Micah Rice: Hops perfectly happy in Hillsboro

Commentary: Micah Rice

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photoMicah Rice is The Columbian's Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice.

The Hops are happy in Hillsboro.

The team and its city showed they have chemistry during its just-completed first season.

Meanwhile, some Clark County baseball fans might be ruing the one that got away.

For the good of everyone, it's time for those folks to let go. Hillsboro was simply a better fit with a less controversial stadium deal.

"I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason," said Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher. "You can't compare to a situation that never happened."

What didn't happen was the 3,500- to 4,000-seat stadium at Clark College that would have cost about $23 million. It would have been backed by the public through a 5 percent tax each time someone went to a movie, played golf or went out to the county fair.

That's what scuttled the project. If you're going to impose a tax in Clark County, the public wants to have a say in whether they pay -- either by a vote or by user fees.

The Hillsboro Ballpark is a $15.5 million stadium 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. Had revenues come up short, the city's general fund would have been tapped.

Will that happen?

"Oh, Christ, no," said Hillsboro Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Mary Loftin. She said a final financial report from the Hops to the city will be made public at the end of September, but all signs point to the ballpark being a winning proposition for both the city and team.

Hillsboro averaged 3,557 people a game at its 4,500-seat stadium. That ranked the Hops third in the eight-team Class-A Northwest League behind Spokane (5,064) and Vancouver, B.C. (4,843).

Wombacher said the Hops haven't yet broken down the ZIP-code data of season ticket holders to see how many fans regularly make the trip from Clark County. But he knows there is a small but hardy group that makes the roughly 30-mile trip regularly.

Wombacher hopes more will follow.

"The biggest thing is that now we can sell a product instead of a vision," he said. "We were in a reactive mode before. Everything was sold based on a promise. It's much easier now that we have a product we can point to."

Micah Rice is The Columbian's Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice. Read his blog, Tailgate Talk, at http://blogs.columbian.com/tailgate-talk.