Day 12: Portland (A Eulogy)

Take a good look, because it’s the last time you’ll see this beaver.

Originally, the last city on this trip was supposed to be Seattle, where hopefully the M’s would’ve gotten their brains smashed in. Sadly, they were scheduled to be in New York, making a it difficult to justify going so far for just a tour. Instead, I looked south to Portland, where MLB was at best a flirtation, pro baseball has happened in fits and starts.

Worst of all, when the city’s much loved USL-1 soccer franchise, the Portland Timbers, was granted promotion to the MLS in 2009, it was clear that the AAA Portland Beavers’ days at venerable PGE Park (née Civic Stadium) were numbered. In the last 18 months, every effort by Timbers/Beavers owner Merritt Paulson (son of former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson) has come up for naught. As mentioned in Jeffrey’s recent articles (I/II) on the subject, the Beavers will almost certainly leave Portland, probably south to either the San Diego suburbs or Tucson. With pro baseball shut out from PGE Park because of a soccer-specific renovation and no new venue in sight, it’s unclear if or when pro ball will return to Portland. Knowing this, I had to visit the old park in Goose Hollow one last time.

Built in 1925, Civic Stadium was always meant to be a multi-purpose stadium, and it shows. Its expansive wooden roof was intended for weather protection for fall and winter football games, not summer baseball (psst – for those that don’t know, Portland’s really nice in the summer). The J-shaped seating bowl offers suboptimal sightlines along the third base side, along with Coliseum-like foul territory. The field itself is field turf. Renovations to modernize the place with new suites and seating helped bring a third version of the Portland Beavers to life. Changes for the Timbers have started and the place will be cleared out in week, the last series to be played on Labor Day weekend.

Four-story stack of suites behind the plate.

It’s really amazing how things can change. Six years ago, Portland was considered a frontrunner to land the wayward Montreal Expos. $150 million in state funding was lined up, as well as a solid business plan and support from the business community. Little did Portland supporters know at the time the shell game that was about to be perpetrated in order to facilitate the Expos’ eventual move to Washington, DC (thanks a bunch, Detroit schools slasher Robert Bobb). In the end, MLB-to-PDX lost, momentum died, and it’s not clear what form pro baseball will take when it returns to Portland.

Image of Timbers-friendly PGE Park renovation.

Backstory aside, I was determined to enjoy myself at the game. After my long train ride from Minneapolis, I freshened up at the hotel and headed out. After a stop at The Kennedy School for some lunch and beers, I went downtown.

Getting there

Portland has one of the best light rail systems in the nation. It goes nearly everywhere you’d want to go in Portland, and within the downtown area it’s free. That’s right, within the downtown core and out to the Rose Quarter/Convention Center, riders don’t pay to ride the MAX or the Streetcar. The MAX stop for PGE Park is just barely outside the zone, but nobody really checks that close, do they?

It’s a good thing that public transit is so readily available near the ballpark, because parking is almost non-existent immediately around it. You could park at the Fred Meyer nearby, but that’s not nice to the shoppers who actually need the parking. You could also park downtown and walk 10 minutes to the ballpark, which is a much better choice. Downtown is not a particularly large area, so a walk from one of the many bars or restaurants in the Pearl district to PGE Park is not stressful in the least. A walk from the Deschutes Brewery to PGE Park took about 15 minutes.

I walked up at 5:30 PM and got myself a nice seat, 8 rows behind the plate, for $15.50. Had I gotten there earlier, I could’ve gotten a $5 general admission seat. Oh well. As with most minor league games, the atmosphere was relaxed. The results don’t carry as much weight as in the majors. While the Beavers have underperformed recently at the gate, this game was the last scheduled fireworks game of the year, bringing out an announced crowd of 9,983.

Most of the seats are covered by a large wooden roof. The football/soccer press box is tucked underneath the roof. Both are held up by columns along the walkway separating the box seats from the general admission benches.

Concessions

An 85-year old stadium, even with a revamp, isn’t likely to have wide concourses. True to form, PGE Park doesn’t. Even before the game, the concourse was jammed with fans in line at concession stands, creating serious traffic jams. That dissuaded me from getting anything at all from there. A better choice is usually the Widmer Beer Garden down the RF line (pictured above), though the lines for that place can be long as well.

Circulation

This picture is pretty much self-explanatory.

Other observations

When you get off the MAX from downtown, if you walk left instead of right, you’ll soon be walking along the open left field area. Cheapskates can watch the game here from behind a fence. Savor it, because when a new 4,000-seat eastside stand is built, that view is going away.

Even though they’re getting rid of the baseball configuration, they’re still keeping artificial turf. Why? The Portland State University football team plays there.

Wrap-up

I’d say it was really tragic if Portland didn’t have other kinds of entertainment to rely on. Still, the lack of effort on the city’s part to help the Beavers will surely not sit well with MLB if Portland were to ever engage in a new effort to get a team. The Blazers and some preservationists blocked a bid for a AAA stadium on the site of the old Memorial Coliseum. Several sites that were considered as potential MLB ballpark sites have already disappeared. The best one, the USPS facility near Union Station, is slated for different types of mixed development. PGE Park was important because it could’ve been a good transitional facility. Now there’s no telling how a franchise move could happen, so it’s probably expansion or bust. And while I’m an advocate for expansion (mostly for scheduling and realignment concerns), I’m one of the few and I have no pull. With that in mind, good luck, Portland. I hope my next summer pubcrawl there includes a baseball game. But I’m not counting on it.

5 thoughts on “Day 12: Portland (A Eulogy)

  1. Very sad. I used to go to both Beavers and Timbers games there–I lived three blocks away. Portland seems like a better soccer town, but it still should be able to support baseball.

  2. I’m a Green Partier and all, but eliminating a baseball team for soccer seems un-American.

  3. Well to be fair they’re not eliminating one for the other. The baseball team tried pretty damn hard to get a new ballpark built. There was just no one willing to play ball (pun intended). And the team itself isn’t going away, it’s just moving away which isn’t all that unusual in minor league baseball. In fact in the end it will end up being beneficial as any of the suggested locations for the Beavers, be it San Marcos, Escondido, Tuscon, or even Texas are closer to their MLB parent in San Diego. Is it great Portland is losing their baseball team… again. No. But is it a tragedy? Hardly. The Beavers were a moderately well attended AAA team at best. And in the end Portland has been much more excited about their USL and now MLS soccer Timbers than they ever were about the 4th incarnation of the Beavers.

  4. Very interesting observations ! Especially the “getting there”: to read that there hardly is any parking at the stadium (great transit) and that you can walk from downtown (or park at Fred Meyer — the Diridon equivalent would be the Target lot). I hope that San Jose could get a similar arrangement without building too much parking (other than the proposed garage behind the Arena, and even that is a waste of land).

  5. @erw – PGE Park’s location may be most analogous to a Diridon stadium location, now that I think about it. However, you can expect one-third or one-quarter the attendees there compared to San Jose, due to the stadium’s size. There’s a Good Neighbor Agreement which you might want to look at and compare to whatever exists between HP Pavilion and the area neighborhoods.

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