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Debate continues: Can Portland support two short-season teams?

Proposed Hillsboro ballpark

With Milwaukie (OR) officials in talk to bring a second short-season Northwest League team to greater Portland, the debate continues: should MiLB territorial rules be put aside to allow for two area teams?

Of course, some of the debate is silly: since there’s no MLB team looking to move, saying Portland cities should step aside and wait for an MLB team to arrive is little more than wishful thinking. And without anyone stepping up to bring Pacific Coast League baseball back to the city, waiting for Triple-A baseball to return is an exercise in futility.

And with the Yakima Bears (short season A; Northwest League) all but set to play in Hillsboro next season (pending a final lease and league approval), the only real issue when it comes to Minor League Baseball is whether the market could support a second team in Milwaukie.

Now, in general, baseball’s territorial rules make it virtually impossible for two MiLB teams to play in the same market; you have a lot of MLB markets (New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Chicago, et al) hosting both a major league and a MiLB team, and more MLB markets (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Kansas City, Philadelphia) hosting both a major-league team and an independent-league team. Such arrangements were avoided in the past, but over the last decade they’ve come into vogue because MiLB and MLB officials realized that the best way to make the most money is to put the most teams where the most people live. Yeah, not exactly the most stunning of conclusions, but you’d be surprised how many folks in baseball were opposed to multiteam markets.

Which is why the talk against putting two teams in the Portland market, to us, is a little silly. First, look at the specifics: Hillsboro and Milwaukie are two distinct markets within the greater Portland area and would draw completely different audiences. Though the two teams would be some 25 miles apart, the road situation and demographics would impose completely different audiences. Hillsboro is corporate and suburban; Intel has a huge plant there, for instance. Milwaukie tends to be tied a little closer to the Portland ethos and would draw more from that city, thanks to better road and rail access: it’s telling that the first spinoff business envisioned for a Miwaukie ballpark would be a brewpub. That, friends, is Portland in a nutshell.

Milwaukie officials want to know by the end of July whether there’s a commitment to bring a team to that city; if so, a new $25-million ballpark could be in serious planning stages this summer. 

Image courtesy of Hillsboro.

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