Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Listening to the Blame Game

I've already watched baseball leave the city twice, so pardon me if I'm not that saddened by what transpired yesterday at PGE Park. I believe that it's only a matter of time before it returns, simply because this city is too big and some ownership group will figure out a way to get a stadium built in the city. I'm not basing that on anything more that intuition, because at the rate things are going right now, I can't imagine anybody wanting to build a stadium here after the process that has brought us to this point. Instead of showing vision, courage and the ability to learn from mistakes, most of the parties involved are wanting to throw someone under the bus.
Granted, it's how things work now in politics. If something happens, it's not because the situation didn't just work out, it's that a group needs to be blamed for things. And if you can find a way to pin more blame towards one group than another, well, then that group is the problem. While there is certainly blame in baseball leaving town, I don't think you can just point to one subset and say it's all their fault because I think everyone has a hand in what happens here.
The city council and the mayor had a wonderful plan to keep baseball in town by putting the park at the Memorial Coliseum, but they lost their nerve when the Trail Blazers and some architects raised concerns about the old barn. Instead of holding to the plan and coming up with a way to make it work, they turned their attention to stadium plans in Lents and Beaverton, only to be rebuffed twice. They lost the resolve after the first of the year, and suddenly there wasn't any ideas about where to put a stadium. If there had been more resolve from the baseball fans contacting these people to say how important baseball is, I'm sure you might have heard more about possible sites, but instead, it seemed like most citizens were resolved to the fact that baseball was leaving.
Soccer fans aren't to blame for this mess, because they simply wanted the best possible situation for their team and that is in Major League Soccer. And the costs of revamping the current stadium for soccer is much less than it would be to build a new soccer stadium elsewhere to keep baseball there. Soccer fans are also talking with their wallets, purchasing over 8,000 season tickets for the MLS team next year and putting over 10,000 fans in the seats for each home game. Comparing that to less than 150 season tickets for baseball and an average attendance about 3,000, I can't blame any businessman who wouldn't put their money into soccer if they had a choice.
I can't blame the Beavers and Timbers ownership because they put together some good plans to get a stadium for both teams, only to see the soccer effort take off and the baseball plan flounder. It must say something to an organization when every time there was a public setting for stadium issues, there were plenty of Timbers Army folks there to lend their support in person or by letter. Soccer fans have put their money, time and efforts into supporting these plans, and so I can't blame the city or the teams for looking around and seeing soccer as more of a viable option.
Baseball fans seem to be the easiest to blame because they simply haven't shown their support regularly. Then again, sports fans here seem to love an event rather that following something regularly. The Trail Blazers regularly sell out, but the games are much more of an event than an actual sporting competition because every moment is scripted and controlled. Timbers games have the antics of the Army and a relatively fixed schedule, making it an exciting and compact event. Baseball is much more of a passive fan experience, and while I can see some benefit in that from time to time, the numbers don't seem to support that.
Of the three baseball sellouts since the team came back to town in 2001, I was in attendance for the first one - the opening game in 2001. I also attended the Triple AAA All Star game, which was near a sellout, but the other two games for sellouts was yesterday's finale of the franchise and a Fourth of July game in 2009. In just over 10 years, only 3 sellouts tells me that that the city doesn't seem to care about baseball as much as they thought. Then again, I also feel that baseball fans love the game and the experience, yet Trail Blazer fans and Timbers fans love the team and the players and make a point to attend the game for that. I have attended over 75 Beavers baseball games since 2001, and I can't say that I know a true Portland Beavers baseball fan, yet many say they love the sport. If you really cared about the team, it's important to support the club you have.
I get there are those fans that still think MLB is a viable option here, but honestly, it's not going to happen anytime soon. We don't have the corporate base, a stadium idea that will work, an ownership group willing to step up, and a city that can't seem to figure out what it wants to support. Besides, do you really think MLB will come here knowing all the chaos that has happened around supporting Triple AAA Baseball? If the fans really want baseball back, it's up to them to stand up and let the city know this is important, and not just by talking the talk. If the team comes, it's important to buy tickets and talk about the experience.
I think there is more than enough interest here to have professional baseball in Portland, but right now, it's time to give up the blame game and stand up to let those in charge that it matters to us and it's time to find a way to make it work. And blaming one sport over another or one group or another doesn't accomplish anything more that making the city that works seem as dysfunctional from the outside as baseball fans feel the city is at this point. We can make it happen, but it's time to put up the voices and let the people in charge know it matters.

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