RIDGEFIELD — When Jason Mittmann graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1998, the building sat across South Hillhurst Road from cornfields.
Twenty-plus years later, Mittmann spent part of his summer across from the high school at the new Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex barbecuing pulled pork and brisket with his family during the first season of Ridgefield Raptors baseball.
“It’s our hometown,” Mittmann said. “A lot of people know who we are. I went to high school across the street and never thought we’d see something like that.”
Mittmann owns Family Mann BBQ, a catering company and food truck. He was one of a handful of local businesses invited to bring their food truck to a few games this past season. Mittmann, who cooks primarily with his wife and two kids, cooked at six Raptors games.
When the city signed on to host a West Coast League collegiate wooden bat team, it was seen by many in the area as a great asset for the state’s fastest-growing city and Clark County at large. The Raptors averaged 1,198 fans at their home games this season, more than twice that of the neighboring Cowlitz Black Bears in Longview.
Still, others were curious if the team would have much of an impact on Ridgefield businesses. Some business owners said they saw some new faces and more people this summer, while others said they didn’t see much of a difference.
It certainly had an impact for Mittmann, who works a day job selling meat as a food broker. He said he has had offers for more private and public events after being featured at Raptors games.
“It was the opportunity for a lot of people who wouldn’t see us to see us,” he said.
Mittmann said the dream is to one day run his barbecue business full-time, and he thinks working those six Raptors games is a step toward reaching that goal. He’s hoping that he is asked back next season.
“It’s just a different crowd,” he said. “We’ve done weddings. To be able to have this has been great. The day of is the easy part. It’s all the prep work ahead of time that takes work.”
On game days, Mittmann would put meat in the barbecue at about 2 a.m. for a 5 p.m. game. He also said he’s excited about the growth in the city, including the baseball team, which could also lead to some more opportunities to bring his food truck out.
Raptors fans can reach the stadium on South Hillhurst without driving through the city’s downtown, which left merchants wondering if they would see increased crowds this summer.
“They built the stadium in the wrong place,” said Tony Zebrun, owner of Zebrun’s Starliner. “They should’ve built it at the waterfront property, so people had to come through here. There’s no connection. Others don’t recognize it as a downtown. You have to know it’s here.”
Zebrun said he heard from a lot of people who were excited about the Raptors, and he had players and coaches come in this summer, but he didn’t notice too many other new faces.
The Ridgefield Main Street Program made efforts to bring people from the games to downtown. At least once at each game, they gave away “Main Street Moola” dollars, a program that started two years ago in which Main Street Ridgefield hands out $5 bills that can be redeemed with downtown merchants. Marykay Lamoureaux, executive director of Ridgefield Main Street, said $625 in Moola was provided to the Raptors — $125 of which was reimbursed in May and $370 more reimbursed in July.
“We did very well with that,” said Scott Hughes, co-owner of Ridgefield Hardware. “We’re still getting people coming in with those.”
Hughes said he saw a lot of new faces coming into the store this summer.
“Once they’re here, they see what we have to offer,” he said. “Old town is the heart and soul of the community. It’s more mom-and-pop than commercial here. I’m thrilled with how well Main Street did in showcasing the downtown.”
Another way to try and bring people into downtown was a partnership with C-Tran, which provided free shuttles to three Raptors home games this summer: June 4, June 19 and July 19. The shuttles picked people up at the 99th Street Transit Center, Ridgefield Park & Ride and downtown Ridgefield across from the Sportsman’s. The bus picked up 50 riders and brought 42 back for the first game, picked up and dropped off one person at the second game and picked up 12 people and dropped off eight in the third game, according to C-Tran spokeswoman Christine Selk.
She said that discussions haven’t started yet on next season, but Selk said she anticipates those will start soon.
“It was a lot of fun to work with the city of Ridgefield and Raptors organization,” Selk said. “There are definite avenues to explore there to find ways to grow those numbers.”
Lamoureaux said one way that might happen is if the Main Street Program hosts downtown tailgate parties the days when C-Tran is operating a shuttle to the game. She added that the Raptors have been great partners with Main Street and the downtown, and help out at events like Oktoberfest and Experience Ridgefield.
“Raptors players, coaches and Rally (the mascot) attended the Main Street Day Celebrate Downtown event in July and brought extra excitement,” she said. “Players and coaches could be seen downtown and are both admired and approachable. That’s a real connection to community that clearly deepened as the season progressed.”