Big League Dreams
By Victoria Taft
is religion without the mischief.”
—Thomas Boswell, Washington Post sports columnist
It was well
after midnight in the parking lot. The lights were half a football field
away—way over there—and a group of us was off in the dark
spot enclosed by a make shift cyclone fence. We waited. Soon, headlights
cut the darkness. Good. They were coming.
The door “shooshed” open. Filing out of the luxury
bus were these supposed polished, professional ballplayers—who were
embarrassed to show their faces back home. Tony Gwynn, Goose Gossage,
Graig Nettles, Steve Garvey—the entire 1984 San Diego Padres Baseball
team—came ambling out, their duffles slipping over their slumped
shoulders. They were down 0-2 to, when the Yankees aren’t using
the moniker, “America’s Team,” the Chicago Cubs, in
the National League Championship Playoff Series and they had to win three
in a row to make it to the ultimate “show.” Impossible. They
came home expecting no one to greet them but their wives and some surly
reporters, and instead confronted dozens of smiling fans, carrying signs
emblazoned with their homespun versions of “We
still love you.” Players gladly talked to reporters
and fans. This wasn’t an autograph session this was family therapy.
Three days later we were in the left field seats at Jack Murphy stadium
to watch in jaw dropping disbelief as the Padres won their first ever
National League Pennant. Players told reporters they’d been spurred
on by the fans that came to cheer them in that dark parking lot.
It was September 17th 1987. Day game. Time to baptize my first born into
the church of baseball. With the obligatory order of service (complete
with score sheet), and dog and soda at the ready, I prepared to instruct
my child on the finer points of the game that Walt Whitman proclaimed
would, “repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” Garry
Templeton even hit an inside-the-park-home-run—an epic event considering
he was a heavy smoker. Alas, Rebecca missed Templeton’s dinger.
She was busy sleeping in her baby pack. That’s an eight week old
Humorist Dave Barry once said that if a woman had to choose between catching
a fly and catching a baby, she’d choose the child over the ball—without
considering whether there were men on base. He’s wrong. Any self-respecting
woman would have caught the baby and looked the runner back to second.
A person’s got to have their priorities in order.
I’ve watched Orel Hershiser break Don Drysdale’s record for
consecutive scoreless innings pitched, seen Charlie Hustle dive for third,
watched “Fernando’s Fadeaway” screwball get better with
every inning pitched, witnessed Tony Gwynn routinely will frozen ropes
between two infielders, and marveled at Ichiro Suzuki—amazing Ichiro—confront
a junk ball and program it at will as if it had eyes.
Portland Mayor, Vera Katz, still rhapsodizes over her Brooklyn Dodgers
and beloved Ebbetts Field. City leaders and business executives giddily
visit big league parks when they’re out of Portland on business.
Anyone who’s spent any time in a big league ballpark has a baseball
story. Even a town like Portland—which doesn’t have one—has
a baseball story. So pull up a chair. You won’t need your rally
towel—unless you plan to use it for a good cry.
is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything
else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons
and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves
you to face the fall alone.”
—A. Bart Giamatti, former Commissioner of Baseball.
Portland has long been first in line to pat itself on the back for its
accomplishments, real or imagined. Elected officials and civil servants
travel the world to tell everyone the Portland, Oregon story. First with
a bottle bill! Pretty light rail trains! Leader in smart growth! Owls/fish
over people! For Portland, it’s always been a great idea as long
as it’s P.C. and somebody else was paying for it. Retailers pick
up the tab for the bottle bill infrastructure, the rest of the taxpayers
in the country paid for our light rail experiment, developers, home buyers
and other taxpayers pay the artificially inflated bill for what passes
as “smart growth” (twice if Metro is giving kick backs-er-subsidies
So, why is the city that prides itself on
being “first” behind the curve on baseball?
“We’re either 30 years ahead or 30 years behind on every issue,”
says KFXX sports talk show host and Channel 8 sportscaster, Colin Cowherd.
Portland’s not lacking in intellect and not lacking in money. It’s
lacking in ambition. [Because of that] baseball is a pipe dream—in
my lifetime anyway.”
Put another way: when it comes to baseball, Portland doesn’t have
the cajones to step up to the plate and swing for the seats.
“Portland has a little league mentality,” declares Jim Mark,
a local business leader with real estate development firm, Melvin Mark
“Sometimes we think too small, we don’t look at the big picture.”
Oldtimers will remember that Portland was almost first in the northwest
with major league baseball AND football. In 1964 Portland drew a bead
on becoming first city in the northwest to win major league baseball and
football franchises. The so-called “Delta Dome,” a 45,000
seat football and baseball complex, was proposed to be built at Delta
Park. Both major league baseball and professional football were expanding
at the time and Portland leaders were sure of their “Field of Dreams”
Public cheerleading by Oregon Journal sports columnist George Pasero and
business leaders such as Glenn Jackson to pass the $25 million bond issue
to build it led another noted sports columnist of the day, Royal Brougham,
of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, to break out his worry beads, “Talk,
talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, but no action. What has become of something
we used to call the Seattle spirit? ...It may not be long before thousands
of us will be beetling down to Oregon to watch the NY Yankees play the
Portland Beavers in the World Series. Sometimes you wonder if can’t-can’t-can’t
is replacing the go-go-go which made this richly endowed city vibrant
and beautiful and great.”
On a ballot full of bond measures, Portland voters narrowly turned down
the Delta Dome. By 1969 Seattle had its major league Pilots. Even after
the rocky years with the Mariners, the “go-go-go” city has
never looked back.
And Portland? Forty years later we’re still talking about getting
a baseball team and a decent ball yard. Royal Brougham’s city of
“can’t-can’t-can’t” migrated south leaving
Portland fans to cry in their beer.
While in the club car.
On the train.
To watch the Mariners play in their new ballpark.
Ho Bartender! Can I get another Sodo Mojo over here?
“Baseball is a game where a curve is an optical illusion, a screwball
can be a pitch or a person, stealing is legal and you can spit anywhere
you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the ball.”
—Jim Murray, legendary LA Times sports columnist
The death of the Delta Dome evoked a lament and a prophecy from Pasero
in a 1964 column,”What must be realized is that Portland stadium-wise
is in a worse pickle than ever. As it stands now, Multnomah Stadium is
only make-do, won’t generate anything resembling “major league”
sports...unless you’re content with a couple of pro ‘exhibitions’
Major league dreams went fallow as the Beavers and then the Mavericks
stumbled their way into the 70’s. No one, not city fathers, sports
writers or the guy next to you on a barstool, thought major league ball
would come to Portland.
The 80’s brought the Phillies Triple A club, the Beavers, and then
they too went away. Portland didn’t get excited about baseball again
until Jack and Mary Cain were persuaded to move their single A, short
season, club, the Rockies, from Bend to Portland. The Cains were well
known for their promotional gags. While in Bend a hot tub down the third
base line was part of the stadium “luxury box” seating.
The Rockies’ success with the fans gave hope to the dream of bringing
major league baseball to Portland again. The Cains spoke to any group
that asked, were profiled in the local papers, and became the darlings
of the local media. Baseball became fun and saleable again.
A guy by the name of Lynn Lashbrook was then on the sidelines rubbing
two sticks together in hopes of creating a larger spark of interest in
Lashbrook, a sports agent and former college athletic director, grew up
in Kansas City and came to Portland six years ago to start a new life
after a divorce. He heard talk of bringing a Triple A team to Portland,
but when he found out just how big the metropolitan area was, he was shocked
that nobody was talking about bringing in major league baseball.
It wasn’t tough for him to find out where the problem was. Portland
was a “selfish little town” that ran sports for the rest of
the big city surrounding it. The Multnomah Athletic Club, and the private
Portland Oregon Sports Authority, he believed, was calling all shots—to
the detriment of getting major league ball.
“Why is Portland so insulated, so arrogant about making sure we’re
a competitive city? We’re always talking about how we’ll have
big traffic problems; that we’ll turn into a big city. Shoot, we’re
already a big city.
already stuck in traffic. Why can’t we listen to our own team on
while we’re stuck there? We should have had major league baseball
ten years ago.” Lashbrook got busy. He gathered followers of the
church of baseball, pulled some money together, took out ads, got local
ink and airtime and began re-building the hopes of backslidden fans. He
started the Portland Baseball Campaign, now called the Oregon Baseball
Campaign, to lay the groundwork for the bigs to come to P-town.
Oh, and he ticked off a lot of people, too. Saying that kind of stuff
out loud will do that.
While the Sports Authority was trying to twist Paul Allen’s arm
to land NHL Hockey, and concentrating on the big World Cup Soccer match
held in Portland, Lashbrook was busy with a local architect to show how
run down Civic Stadium could be reworked to accommodate big time baseball.
Suddenly, the smell of chew was in the air.
baseball is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you
kill it; not hard enough and it flies away.”
—Tommy Lasorda, former
LA Dodgers manager
Lashbrook and company were rubbing their sticks together in a stiff wind
hoping to keep the major league spark burning but city hall had other
Now that someone else had already done some dreaming to re-work Civic
Stadium, Katz and company needed somebody with money to get it going.
Talk of baseball contraction hadn’t even started at the major league
level. A couple
of franchises, Montreal and Oakland, were in trouble, but the chances
of getting a big league club were unknown at best. The
mayor and the Sports Authority didn’t
care who moved in, they just need Civic overhauled and a team or teams
installed there so the place would start paying for itself. Lashbrook
figured such talk would forestall any major league plans and he
Syndicates were being asked to submit plans to rehabilitate the stadium
and land a team. After working to build up excitement for rehabbing Civic,
planning a new ballpark, and bringing major league baseball to Portland—
a bona fide grand slam, Portland, the biggest market NOT to have baseball,
was settling for a triple on an error.
Many people acknowledge, but are unwilling to say publicly, that Mayor
Katz made sure old pal Marshall Glickman and his Portland Family Entertainment
business partner, Mark Gardiner, an old city hand, won the contract. Glickman,
whose father had at one time run the Blazers, was persuaded to stop looking
for a place to play in Hillsboro and gussy up Civic in a taxpayer-subsidized
deal that cost nearly $40 million.
“There were some, uh, question marks about that deal,” says
one sports insider who acknowledged there was some inside baseball going
on at City Hall.
And what did Portland get? Depends on whom you ask.
Portland’s Mr. Baseball, Jack Cain, got kicked out of his stadium
and paid about $4 million for his rights to the Portland baseball territory.
Cain didn’t want to go. He’d step aside for the majors, but
for Triple A?
Can’t fight City Hall. He and Mary packed their bags (more on that
later), “He got screwed,” says one who was knowledgeable about
And what did taxpayers get: A shiny new-
like Civic Stadium perfect for---what, exactly? High school and college
Minor league soccer? Yes. Major league baseball? Nope.
Oregonian reporter, Ryan Frank, who couldn’t understand the tremendously
long lines for everything from bathrooms to beer when only half the new
ballpark’s nearly 20,000-seat capacity showed up for games asked,
“[It] raises a $38.5 million question:
If the park can’t gracefully serve close to its capacity, did Portlanders
buy a Class A ball stadium for a Triple A team?”
The old Civic—now reborn as PGE Park, was shorn up for earthquakes,
handicapped access, and was shiny and newer, but wasn’t built to
accommodate major league crowds. Time and money prevented it, but something
else did too.
“The city lacks the will,” says Cowherd.
“Our mayor is not a pro-business mayor. She can’t galvanize
the masses. At some point you’ve got to take a chance and say ‘we
want baseball’ and take a gamble and be assertive. Nobody wants
baseball more than I do, but we don’t have enough Lynn Lashbrooks.
We don’t have enough guys who believe.”
is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the
—“Skip” in the 1989 movie, “Bull Durham”
Marshall Glickman and Mark Gardiner were fired. The managers of Portland
Family Entertainment paid “twice as much” for
the Albuquerque Dukes than they were worth, overstated potential revenues,
and negotiated an untenable lease agreement with the city that the Tribune’s
Dwight Jaynes called, “a very mean lease for a minor league baseball
They hemorrhaged money even though more people than ever were coming to
watch Beaver games.
In October of 2001 the Goldklang Group, with principal Mike Veeck, was
brought in to take over day-to-day operations. His first job was to coax
Jack Cain out of retirement and into a top spot in Portland. His second
was to make peace between the arguing baseball factions.
“I stupidly told them they had to get together and be friends,”
he laughs, “We had a secret meeting with everyone—including
a major league baseball guy.”
Veeck, whose back yard was, for a time, a patch of grass at Wrigley Field,
during his father, Bill Veeck’s, ownership of the Cubs, also has
inherited his father’s passion for
the game. And he may have been displaying another family trait—a
knack for hyperbole—when he promised major league baseball in “three
to five years.” But he hastens to add, “We have to be second
in line because D.C. will get a team first.” Got to keep the lawmakers
happy who can take away baseball’s anti-trust exemption.
Meantime, efforts to get a $150 million bonding measure to build a Camden
Yard-like baseball park had the support of 2/3 of the Oregon’s legislators
and the governor in the last session—but was never brought to the
senate floor. The financing package was unique in that all the revenues
spent to build it would have been more than made up by the ballplayers’
salaries, property and income taxes. It was so attractive that at least
one other state plans to use the model to fund a new ballpark.
The Portland Oregon Sports Authority’s, Drew Mahalic, says that
kind of defeat won’t happen again because he’ll be involved.
“Coming close doesn’t mean much to me. We’ll do it more
professionally next time.”
Lashbrook laughs at the ‘dis.
“Some of these guys just want their pictures up at the MAC. They
want to throw out the first pitch when we finally get major league baseball.
All I want to do is catch the first foul ball.”
Glad we’re all friends now.
Veeck admits there’s a ways to go. Five sites have been identified
for a future ballpark if PGE Park can’t be expanded—the lead
site being the Portland Public School District Headquarters near the Rose
Garden in Northeast Portland. Talk of tearing down Memorial Coliseum and
replacing it with a baseball park has been squelched by plans to turn
it into a sports complex for recreational athletes.
And Veeck dreams of getting Portland in the big leagues one day soon,
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of skepticism here. [But]
you’ve got to dream. Dreams are possible.”
“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. This
game is part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and
what could be again.”
—James Earl Jones as Terence Mann,
“Field of Dreams,” 1989.