Press Talk: Let's play ball … someplace else

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 

Play ball!

Well yes, but not here in Vancouver.

On Monday we'll send a reporter and a photographer to Hillsboro, Ore. to cover the Hops' home opener. And it's not just any home opener. It's the former Yakima Bears' opening season in a brand new, $15.2 million ballpark.

Still, it would be a fair question to ask why The Columbian would travel 30 miles to cover a baseball game in Oregon.

Well, it could have been us. It could have been the Vancouver Viziers.

It was two years ago when we broke the story that the Yakima team was looking for a new home. We were their top choice. They picked us for a number of reasons but they liked the idea that they would -- essentially -- be the only game in town. Moving into Oregon meant they had to compete with the Blazers, the Timbers and several major college teams.

"Big" Mike Thiessen, part of the Madison Group in Chicago which connects sports teams and communities, was one of the heavy lifters trying to make the Vancouver deal happen. He had done a bunch of advance work before the announcement and was confident. Very confident, actually.

When I asked him two years ago what percentage he would give to having the deal come together, he said 90 percent.

Privately, I had coffee with Big Mike a number of times and cautioned him that this would not be an easy road. We both know Chicago well, and Big Mike figured he'd seen plenty of politics in the Windy City. I told him he hadn't seen nothin' yet.

There certainly was local support for the ballpark. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Democratic County Commissioner Steve Stuart were big backers. Other community movers and shakers were on board as well.

The Columbian supported it editorially. We said, "It would be good to have a professional team here, the stadium also would be heavily used by the community for other things and the entertainment tax would only hit those who already can afford to spend money on entertainment."

But it was that entertainment tax that ultimately did it in. Well that, and former Republican County Commissioner Marc Boldt. Boldt initially indicated he was in favor of it, the crucial second vote needed to move the process to the Vancouver City Council. But he felt challenger David Madore — who later beat Boldt in the general election — breathing down his neck. At the last minute, Boldt's support disappeared.

Later Boldt would say he knew the city council was going to oppose it, so why vote for it. Of course, that was a trick the city council pulled on Boldt so they could avoid having to make a tough decision.

And that — as they say — was that.

Two Oregon communities immediately began fighting for the club. We were out and someone else was in.

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If you look at the I-5 bridge proposal — gasping its last breaths as we speak — we're becoming known as the "just say no" community. We now bear the burden of a community struggling to try to move forward.

In many ways, Big Mike was predicting the outcome here on what he assumed we would do based on what so many other communities would have done.

Don't assume, Big Mike. Not when it comes to Clark County.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the team coming here, we'd all agree on this: They're playing ball someplace else.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, lou.brancaccio@columbian.com or Twitter: http://twitter.com/lounews.