” Facebook page, meanwhile, local boosters have already attracted more than 1,700 “fans,” a number that has more than doubled since mid-May, when Wombacher and majority owners Mike and Laura McMurray confirmed their interest in moving the team to Clark College’s central Vancouver campus.
“Facebook is not a science,” Wombacher said, but “we’ve been blown away by the response.”
As team owners seek county approval of an entertainment ticket tax that would raise $16 million of the $23 million needed to build a stadium, Wombacher pledged that the team will take extra steps to prove worthy of local enthusiasm.
Among the commitments he said the owners will make if they ink a contract to move the team to Clark County:
• Agreeing to play away games every July 4 to avoid competing with Vancouver’s popular Independence Day fireworks show.
• Cementing “ironclad” contracts that would require any Portland baseball team to pay off the Clark College construction debt if that city attracts a new team that forces Vancouver’s out.
• Paying 30 percent of the cost of stadium construction, even though the team would only need 15 percent of its in-use time, and also paying all costs associated with operating and maintaining the stadium after construction.
The McMurrays, who own 57 percent of the Yakima Bears through the business entity Short Season LLC, have proven their commitment to the team since moving from California to Yakima when they bought the team in 1999, Wombacher said.
In addition to community sponsorships, they have also invested in downtown Yakima development and in a retail space in that city, he said. With attendance and enthusiasm low for the Yakima team, and greater Portland now the largest metro area in the U.S. without a baseball team of its own, team owners are eager to move that engagement to Vancouver, Wombacher said.
“We’ve been in Yakima for 21 years,” Wombacher said. “If anyone thinks we’re coming for just five years and then leaving again, you’re crazy.”