Home Opener: Hops are Hillsboro's team now (with video)

Might-have-beens fly as Clark County's pass on Class-A baseball deal becomes tangible

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: June 18, 2013, 12:36 PM

 
photoSierra Carter, center, of Vancouver, enjoys a hot dog with her sisters during the home opener for the Hillsboro Hops against the Eugene Emeralds at Hillsboro Ballpark.

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Hillsboro Hops Home Opener

The Hillsboro Hops, a Class A team that once was Yakima's and could have been Vancouver's, win the first game in their new ballpark, 12-0.

HILLSBORO, Ore. — When Hillsboro Hops third baseman Jordan Parr ripped a skyward blast out to left field in the second inning of the Hops' home opener, most of the sell-out crowd in attendance rose to their feet.

"Get out," someone screamed from behind home plate. But it was already gone — the left fielder quit tracking the ball moments after it left the bat, forced to watch as the fans on the outfield knoll of grass scrambled to collect the ball.

Now more baseball fans were standing, cheering and screaming for the first home run at Hillsboro Ballpark, and it was off the bat of one of the hometown nine.

Still, amid the pomp and fanfare, among the smiling faces and cheering crowds, there is a tinge of heartbreak.

"Yeah, it's bittersweet," said Michael Bomar, a Ridgefield resident. "I mean, first and foremost, I'm happy baseball is back in Portland. But, yeah."

Bomar's "yeah" is filled with the thought of what could have been.

Bomar, the executive director at the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, has season tickets in the front row behind home plate. His son Brady, 2, was there to take in his first baseball game. And the Hops' opponent, the Eugene Emeralds, is a squad that Bomar once played for.

And Bomar was a proponent of bringing this short-season Class-A franchise, formerly the Yakima Bears, to Vancouver.

So when he thinks about what could have been, maybe a "yeah" is appropriate.

"It's hard," Bomar said. "But I think eventually Vancouver will get a team. I mean, long-term."

Like when Brady reaches the age his dad is now?

"Yeah, that long," Bomar says, smiling.

In 2011, Clark County commissioners turned away the chance to bring this team to town.

For a time, it seemed they might pass a resolution to pay for a new ballpark through a type of entertainment tax.

But Commissioners Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke, both Republicans, declined to move forward with the proposal.

Boldt's reasoning was that he didn't see the city of Vancouver supporting the proposal. Further, pressure was strong from the public, and from the Republican party, to turn away the project.

Hall of Fame baseball player and manager Yogi Berra dropped an infamous aphorism well before the Clark County decision, but he still had it right: "If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them."

Bottom line is, Clark County was unwilling to back a ballpark with bonds. Even Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat who supported the project, didn't believe that would be a wise move.

The 3,500- to 4,000-seat stadium in Clark County would have cost about $23 million and been backed by the public through a 5 percent tax each time someone went to a movie, hit the links for a round of golf or went out to the county fair.

And that was a messy proposal for many who called it the wrong tax at the wrong time.

Mielke said the proposal, as presented, was nothing short of a mess.

"And we would have been burdened by that," he said. "I couldn't support taxing the competition (to baseball), taxing the other entertainment."

Further, Mielke said, the location proposed — near Clark College — wasn't very habitable for a ball team looking to bring in thousands of fans.

"They didn't want to put together a deal that would work (for Clark County)," Mielke said.

Stuart said he wishes more could have been done to make the proposal appetizing for other politicians. Even if Mielke or Boldt had been persuaded, it did seem likely the city of Vancouver would have turned the deal down.

"I take responsibility for not finding a way to do it in a politically palatable manner," Stuart said.

Stuart says he'll likely head to a Hops game at some point, but not on opening night.

"I just don't have the heart for it," Stuart said. "This story, it's not just — listen to the politicians say what they will, it's looking around and seeing the smiles, and the ceremonies and the ribbon-cutting and knowing it could have been us. It's seeing the families celebrating this and realizing these could have been our families."

Stuart, a late-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins coming out of Prairie High School, saw a Vancouver ball field as a benefit for the community. It would have been a venue open to the community when the minor league team wasn't there, and would have allowed the region to host baseball tournaments — a potential economic boon.

And it would have given Clark County an opening day like Hillsboro had.

"The vision in my head was always opening day," Stuart said. "With the families all there."

So Clark County balked. And Hillsboro hopped up.

The Hillsboro Ballpark is a $15.5 million stadium seating 3,534. It's backed mostly by full-faith-and-credit bonds.

Unlike Clark County's proposal, in Hillsboro the only time you'll pay for baseball is when you buy a ticket to the game. Unless, of course, revenues come up short and the city's general fund comes into play.

"We just had to step up to the plate," said Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey.

Willey, wearing a Hops jersey adorned with his last name at opening day, said the city had the land and some infrastructure already developed at the sports complex where Hillsboro Ballpark sits. That helped save some money, he said.

"But we didn't want to do it on the cheap," he said. "And this facility is good enough to host the Beavers and the Ducks."

It will also host prep sports such as baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer.

Willey, who ran unopposed for re-election after working out the deal, said the community has largely supported it.

"You can really see how excited everyone has been for this," he said.

In the parking lot, Brian Foren of Beaverton, Ore. chased down a foul ball as he held his 3-year-old son, Liam.

With the tyke holding the ball, Foren said he understands Clark County's concerns.

"Beaverton passed it over, too," he said. "And you know, I get it. I understand. It's economics. But thank God, Hillsboro wanted it. This is a place I can take my kid to. It's family entertainment."

So is Bomar right? Does Clark County have a chance at getting a ball team one day?

Mielke might lay the answer out best.

"Oh, absolutely," Mielke said. "But we're not going to skin the people to do it."

Mielke said he believes there is a chance a better deal could come around, and, if it does, he would support it.

"It's a great game," Mielke said. "And I really hope the best for Hillsboro. I hope the novelty doesn't wear off, and they don't lose money on it.

"And maybe we set the example that helped them get the deal they did."


Erik Hidle: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.